It was March 20 when I received an email from my university with the subject line “Hampton University Will Offer In-Person Instruction And Housing Summer 2021 and Fall 2021.” To understand the way I felt when this notification popped up at the top of my screen, you have to know that I’m a junior who’s been receiving the college experience through a computer screen for three semesters now – ever since the pandemic started. To say I was excited to see that email is an understatement.
The email itself stated that students “will be required to be fully vaccinated with the COVID-19 vaccine prior to returning to campus.” Basically, if you’re not fully vaccinated by August, when it’s time to return to campus, you’ll be continuing yet another semester remotely (however, those medically contraindicated or with religious exemptions will be excused).
My school isn’t the only one requiring students to be fully vaccinated for the fall, either – it’s being required at a growing number of colleges and universities all around the country, including Syracuse University, Rutgers University, Clark Atlanta University, Duke University, John Hopkins University, Brown University and more. This comes weeks after the COVID-19 vaccine eligibility has grown, with over 120 million people in the U.S. having received at least one dose.
By the time I received that email, I’d already gotten my first dose of the Pfizer vaccine, and was already scheduled to get my second one, so I wasn’t too caught off guard by my school’s decision. However, as I prepare to return for my last year of undergrad, the big question I have is what this “new normal” back on campus will even look like.
Several colleges and universities have been in person since the fall 2020 semester, including the University of Alabama, who still has certain restrictions following CDC guidelines such as limited capacity at school events, virtual student org meetings, and socially distanced seating in classrooms.
Georgia Junker, a student at the University of Alabama, currently lives off-campus at school, and says that even as a student back at school, she still feels like she’s missing out on some of the college experience she received when she entered college in 2018 – before COVID-19 hit. “I haven’t been able to attend as many social events or sporting events as I did as a freshman and sophomore. I still have been able to go to some events with limited capacity, but the entire dynamic of these events has changed, and it just doesn’t feel the same,” she says.
But now being vaccinated, she and her friends still manage to have a good time together by going out to eat, attending more social events, and creating their own fun.
If there’s anything I’ve learned to do since COVID hit, it’s to adapt, be open to change and get creative. It looks like that’s exactly what I – and the many other college students returning in the fall – will have to do to make the most of what’s left of our college experience.
Hopefully, with this new vaccine mandate, things will be a bit safer, and will help many incoming and returning students feel some type of normalcy again. Unsure of what the future holds, I’m going into my last year of undergrad rather grateful and optimistic, and I recommend the same for those returning, too.