It is commonly a joke to say that we lost the concept of time during the Coronavirus Crisis. Not only do we forget what day it is, but people have somewhat forgotten that just last year in July people were panicking to find good deals to return to school. One of the toughest questions out there right now with the world figuratively being on fire is whether you should return to school, specifically to online classes or even to campus. This is a very delicate question in which requires significant consideration. I will answer some questions and provide knowledge to the best of my capability, but ultimately the decision is yours to make and you may not want just the information from a blogger to make that decision.
That being said, many of my colleagues and even some family members have various points of view and are questioning whether they should return to school.
How Close Are You To Graduating?
My sister in-law’s sister is close to my age and like me she was going for her PhD. Unfortunately, she has not graduated yet. She has only a few credits left to obtain it. I know many colleagues who are in a very similar position. One of whom I work with at my current employer.
My general recommendation is to do everything you can to stick it out if you are almost done. If you are almost finished with your degree schools may put in efforts to help you to graduate. But only if you reach out to the department. They know the situation (maybe a little too well). The question is not so much should you return to school during Covid as much as it is can you return?
Situations With Minimal Effects
I have talked with a colleague who belongs to the computational chemistry department. He said the Coronavirus has minimally affected his work. He works more in computer programming and statistical analysis. If your work is similar to this, your capability to finish your degree should be minimally effected too. My school and work colleague is just finishing up and essentially writing his thesis. Writing is one of the few things you can do with the strictest lock downs so if you only have a thesis to write now may be the time to push out as much as possible.
However, there will almost always be something you need to go on site to do, even if pretty much everything can be done remotely. Luckily our state of PA has in general re-opened up, at least to a moderate level, even in Philadelphia. I imagine students who have to go in can do so with some restrictions. It is worth mentioning we reside in one of the few states which has not severely surged in cases or deaths so that all, but certainly will not be the case in California, Florida, or Texas.
As for lectures, as long as they come from the same university you were obtaining what you paid for in the first place. Online classes received a bad rep because of non-accredited universities which primarily teach via online classes.
Situations With More Effects
There are some situations where being in person is necessary for research or work. For instance, while I did some computational chemistry work I also did lab bench work. I imagine work in lab would be more restrictive in my case. It would be difficult to social distance when you have twenty people in a lab and frequently cross paths with lab classes. There are many healthcare classes at my school I know are impossible to take online. Not unless you want to trust a health professional who watched a how to video to save your life. A healthcare worker learning how to save people’s lives with online class is like a soldier learning to fight with video games. There is some disconnect to say the least.
Most majors attend lectures to get their degree. In STEM we attend lectures to take the classes that give us exposure to practical experience and research work to make our degree.
There are also some situations where your education is tied with your work. Jobs and their benefits may be cut. If you have a job which allowed you to work towards a degree they may be unable to provide you with that benefit anymore. In that case, you should consider if you should pursue your degree without the aid of your employer. That being said aid can be obtained from other sources.
Your employer may be more open to the concept of you doing online classes. That will increase your flexibility for work.
Everyone is different and you may have different needs to finish up school than others.
Problems With Cancelling School Plans
May Not Be Able To Re Enroll
As easy as it sounds for people to skip a semester or even a year of classes it is just not always possible. Almost every deferral or leave of absence from school requires special circumstances (current events may suffice). You need to ask your school’s administration about taking a leave of absence. This may need to be the case since many international students are leaving the US.
Unfortunately, if you do not ask for advanced leave and you take off the school could still charge you for the semester or even fail you. My old roommate had to ask for a reschedule of his tests to mourn for his deceased sister. He was asking for no more than a few weeks. One of his professors told him if he did not take the test when scheduled he would fail. I am pretty sure he found a way around, but I am not sure. If educators can be that inflexible during that situation imagine what they could say to you if you do not ask for the leave of absence in advanced. It could cost you financially and you may not be re enrolled in school. Ask your school how this will work.
Loss Of Network
One of the cases to how higher education is more than just classes is the development of a network. Networking is probably the main key to success after graduation. It is almost impossible to develop that online. People will remember you and trust you far more face to face. If you try purely online classes, you will lose out on one of, if not the main propellant for your career.
Should you return to school this Fall? Many are saying there is no safe way to reopen schools in America during Fall. They are most likely right. There are always risks to reopening. No one should be surprised about that.
Attending school in person has far more professional benefits than just attending online, at least right now. I have met my most valuable connections attending class together and by attending panels. One of these connections is a relative of the director of a large pharma firm (not the one I currently work for), another is the founder of a world class business who is an alumni of my school, and another helped me find my current job. These connections were made within a few minutes of meeting them. You never know who you will run into even at 6 feet away.
I know there are people trying to produce webinars and sessions online to increase networking. However, I do not know too much about them because I am not attending school anymore. If you attend school and attend these online networking events, you are more experienced in this department than I am. You never know what you are missing out on till you attend these schools to determine how these networking events work. Either way, missing out on school and doing nothing at home may be the worst thing you could do in this crisis.