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Student Life

Help Your Student Thrive in the New Normal

Marybeth Bock, MPH

Over the past decade, the word “hybrid” (formerly associated with vehicles or plants) has been used to describe college classes that combine face-to-face instruction with online activities. Students going to college this fall will experience hybrid in a whole new way as schools across the U.S. blend old and fresh elements for every aspect of campus life.


It may be awhile before huge lecture halls once again overflow with students. If not held fully online, large classes are likely to be sectioned into smaller groupings. Some students may meet outside or in a separate location with a Teaching Assistant (TA). Students may rotate in clusters spread out in the auditorium while others observe live online. Lectures and labs may occur during more wide-ranging hours and on weekends.

Residential Life

Schools are busy working on ways for students to live together but with practices that protect health and safety. Temperature checks, hand sanitizer, masks and location-sharing apps may become daily rituals on many campuses. Students may be spaced out more in their residence halls, or be grouped in smaller cohorts. Those exhibiting symptoms of illness may be asked to self-isolate for a period of time.


Dining halls and on-campus eateries will adapt in the way that most restaurants have, with more take-out options, extra prepackaged meals and snacks available, spread-out seating and elevated cleaning protocols.

Social Gatherings

Depending on a school’s location and size, gatherings may be limited to a certain number and many more events and meetings will be carried out on digital platforms.

Students may be joining clubs and organizations entirely online or may be told they’ll have to wait until second semester for a more traditional experience. Watching a school’s teams participate in athletic competitions may be a virtual or partially limited experience for a while.

No matter what a new college student will encounter in the fall of 2020, they’ll need to embrace a mindset that includes three key concepts.

First of all, flexibility.

Rules may evolve constantly depending on how the COVID-19 pandemic plays out on campus and regionally. Our students should be prepared for a fair amount of adjustment, perhaps as often as on a weekly basis.

They’ve gotten used to these kinds of changes, and we can help them reframe disappointments into challenges. This adventure will only help them build resilience throughout college and into the future.

Secondly, patience.

There will be delays. There will be lines (appropriately distanced). There will be frustration and sometimes there will be anger. Some rules will seem logical and others simply annoying. If students start their academic year acknowledging these challenges, and knowing they are mostly temporary, they’ll move through them much more easily.

Thirdly, respect.

Without a doubt, students will encounter others with a different attitude about social distancing and following recommendations from their college administration or their state and local governments.

This is a fact of life with large groups of people anywhere. Respecting boundaries and keeping in mind that personal health is a sensitive issue will serve all of our students well.

This entering first-year class will swiftly feel how bonded they already are from day one.

They experienced a life-altering high school senior year. Every single one of them can emotionally relate to each and every other freshman they will meet.

They will share stories of loss and pain and grief. They will arrive with abundant empathy for one another and a strong willingness to help each other out. Because they all know what it’s like to feel scared and unsure about the future.

The hybrid college experience of 2020–21 will be novel, just like the tiny particles that spread quickly to change our world. But this class of resilient freshmen will acquire a skill set and a mindset that is novel as well — and they will undoubtedly change our world for the better.

Marybeth Bock, MPH, is Mom to two young adult students and one delightful hound dog. She has logged time as a military spouse, childbirth educator, college instructor and freelance writer. Marybeth has a bachelor's degree in psychology from UCLA and a master's in public health from San Jose State University. She lives in Arizona and thoroughly enjoys research and writing. You can find her work on multiple parenting sites and in two books.
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