People go back to school during periods of economic uncertainty. We saw it during the 2009 recession and we see a surge in applications again in the wake of COVID-19. Unlike other times, going back to school during the pandemic is not your traditional on-campus experience.
While there are some clear benefits to being an at-home student, there are also a few downsides. In considering my experience last semester and this one, I have put together a list of what it can mean to be a remote grad student featuring the “good,” “the bad,” and the “ambiguous,” (“ambiguous” assuming its literal meaning: both good and bad):
- Zero Commute. My commute to school under normal circumstances would be 45 minutes two times a day, five times a week. That’s 7.5 hours a week total — that’s a whole night’s sleep! Imagine all that can be done with that much “free” time! For me, this temporal space has been filled with work/ homework (no surprise here 😉 ), exercise, and a bunch of hobbies (including hiking [more here], studying languages [I’ve decided to start learning Brazilian Portuguese 😀 ], baking [more here] walking, audiobooks, etc.).
- Money Saved. In Boston, if you have a Charlie Card, you pay $2.25 per ride on the subway (known as the “T”). Eliminating my daily commute, I should be saving about $90 a month, which is roughly $290 per semester and $585 an academic year. However, because I do go out occasionally, in reality I’m not saving nearly as much money here as I theoretically could. However, because I am out less of the time I spend less money on café sandwiches and convenience store snacks by cooking at home. So, overall, my food expenses have decreased.
- Other Pros: Some professors have lowered their expectations (is there anything more beautiful than low expectations??), which means a slightly easier course load at times. I also have fewer mandatory meetings (as a Teaching Assistant, I don’t have to physically show up for office hours), etc.
- Less Socialization. It can be harder to make friends. While my grad school cohort has met up a few times for Zoom socials, what we would really like to do is go out for drinks or even just get some of our coursework done in the same room. Being a remote student can easily mean social isolation. However, on the bright side, apps like WhatsApp make it easy for students to come together, if only through texting, to commiserate remotely.
- Increased Spending. While staying home most days can mean saving money on transportation and food, it can mean spending more money on other things, for example, on utilities. Being home, my electric bill has literally increased by 47% per month!!! Yeah, I’m in shock. Being at home every single day at all hours means that the lights are on for so much of the time!
- Attendance. Zoom classes can be too convenient at times. I am guilty of multitasking sometimes during class sessions, but some students really go overboard with this. In some of my classes, multiple times, it became embarrassingly obvious that some students, while appearing in the Zoom room, were not actually present.
- Other cons: There are also a whole host of cons that I am fortunate enough not to experience including: inconvenient time zones, unstable wifi, not having a quiet space to take classes/ study, food insecurity, etc.
- Asynchronous Classes. One of the simultaneous pros and cons of online courses is asynchronous classes (i.e. when students do not complete the lectures together). Last semester, I took an asynchronous class, which meant a list of readings, videos, and assignments — overall, it was somewhat easy to complete. However, this semester, I am taking a statistics/ programming course that is difficult for me to comprehend (more here) and I’m not the only one who feels this way (see image below). For some courses, in-person hands-on learning is essential.
- Daily Movement. On the plus side, with no commute to campus, one has much more time to exercise. However, without any built-in daily movement, perhaps, one does not actually choose to move more. I have had peaks and valleys when it comes to exercise. At times, I am signing up for exercise classes left and right (more here), however, other times in the dead of winter, motivation to move can be a struggle….
- Other ambiguities: for better or worse, sleep schedules have likely shifted, routines have changed, and the definition of the “grad school” experience has a special definition this past year.
While I look forward to vaccinations and a lessening of COVID-19 restrictions, all in all, I am enjoying my first year of graduate studies despite the pandemic.
For those of you who have submitted grad school applications this past year — I wish you the very best of luck!!