Universities across the world are deciding whether to reopen next term – and how. This is what students can expect campus life will look like this fall. From classes in outdoor tents to improved mental health services, there may be some unexpected changes to the university experience.

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Will classes be online or on campus?


A significant number of students worldwide will be learning online this fall. The California State University, for example – the largest in the US, with 23 campuses – will not reopen and classes will take place virtually. The University of Cambridge (UK) has announced it will stick to online learning for the entire 2020-2021 academic year. In the Netherlands, as well, universities will continue with mostly online instruction until February 2021.

On campus

Not everyone is moving to a virtual classroom, though – far from it. Other US universities including Brown and Purdue have announced a commitment to reopen in the fall, using strict safety measures such as mass testing for the coronavirus. And in Australia, the government has begun a gradual reopening. At first, students will gather in small classes of up to 10 people. Later, numbers will increase to 20 and eventually up to 100 people. That way, students are gradually readjusting to normal campus life.

Blended learning

You should be aware, though, that even at schools that have announced an extended lockdown, there may be exceptions. For example, California State will allow “limited opportunities for in-person instruction” – students in the sciences may be able to do lab research, for example. It is best to reach out directly to the schools you are interested in and inquire what parts of the learning process will take place on campus.

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New modes of learning

Unusual classrooms

As schools revise their teaching methods, the learning process may be different – and more exciting. For example, Stanford University (US) has announced that most fall classes may take place in outdoor tents on its campus. Going to class on a lawn shaded by palm trees may not be what students expected, but it sounds even better than the usual classroom.

Optional in-person modules

Some universities in the UK will try out an original solution: they will give students the choice of how they want to learn. Everyone will take classes online, but students can also attend in-person sessions if they wish. That way, those who prefer distance learning, for example due to underlying health issues, can prioritise safety, while others can get the campus experience.

Higher expectations

It is not yet certain whether most classes will take place online, in a classroom, or even outdoors. But as schools are trying out new modes of teaching, students may see some unexpected benefits. Universities now realise that, for students to come to campus, the experience has to be worth it. Students can expect less passive lecturing and more active learning such as experiments and real-world projects.

A new kind of campus life

How about campus life beyond the classroom? For many students, the thrill of a Masters degree is about meeting people from around the world and diving into new extracurricular activities. Would that still be possible?

Students can expect new rules and procedures for campus life. Those who live on campus may have fewer roommates and therefore more privacy. Cafeterias will offer takeout so that students can eat with a few friends outdoors or in their dormitory.

Sports will resume and teams will continue training, but high-profile tournaments with large audiences are unlikely to return yet. Other hobbies and club activities will likely be allowed, so long as they do not involve mass gatherings. You may still sing in a choir, for example, but you may not be able to perform in large campus events (unless they take place virtually).

Travel with classmates will be more difficult. If you remain on campus during vacations, you will be able to spend more free time with peers and make use of university services and facilities.

In short, the campus experience will be different, but as rich as ever. Events and classes will be smaller and more personal. Going to school at this unusual time may lead to even stronger, lifelong friendships.

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More student services

Universities are stepping up and offering more support for students. Mental health has become a priority. Additionally, the career services office will likely be offering individual consultations, whether in person or online. In the current economic crisis, students can expect more coaching during their job or internship search.

International students will receive special guidance as travel restrictions and visa requirements evolve. University administrators are working hard to make sure admitted students are on track to arrive for the start of the semester. Nobody knows exactly how things will develop – but schools are there to help.

Campus life this fall will be different at each university. Students can expect smaller in-person classes focused on interaction and hands-on projects. They will likely spend more time outdoors than in classrooms or auditoriums. Social life will focus on informal gatherings with close friends. Additionally, students can get more support from mental health and career counselors. Graduate school will be a unique experience during which students can create a strong network of lifelong friendships.