How to Make College 2021 One of the Wisest Years of Your Life

For me, college truly was an experience that was one of “the best four years of my life.” So, when I interviewed students about their college experience during the pandemic, I realize they need help with turning this “maybe not the best year of my life” into one of the wisest years of your life.  As parents, educators and employers, we need to extend a deeper appreciation and stronger support for these ambitious, altruistic yet vulnerable young adults. Here are three suggestions on how to use Spring 2021 as a launching point for one of the wisest years of your life.

  1. Apply Lessons of College 2020
  2. Learn How to Manage Anxiety
  3. Optimize Digital Collaboration and Expression

Let’s begin with a glimpse at the current socio-economic environment for 18–24-year-olds in the United States. According to the CDC, today’s young adults have been hit very hard by the pandemic in terms of cases and consequences, despite their relatively high rate of recovery from COVID-19. Many are struggling with depression and anxiety, largely brought on by the isolation of virtual learning, facing unemployment and experiencing daily stress triggered by the pandemic and political climate. Fraternity parties aside, the empathic majority of Generation Z are following the pandemic rules  and as a result, are confronted with side effects of quarantine life that seem to be taking a silent toll on our future leaders as they enter adulthood.

COVID-19 Cases by Age Group 3/1/20-11/14/20 (CDC)

Unemployment among 18-24-year-olds 11/19-11/20 (Statista)

  1. Lessons From College 2020

It’s mid-January and the college community is about to commence spring semester 2021. A larger number of colleges are planning for more students to attend in person and fewer online.  According to Davidson’s College Crisis Initiative (CCI), 1,400 of the nation’s nearly 3,000 colleges/universities (47%) will be online and the other 53% intend to bring students back to campus for in-person learning. However, already many colleges’ in-person plans are getting postponed or even cancelled due to rise in COVID cases. Compare this to the fall of 2020, where 64% of colleges went partially or fully virtual according to the CCI dashboard. Many students attending either remotely or in person, as depicted in my scenario  “A Day in the Life at Corona College 2020″ , mastered the online education format but struggled socially, mentally and developmentally.

Fall 2020 Learning Plans for U.S. Colleges (College Crisis Initiative)

Regardless of the learning format, there are many lessons and new and improved tools to implement in order to manage the pandemic on campus. COVID-19 testing will be more extensive and frequent, students are aware of the consequences for code violation. Tools like color-coded Compliance Badges at Boston University and contact tracing will be engaged more broadly to help manage an outbreak and spread. Knowing what to expect based on 2020 will make spring 2021 a smoother experience. U.S. News/Education recently issued an informative report, Know What to Expect: Lessons from the fall will help guide the spring semester.” U.S.News, Coronavirus and the College Experience This Spring.

U.S.News, Coronavirus and the College Experience This Spring.

  1. How to Manage Anxiety

According to a recent study on Stress in America by the APA, young adults of Generation Z experienced the highest levels of stress in 2020. This cohort also reported the highest rate of having signs of depression (70%). Generation Z, already the loneliest generation according to the APA, is feeling even lonelier through the pandemic. Forty percent of Generation Z report that the pandemic has affected their mental health: 42% anxiety, 41% depressed and 27% angry (Study by Gen Z Planet).

Here’s a list of tips compiled in “How to Deal With Anxiety” by Katie Holmes, Outwit Trade

  • Helping others through their anxiety can help you deal with your own issues (link)
  • Deep breathing exercises, acupressure, exercising and visualizing throwing your worries away (link)
  • Therapeutic yoga and EMDR (link)
  • Magnesium and meditation (link)
  • Decide on your desired state and rehearse it (link)
  • Realize you’re not alone, and seek help (link)
  • Get out of the house and have some interaction with people, such as group fitness classes (link)
  • Track your anxiety (link)
  • Know your triggers so you can prepare in advance (link)
  • Focus on something real, such as your breathing, to stop your mind wandering off with anxious thoughts of what might potentially go wrong (link)
  • Practicing acceptance (link)
  1. Optimize Digital Collaborations & Expressions

Tech-savvy Generation Z is the most equipped to leverage social media to collaborate, create and replicate a sense of community online. In 2020, Gen Z adapted to the digital world among uncertainty faster than any other generation. An analyst at Kantar Consulting states, “COVID-19 didn’t so much change things as accelerate current trends.” According to the report “Generation Influence: Reaching Gen Z in the New Digital Paradigm”, 56% of Gen Z is friends with someone they ONLY know online and 64% state that they rely on the Internet to plan their day.

With more time, deeper concern for the state of the world, and accelerated digital expertise, Gen Z is seeking more meaningful ways to connect, shop, express political views and engage with those who share similar causes, values & interests. In 2020, young adults learned that they can affect elections and promote social justice through social media platforms like TikTok. Gen Z has discovered ways to continue their climate activism through the pandemic and one method is shopping the online secondhand clothing market.

Online “Resale Therapy”
Gen Z demands sustainable, eco-friendly, upcycled or recycled products now more than ever because it’s a way to help save the environment, while usually spending less than new apparel. Financially strained yet resourceful Gen Z has turned their passion for thrifting into a hobby and lifestyle of online “resale therapy” where they engage in “shopping fashion with a clearer conscience” shared by Matt, age 19. According to a report by First Insight, 72% of Gen Z shoppers purchase items based on value, as well as social, personal and environmental principles. The secondhand apparel market is forecast to grow from roughly $28 billion in 2020 to $64 billion in five years according to a report by ThredUp and GlobalDataRetail. Some popular resale markets among young adults are Depop / Instagram thrifting, The RealReal, and FarFetch. Popular sustainable brands are “Lisa Says Gah”, Rent the Runway, PANGAIA, Marine Layer and Package Free.

As of mid-January 2021, most students I interviewed are eager to return to campus and under quarantine as instructed before being able to return. Colleges and universities are better equipped in 2021 to handle in-person and I trust they will do their best to manage the balance between maintaining students’ health and the psychological need for in-person anything while on campus. (HigherEd features a daily update on plans for spring semester 2021.) While 2020-2021 may not be one of the “best years of your life” for college students, there are many lessons and many more silver linings of the past two semesters that we hope young adults remember as one of the wisest, and maybe even best, years of your life.


%d bloggers like this: