I Withdrew From All of my Online Classes and I’m Glad I Did- However, it Wasn’t as Easy a Decision as You May Think

I want to offer some context before I state my why so here it goes. Hey there, reader! My name is Haley and I’m a second-year student studying Child and Human Development at the University of Maine. As most of us have experienced by now, colleges across the country decided a majority of their courses should be offered exclusively online to help reduce the spread of COVID-19 because fewer students on-campus would lessen exposure and an imminent spread leaving many students with a difficult decision: either continue their education at home or stay at their universities to pay increased tuition, room and board fees and meal plan/food costs.

    If I’m being entirely honest, I am one of those students who struggled with this decision greatly because even though I, personally, wanted more than anything to return to campus, my mother had concerns about my safety. With her raising concerns, this left me feeling as though I didn’t really have a choice on whether or not I was one of the students who should return. On one hand, I understood her reasoning but on the other hand, I was torn because I desperately wanted my familiar school environment which had been ripped away so quickly during our Spring semesters. After lots of consideration and weighing my options and the severity of the consequences of those decisions, I ultimately decided it was better to be safe than sorry. 

    I won’t sugarcoat it, this decision didn’t come without its challenges. In the first week of school, it was hard to log into Instagram without feeling like I was missing out on the college experience and created an even larger amount of distance between my friends who stayed in our college town and myself who didn’t. My timeline was flooded with joyous pictures of roommates rejoining one another and frequenting local hangout spots such as Nest, Margaritas, and Fam Dog. This caused me to withdraw from social media and the internet all together because all it did was show me what I was missing out on and make me doubt a decision I knew in my heart was the right one for me. Usually, this wouldn’t be much of a problem and it’s almost always encouraged to do just what I was doing - take a break from the constant onslaught of social media posts on various platforms. Yet during a pandemic when most forms of social interaction take place online due to the lack of traditional classroom and on-campus settings, it didn’t do me any favors. In truth, it actually led me to withdraw further from what was remaining of my “school” environment and this resulted in a lack of interest in my online classes. Part of what I loved about my courses on-campus was the social component of meeting new friends or having friends in my courses to walk to class with, leave class with, and sit near - with that gone and the constant “highlight reel” of my friends’ lives replaying over and over on social media, I struggled to balance wanting to stay involved in my friends’ lives but constantly feeling like I was missing out on experiences with them or feeling as though I’ve just settled for a college experience that lacked those “instagrammable” moments.

    Now, this wasn’t the primary decider, especially because both you and I know that social media doesn’t always tell the whole story when it comes to our personal lives. Yes, it’s a great way to capture memories and moments but that being said, it shows the best of those - never the worse making those who don’t have the same experiences feel as though they may have done something wrong or need to step up their social media game to portray a life they might not be living in its entirety. This paired with a variety of other reasons led me to my final decision and I want to state that I knew without the structure of an in-person class and the role of academics in my life, I was aware that I had to do something if I wasn’t to attend class at all. To break it down, here are the top five reasons I withdrew from my classes and they are as follows...

  1. 1. No Separation between School and Home

    Don’t get me wrong, with online courses, I knew there were some benefits to being one and done with classes. I actually arranged my schedule so that all of my classes were only approximately ten minutes apart and began at the beginning of the day so I could get them out of the way in the morning giving me the afternoon and the night. I loved the idea of being done with my classes by noon and I mean who wouldn’t? I thought it would give me more time to work at my job and spend time with my friends. Realistically though, I didn’t love waking up in the mornings just to sit behind my computer screen for hours on end. I soon found out that I was a morning person that loved that time for themselves. This was influential because I was giving my favorite part of the day to activities that I didn’t enjoy. I hated having to commit a chunk of time to classes that weren’t engaging or interesting to me. Soon enough, classes one after the other felt more time-consuming and exhausting than advantageous.

  2. 2. Lack of Personal and External Accountability

    I started the semester with my camera on and ready to learn because even if classes were online, it didn’t mean my academics had to suffer. If I had my camera on, my professors would still know me and I could still participate in a non-traditional classroom setting. Yet as I typed in meeting codes and came to the realization that my Zoom courses were anywhere from twenty to sixty+ kids, I felt as though it didn’t matter if I had my camera on, and without the accountability of that very act, I realized that I had more freedom behind my screen allowing me to zone out easier or even listen to my class as if it were a podcast which is not an option when you’re in a lecture hall. This lack of accountability by both professors and myself led to a lack of interest in the course material or selective participation to obtain the grades I needed without the actual legwork of learning the material.

