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As college life tries to return to normal, it couldn’t be more uncertain

Just when we thought the return to college life in the fall was looking rather “normal,” hurdles continue to haunt the future. Plain and simply: the uncertainty surrounding college life makes for a harrowing experience for returning students and especially college freshmen.

Most universities seem to choose their bottom line over the well-being and education of their students. And with difficulties in organization and planning from many colleges, students, especially those that live on campus, are the ones that suffer. Here are the questions universities and students should be asking themselves as the fall semester approaches.

Mask or no mask?

With states lifting all Covid-related safety restrictions earlier this summer, going back to classes in person was looking bright and easy.

Colleges requiring the vaccine for their students to return to campus made it seem like masks would be long gone in classrooms and school halls. But after barely a few months free of face covering, the rising cases due to the Delta variant continue to cause concern.

Indeed, the prospect of a screen-free, mask-free return to classes was rather invigorating for those registering for in-person courses. If not a little overwhelming, after hiding behind those things for over a year, entering a classroom with a visible smile on your face sounded unheard of up until recently.

But just as excitement reached its peak, it’s nerve-wracking to feel like it could all crumble back down.

Housing or no housing?

In spite of disappointing changes to what returning in person might look like, students remain eager to go back. But yet another challenge is arising for colleges that rely mostly on their on-campus housing option: space.

While last spring enrollment rates declined, this year the opposite phenomenon occurred, leaving colleges on a bit of a limb. Truly the uncertainty around college life right now could not be much more severe.

From study abroad restrictions to delayed graduation times following the pandemic, students are returning to campus in greater numbers than colleges anticipated.

This means hopeless waitlists even for students embarking on their senior year and pursuing their thesis who absolutely need to attend classes in person. For students attending colleges where the off-campus living options are scarce and for those on financial aid, the uncertainty is draining.

While some institutions prove to be rather unresponsive, others are trying everything they can to accommodate as many students as possible. And they are doing so in rather surprising ways.

Middlebury College in Vermont is offering up to 50 percent discounts on their room and board rates if students opt for college housing that is further away. Meanwhile, Dartmouth is simply offering $5,000 to students who decide to opt-out of dorm-living.

But after feeling alienated from an environment that once felt or should have felt like home, students’ desire to be where they are meant to be is hard to shake. The enthusiasm of returning to in-person classes, and to life in general, is palpable, making these complications disheartening.

Reconnecting amongst college life’s uncertainty

Whatever way we look at them, these months continue to be a rollercoaster of hope, frustration, disappointment, and back around.

Grateful as ever for the things that are falling back into place, we need to hold on tight. This year has proven to be a challenge in all shapes and forms, and even though it isn’t over, it doesn’t mean that what is to come can’t be better.