The Impact of COVID-19 on College Students’ Social Lives, Mental Health, and Grades

August 11, 2022

written by
Madeleine Arbaugh
ASCO Communications Intern

Editor’s Note: the below blog post was written about undergraduate students and how they are affected by and coping with the pandemic. Optometry students, or future students, could have similar thoughts and concerns. If you, or someone you know, is feeling suicidal, please dial 988 to reach The Lifeline. The Lifeline provides 24/7, free and confidential support for people in distress, prevention and crisis resources for you or your loved ones, and best practices for professionals in the United States.

When Camille started her first year at Virginia Tech, she had high expectations for her new college life. However, she soon realized that the COVID-19 pandemic would get in the way of her plans. As an incoming freshman, it was extremely difficult to make friends and all her classes were online. After the fall semester ended, she moved back home and transferred to the University of Maryland.

“I felt like I couldn’t meet anyone,” she explains.  “There were no activities, and everyone had to stay in their rooms alone almost the entire time. I wasn’t close with my roommate either, so I didn’t really have anyone to talk to.” 

Being unable to make any friends or even interact with people can be incredibly mentally draining, especially in an unfamiliar environment. Many students across the country have a strong sense of loneliness due to the lack of a social life the pandemic has caused. Being social and connecting with those around them is a crucial part of the experience that they are being deprived of.

In addition to this, feeling isolated can exacerbate the mental health issues that can come with starting college. Many young adults feel an overwhelming amount of stress being on their own for the first time and completely responsible for their own social lives, physical and mental health, and schoolwork. When faced with isolation, fear of a worldwide pandemic affecting the health of themselves and their loved ones, and a new online format for classes, this can become too much. Students may experience feelings of anxiety and depression, and even increased suicidal thoughts.

Engineering student Colby found himself significantly more anxious about schoolwork since his classes were online. He remembered, “I pretty much had to teach myself the material, since a lot of my classes were asynchronous and had a lot of students in them. My professors were hard to reach, so I couldn’t get the help I needed.” Even though many classes have moved back in person, the effects of the pandemic on learning have been long-lasting. Students feel that they are behind and have difficulty readjusting to normal classes.

As a student myself, I have experienced lower grades during the pandemic. It is like I am constantly catching up on assignments, which are hard to keep track of when some are online, and some are not. I also feel that my lower scores also come from the stress of the pandemic itself and being in a constant state of worry.

To cope with this stress and pass their classes, students need to look to resources more than ever. Camille feels that she would have had more success with a little more help from her professors. “Some of my teachers are really strict with us,” she says. “They don’t take any late or make-up work, which I could’ve really used.” She felt that everything was all piling up and was under too much stress and anxiety to begin dealing with it. This has always been an issue for students, even more so during the pandemic.

While some of the pandemic’s restrictions have lifted, it is still going on, and it is hard for anyone to forget that. Students feel that they are not able to relax until things are “back to normal”. Colby said, “I’ve been trying to make the best of it, but I just hope that I can have one normal year of college, like how it was before all of this.” While no one knows when or if this will occur, the best thing students can do is try to take care of themselves and do things that bring them peace in this stressful time.