The Tolls and Terrors of a Pandemic, In the Words of College Students

graduating in the coronavirus pandemic

“I went from being secure in post-grad plans to having no direction at all.” Here are the voices of 20 college students who have had to contend with a semester of uncertainty. Photo-illustration: Eric Vilas-Boas for Observer; Photo: Richard Baker/In Pictures/Getty Images

In this ongoing global pandemic, just about everyone is asking themselves, “What now?” For college students like me, the question is even more acute. Across the country, we were abruptly sent home with no idea when we would be going back to school. As the COVID-19 uncertainty escalates, many internship and job opportunities are being canceled for students who are wrapping up their spring semesters. Graduation ceremonies are being postponed, and intimate, personal moments we’ve been waiting for all our lives have been taken away by this virus. For Observer, I asked my fellow students to share how they’ve been affected by the novel coronavirus and any anxieties or hopes they have about the future.

As a Fordham student myself, many of the responses came from other Fordham students or colleges in the Northeast, but these feelings are widespread. Importantly, it’s not all doom and gloom. Universities and colleges across the country have considered refunds for room and board, continuations of pay for work-study programs and a variety of pass-fail options negatively impacted by COVID-19. Efforts are being made to soften the blow of these disappointments, yet the situation remains disheartening and stressful for many students.

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“It is so heartbreaking to not be able to do all the senior events we had planned for the end of the semester,” said Kelsey Smith, a Syracuse University senior and one of millions in the class of 2020 whose commencements have been disrupted.

Many of us are lucky that we and our loved ones remain safe and healthy, and that we have the privilege to continue our educations online. However, there is no doubt that the canceled celebrations and opportunities to applaud our hard work don’t sting. Crucial hallmarks of the 4-year college experience have been stripped from us. Job insecurity is at an all-time high, with 20.5 million Americans losing jobs in April and the unemployment rate hitting 14.7%. We will soon add millions of college graduates to an economy in worse shape than ever.

“My job at home let go of over 40 employees, and now I don’t have a job anywhere,” said David Fretz, a student at Fordham University. “I don’t know the next time I’ll be able to make any money at all.”

As depressing as some of them sound, my hope is that these quotes help students like me feel heard and less alone in our individual hardships.

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“As a nurse, I might now be hired directly out of school. Meaning I will be on the frontline of this pandemic as an already nervous and inexperienced nurse. I expected to start work in September or October. Now I’m jumping into the adult life much quicker than expected, it’s scary.”
—Tara O’Dell, SUNY Plattsburgh, ’20

“I was planning on meeting with people this semester at work to figure out my plan. Most places aren’t focused on hiring right now due to the pandemic. So, I likely will graduate without a job lined up?”
—Brenna Powers, Fordham University, ’20

“I had just finished over 20 hours of unpaid training for an on-campus job the day before classes got canceled and the university effectively closed. I was supposed to work that job over the summer to help pay my off-campus rent, and now I have no idea whether I will be able to return to work at all. My job at home let go of over 40 employees, and now I don’t have a job anywhere. I don’t know the next time I’ll be able to make any money at all.”
—David Fretz, Fordham University, ’22

“As a grocery store cashier, my job is considered essential, so I’m lucky enough to be working while my roommates are all out of a job. However, with the increasing fear of COVID-19 as well as the increased spread in NYC, many employees have been calling out sick or simply taking a leave of absence. At first, I liked having more shifts but now I’m just being overworked. I get called in early every day and asked to stay late because we are understaffed and busier than we’ve ever been. Being the only one in my apartment with a job, I have to keep working in order to have a source of income for bills, food, etc. This has obviously impacted the amount of time I have to focus on my classes.”
—Dominick Basilone, Fordham University, ’22

“It’s weird thinking about the last time I saw people in my classes, casual friends, or people I always saw out. Those are people I probably won’t see much of, if at all, again. As for my close friends, it is so heartbreaking to not be able to do all the senior events we had planned for the end of the semester. We didn’t know we were having our lasts when they were happening. Now I don’t know what my next step is. I went from being secure in post-grad plans to having no direction at all.”
—Kelsey Smith, Syracuse University, ’20