  3. 3. Constant Interruptions in Learning Areas

    When on campus, it is so easy to find a study location that suits you - some friends enjoy different levels of the library due to the various levels of chatter that are allowed, study on the mall due to the change of scenery (literally!) or even study at their apartments in their rooms with doors closed. However, at home with my family, I didn’t have as many options leading to a lack of a place where I could attend class fully uninterrupted. Especially when you have siblings or family working from home as well, those spaces become crowded or you can’t use a room in the house for several hours without someone needing to come in, pass through or come to you for something. At the time, my brother had recently had a baby and would bring the kids over to visit. I loved getting to see them, but having them over when I was supposed to be in class became chaotic. My brother would often try to converse with me before realizing I was indeed in class. I soon hated having my camera on because I had no clue who was going to walk through the door at any given time. Understandably this caused frustration as constant interruptions and a lack of a study space made it more challenging to get my work done - it became easier to just blow off my school work entirely as a result.

  4. 4. Online Everything Became All-Consuming

    When classes were held in person, I didn’t mind having an online portal for assignments and it was actually a nice tool to have for courses. Can’t find a paper copy of that syllabus you received on the first day of courses? It’s on Blackboard. Couldn’t make one of your course discussions due to sickness? Post your response to the online discussion to still get a participation grade. Let’s face it, online portals were our friend - not the enemy. Yet with an onslaught of new platforms to use for various classes (Brightspace, Google Classroom, Slack, Zoom, and others) and with our classes taking place online as well either via synchronous teaching or remote learning, it became overwhelming as now all of our content was in one place - which sounded good in theory but became too much for students in its execution.

  5. 5. Disconnect From My School Community Due to Distance

    This was a bit of a no-brainer, I mean obviously, if I’m home, I’m not on campus or with my friends and maintaining the same amount of social interaction that I was having before. Yet part of the reason I loved being on campus and was able to succeed personally and academically on and off-campus was because I thrive off the social interactions the University of Maine has to offer through organizations and classes. I found myself missing the overall environment of UMaine and feeling even more distant because I wasn’t physically there and was experiencing an entirely different semester than my friends were who had stayed on campus.

After having time to reflect on my choice and after a lot of going back and forth, I can confidently state that I don’t regret withdrawing from my fall semester classes. It has truly given me time to not rush life. As a student, it can feel as though there’s a certain path you have to follow from start to finish because timing is everything and if I wanted to fulfill a certain career or pursue anything, it was looked at more like an accomplishment if it takes less time rather than more.

Now, I know it’s important to listen to what your heart wants and to trust your gut because, in the end, you can always start again, and taking time off, slowing down or other decisions of the like aren’t the end all be all to a college career yet a small part of me wishes I pushed through this semester like many others are doing. However, I don’t hold it against myself that I didn’t because at the time I had made that decision, I didn’t have the same outlook that I have now. Honestly, taking a step back and a break from academics has given me insight on what is truly meaningful to me inside and outside of college and what I should improve on next semester or what I should do to prepare for it. That being said, I came up with five tips to consider when planning your virtual schedule because I wish I had kept these in mind when I had done mine - part of my decision was based on the preliminary experience I had with remote schooling and maybe if I knew more then, I would have been able to cater that schedule to how I am as a student rather than trying to work on other schedules at the expense of my own. 

 

  1. Allow Yourself Freedom To Explore Opportunities - Academics is a HUGE component of our lives but it doesn’t have to be the only one. Internships, job opportunities, and spending your semester doing something more real-world driven than academics driven can not only allow you to apply what you’ve learned inside the classroom to areas outside of it but prevent academic burnout. 

 

  1. Choose Classes That Genuinely Interest You - Maybe this is the time to take advantage of the many classes being offered remotely that otherwise aren’t due to scheduling conflicts or lack of interest. Otherwise, try to save those hard and tedious courses for times that suit you - or find an alternative semester to take them if taking it online won’t capture your interest and cause your grades to suffer as a result.

 

  1. Place Breaks In Between Your Classes - It’s great in theory to do three courses back to back and have the rest of your day to yourself but remember that online courses and doing everything remotely chews up more time. If you have three courses back to back in the beginning of your day, that just means you’ll spend more time at night preparing for those which can lead to exhaustion. Try to create breaks not only between your courses but schedule courses around your day (especially if you are part of organizations, workout in your downtime, or have a hobby that you pursue regularly) rather than the opposite - plan your day around your courses!

 

  1. Create a Designated Learning Environment - Find a study spot where you can be uninterrupted during not only your courses but while you are working on assignments. Nothing kills your motivation more than constantly being interrupted or having family members walking behind you while your camera is on or making noise while your professor or classmates are speaking. Whether this is a space in your home or at a coffee shop down the street, this will make all the difference in ensuring you can concentrate on your courses and be confident that you can put your energy and attention towards the right task(s)!

 

  1. Hang in there a.k.a. (this s**t is tough) 

It’s no secret that online schooling is causing several problems for many students. Even students taking semesters off or lighter course loads are also having a hard time as well, we’ve just got to hang in there. Know you aren’t alone in what you’re feeling and experiencing as many students are trying to not only navigate new academic settings but also professional and personal ones. Hopefully, this will soon come to pass - or maybe we’ll just get better at doing it! Either way, I know that I will learn a lot about myself and others during this time as we are now all outside of the classroom operating in a very challenging real-world arena.