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Published: 5 may 2021 19:55

Admissions and university life during the pandemic: students and teachers share their experiences and advice

Happy graduates. Ridas Damkevičius photo
Happy graduates. Ridas Damkevičius photo

2020 saw the first graduation during the COVID-19 pandemic. It looks like we will be in the same situation this year, so we asked some of the teachers and students who graduated last year to share their experiences about leaving school during the pandemic, applying to universities and what to expect during this time.

At the American International School of Vilnius (AISV), the class of 2020 had to face several challenges when the pandemic started in March 2020. The IB exams were cancelled, travel restrictions were put in place, universities had to make adjustments, and students had to rethink their plans.

Graduating from high school and going to university is a milestone for every student -a chance to celebrate their achievements and look to the future. For many the pandemic had a significant impact on their progress: some students had to start their courses virtually due to travel restrictions, others were able to begin their studies but had to follow strict regulations, while some young people were forced to change their plans altogether.

“Students had to learn to be flexible and live with the uncertainties that COVID-19 has brought into their lives. We realized that we had to be able to adapt and keep our minds open to change and opportunities”, comments Claire Ruz, AISV College Counsellor.

She adds that the pandemic has affected admissions and universities in different ways, depending on the countries' regulations, the policies of universities and the challenges of the pandemic.

For example, some universities have received an increase in applications as standardized tests have become optional, while others have seen a decrease in applications as travel restrictions were enforced. At AISV, where students often apply to 3 or 4 countries, students have become more concerned about the distance and travel restrictions and are looking at staying closer to home, wherever this might be.

Searching for creative ways to celebrate

For seniors, graduating is supposed to be a time of celebration, a rite of passage, and a turning point for some as they decide to move to a different country.

“Of course, students are disappointed and at times saddened or even angry about not being able to celebrate, but they understand the gravity of the situation. Still, students will receive their diplomas, and we are finding creative ways to celebrate their achievements virtually while staying safe”, says Claire Ruz.

New skills for students as well as teachers

AISV students have been learning online since November 2020. According to Claire Ruz, the School’s administration and the teaching team are all very aware of the challenges this brings but they are also dedicated to the well-being of the students. Most classes at AISV are conducted synchronously and students must have their cameras on so that they can continue to engage and stay connected to each other and the AISV community. It also creates a form of routine and normalcy in this time of uncertainty and restrictions.

Happy graduates. Ridas Damkevičius photo
Happy graduates. Ridas Damkevičius photo

“For example, we have maintained our daily homeroom meetings so that our students stay informed, are able to share their concerns and celebrate achievements together as a class. Teachers have developed strategies and learned about new technologies, apps, programs, to keep students engaged during online classes and encourage learning. Virtual teaching and learning has also proven to be beneficial as teachers had to find new approaches to teach and students developed organization skills and became more independent. We have continue to offer extra-curricular activities, provide individual support to students and continue to adapt to meet the students' needs,” notes AISV College Counselor.

What does student life abroad look like in the context of COVID-19? Experiences and advice from AISV Alumni

Meghan McMorrow, 19, studying Global Challenges at Leiden University College The Hague:

“After graduating from high school, I faced many challenges due to the impact of COVID-19. I had to learn to adjust to a fully online curriculum. This was difficult as it was something I'm not used to. I am a very social person, so the lack of interaction between myself and fellow students as well as teachers was difficult. I advise those who will be graduating to accept the fact that university life will look different than expected, at least for some time. It is important that, despite the situation, we take care of ourselves and our mental health. Therefore, I would say try to get in the groove and stay in it. Balance your academics, but also your social life as much as you can. Be strong and remember it will be over soon”.

Mantas, 19, studying Biochemistry at the University of Edinburgh:

Tough luck graduating during the ongoing pandemic, but there is a very very slim chance that by the time you guys go to universities, everything will start moving back to normal...Anyhow, here's a couple of my tips:

  1. Before you actually enroll at university, you might have questions about how your courses will be run, assignments, practical activities, etc. (especially during these strange times). Instead of using a general inquiry email, you should contact your professors or course organizers. Although it might be intimidating talking to your professors for the first time, chances are they will respond much faster and answer your question accurately.
  2. Once your classes begin, don't get overconfident. Having done IB, the first month or so might be very easy, but afterwards it gets rather hard really quickly.
  3. If you are given a choice for direct entry into the second year, don't take it. I was given such an option due to having done IB, but there is a huge amount of stuff you learn in your first year, which will be crucial to your second and third year courses, stuff that IB doesn't teach you about”.

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