“The spring semester of my junior year was affected pretty drastically by the coronavirus. I was studying abroad in London for the semester, and we started to see the effects of the virus within the first month and a half of being there. Unfortunately, we were actually planning on going to Milan the week the outbreak began there, so we had to cancel that trip at the very last minute. Overall, the timing of it all was very unlucky as within around 6 or 7 weeks of the experience (toward the end of February), the program was seemingly coming to an end.”
—Drew Frank, Fordham University, ’21

“Not being on campus meant I had to go home to California which isn’t doing too hot anyway. Also, I have to get up three hours earlier for my classes, and I had to push back my MCAT.”
—Vincent Huang, Johns Hopkins University, ’20

“My paid internship was cut short due to the pandemic, leaving me without an income for the time being, and I have no idea if I’ll be able to get a job or internship over the summer. My month-long study abroad program in Granada was canceled. While not the end of the world by any stretch,  this has seriously messed up my ‘four-year plan,’ and now I’m uncertain as to if I will be able to accomplish as much as I wanted before graduating or complete many of my academic goals such as potentially double majoring.”
—Reilly Dunne, Fordham University, ’22

“The pandemic canceled my summer program to study Sustainable Urban Transportation in Delft, Netherlands.”
—Alex Oswald, Northeastern University, ’20 

“In cutting my semester short, COVID-19 took away my opportunity to attend senior week events and spend the remaining time I had at Fordham with my friends and people who have made the last four years truly special. Thankfully, I’m going to graduate school next year so the pandemic hasn’t impacted that at all.”
—Laurel Dillon, Fordham University, ’20

“I’ve lost out on an internship I planned on as well as my current job, and potentially my summer job as well. I feel as if I’m anxious without the anxiety even being my own.”
—Cierra Bailey, Hudson Valley Community College, ’22

“I left campus with no idea when I’d be coming back. We have online classes for the rest of the semester and we can choose to pass/fail all of our classes after seeing our grades. I have to decide what law school I’m going to through all virtual tours and virtual admitted student days.”
—Brianna Martins, University of Delaware, ’20

“I was being forced out of my apartment, all my friends were all gone for spring break already. I packed up my apartment alone and drove back across the country alone. Because of this, seniors are missing out on the ability to say goodbye to the campus in their own time and celebrate the end of college with their friends. In addition to this, I had planned to visit some law school campuses at the end of March which I had to cancel because of this.
—Dianna Ybarra, Fordham University, ’20

“I’m currently in a graduate program which has drastically changed. I don’t know if I’ll student-teach on time or pass my edTPA [a requirement necessary for a teaching certification].”
—Grace Hogan, SUNY Plattsburgh, ’20

“My roommate and I are still planning on staying in New York but are stressed about finding jobs. We both understand, though, that it might be a lot longer than anticipated for us to find something. My biggest fear is that the virus will resurface before we can find work and that we’ll be quarantined in the city without an income.”
—Kayla Dempsey, Fordham University, ’20

“I was supposed to start dental school in June, and I don’t know what’s going to happen now.”
—Andrew Polito, SUNY Binghamton, ’20

“I lost all three of my jobs; however, the companies I work for are doing amazing things to keep me financially stable.”
—Mason Rowlee, Fordham University, ’20

“I haven’t been able to apply for a summer internship because practically no one wants to hire right now considering they don’t know what the future holds with COVID-19.”
—Devan Maxstadt, Fashion Institute of Technology, ’22

“As an education student, I’m losing many of my opportunities to teach practice lessons to a class and I lost the ability to observe at local high schools. I also lost all three of my jobs (two on campus, and one off-campus) because I had to leave and go home.”
—Anna Craig, Hartwick College, ’22

“I’m most affected by the lack of closure.  Second-semester senior year is supposed to be about making memories with your friends and getting the most out of your campus.  I’m just sad to miss that opportunity. Class-wise, I’m super impressed with how my professors are handing it. I don’t feel like my education is suffering, all things considered.”
—Rachel Malak, Fordham University, ’20

Comments have been lightly edited for clarity.

The Tolls and Terrors of a Pandemic, In the Words of College Students