Advice for Making the Transition to College During A Pandemic

By Sarah Tibbitts

Big transitions in life are tough and transitioning to a new step during COVID makes things even more challenging. For many people, this past year has been monotonous, spent in bedroom-offices taking Zoom calls. For others, this year has involved navigating huge changes and moves while trying to remain safe. For most students, going to college means living on their own for the first time, which comes with a lot more changes than just academic setting. Those currently in college trying to navigate internships, job-hunting, and next steps after graduation are dealing with a lot of change too. Take all of that and add a global pandemic, and you’ve got yourself some stressful moments!


We thought you might want a little advice. To write this article, I spoke with four college students/recent grads, all of whom are in different stages of their college career and doing very different things. They shared advice on what has helped them be successful during the pandemic, and how they have navigated these big changes. While these particular students are in or recently graduated from college, these same tips can be applied to those in or soon to graduate from high school!


Most of the advice our interviewees shared can be boiled down to three helpful buckets: staying organized, being patient and prioritizing mental health, and staying connected with friends and loved ones from home.

Stay Organized

Organization is a key tool for success in high school, which, if you’re reading this article, you likely already know! Perhaps you have color coded notebooks and folders, use a planner, or have teachers who help you keep track of your assignments. In college, most professors give out syllabi that have all your important dates for the semester. In a time when most school is happening online, putting these dates in a virtual calendar can help you remember. Says recent college graduate Ben Kanas,

“Staying organized and keeping a routine is key to success in college during COVID. Whether you use Google Calendar, a handwritten time schedule, or any other time management system, stick to it!

He goes on to suggest, “Wake up every day at the same time, you be surprised how much you can get done in the morning!” Current college junior Trisha offers similar advice, saying, “I recommend being really proactive with planning. I have found that weekly to-do lists work best for me, find what helps you plan the best and actually stick to it.”



Mental Health Matters

Striving to be successful in school while dealing with the stresses of a pandemic can be really difficult, especially if you’re in the process of a big transition. Prioritizing your mental health is key, whether through therapy, exercise, getting enough sleep, talking to friends, or general self-care. In addition, it’s important to keep in mind that your energy levels and level of passion may look different on a day-to-day basis, and vastly different from pre-pandemic times. This is very normal, and you are not alone in feeling this way. Trisha encourages incoming freshmen and other students to

Be patient with yourself. Don't be afraid to reach out to loved ones if you feel alone & prioritize your mental health!”

Recent college graduate Stefanie shared that trying new things was key to keeping up her mental health during a pandemic. “My advice is be confident, try new things, don’t be afraid to fail, and have fun doing it!”


Find Ways to Stay Connected

Staying connected to friends and loved ones has never been more important than now, in a time when many of us feel isolated. If you are a high school student spending every day at home, you may be feeling sick of your family and deeply missing friends or classmates with whom you are used to sharing the school experience. If you are already in college, you may be far away from family and really missing your loved ones. If you are in transition mode or preparing to graduation, many of these things may be in limbo. College senior Mimi shared with me some really helpful tips about staying connected to friends and loved ones.

In terms of self-care, I think avoiding isolation is key. Activities like group crafting and book clubs are really fun ways to stay connected with one’s ‘pod,’ and can totally be done over Zoom as well.”

However, hours spent on Zoom every day for class or work can lead to burnout or fatigue. To combat this, Mimi recommends “Staying in touch with my home friends has provided me a lot of comfort. I recommend Zoom cocktail hours and game nights in lieu of texting.” Finally, connecting with people in-person is so crucial, but a global pandemic makes that challenging. Mimi shared, “I think the biggest challenge of this past year was finding ways to connect with people that were COVID-safe. I’ve found that hiking, walking, running—or really any outdoor activity that is concentrated around exercise— is a really enjoyable way to keep in touch with friends, even in the cold weather.” To the extent to which this is possible for you, spending some time outside and away from your computer is key to your success in and outside of school!

Each person’s school experience is different, and what folks go on to do after high school and college is even more varied! What works for one person doesn’t always work for everyone else, especially in the varied circumstances of a pandemic. However, it is clear to see from each of these successful students and graduates that it’s always a journey! Staying organized, being patient with yourself, being okay with taking a few risks and trying new things, being vulnerable with yourself and others about your emotions, and exploring new exciting—and sometimes daunting—possibilities are all a part of that journey. If you’re reading this early in your high school journey, let’s hope that by the time you’re ready to make this transition, you’ll be vaccinated, and life will be fully in-person! Still, these tips remain tried and true!

Thanks so much to our interviewees!


Ben (he/him), The Ohio State University ’20

Ben is originally from Columbus, OH. He spent the first 6 months after graduating working virtually on a presidential campaign, before moving to Israel to complete his master’s degree in Tel Aviv.


Stefanie (she/her), The Ohio State University ’20

Stefanie is originally from Chicago, IL. She has spent the past year working remotely for Capital One, and will transition to Washington, DC to resume work in-person after the pandemic.


Mimi (she/her), Tufts University ’21

Mimi is originally from Cleveland, OH. She has spent much of the past year of the pandemic living near campus and working in a lab.


Trisha (she/her), The Ohio State University ’22

Trisha is originally from Cleveland, OH. She has spent most of the pandemic taking classes virtually. She hopes to be able to complete a semester-long program in DC in-person this fall.

Sarah Tibbitts, a 2020 graduate of The Ohio State University, currently works as a Social Justice Fellow at Stanford University’s Hillel.