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Is Zoom University Worth It?

My mom has always had a rule that my sister and I must go to college straight after high school — no gap years allowed. With the way college is looking right now, however, I am beginning to wonder if it is really worth it to spend thousands of dollars to stare at a screen […]

My mom has always had a rule that my sister and I must go to college straight after high school — no gap years allowed. With the way college is looking right now, however, I am beginning to wonder if it is really worth it to spend thousands of dollars to stare at a screen for eight hours a day. 

As schools find a balance between keeping students safe while also providing them with their money’s worth, many college professors are having to change the way they teach. Professor Jim Wanket, a geography professor at Sacramento State, says that his main goal is to make his classes look as close to face-to-face teaching as possible.

Mr. Wanket’s classroom and office setup in his workshop 

“I’m approaching it as a way to help students with as much of a sense of normalcy as possible while also providing some leeway,” Prof. Wanket explains, surrounded by camping supplies and tools in his workshop that now serves as his office and classroom.

He holds lectures with required attendance and records them for any students who are experiencing technology issues. Some professors are having harder time adjusting due to the structure of their class, and utilize online lab programs that replace the in-person experiments that they would normally be conducting.

When I asked Emelia Sprott ‘20 about what college looks like for her right now as a Freshman at UC Berkeley, she said that she has one pre-recorded lecture to watch and all other classes are live on Zoom. To keep students from getting sick, Emelia’s university has asked that students not come to the dorms unless it is completely necessary, and facilities such as the library on campus are closed. 

College is notorious for parties, dorms, and other social events that are irresponsible and dangerous to participate in during a global pandemic. But Professor Wanket thinks the social aspect of college life is the students’ biggest loss.

“All those interactions with people on campus with people they otherwise would never come in contact with — they are missing out on that completely,” he says defeatedly. 

Emelia went through sorority rush on Zoom and has yet to meet her sorority sisters in person even though she plans to move in with them. She also finds participating in class difficult.

“Meeting people and asking questions in class you can’t really do because you can’t interrupt,” Emelia told me over FaceTime.

After hearing about the downsides of Zoom University, I spoke to CB’s college counselor Ms. Melissa McClellan to learn about the logistics of taking a gap year. She told me that most students taking a gap year apply to programs such as the Rotary International Youth Exchange at the same time as they are applying to colleges. Most colleges will hold that student’s place while they participate in the program, although not UCs, who make you reapply.

These programs are not the only option for students who want to take a gap year; some work to make money, while others work internationally, go on service trips, or spend time traveling.

Prof. Wanket himself took five gap years between high school and college. He still managed to get his PhD at UC Berkeley and has been teaching and researching at Sac State for over 15 years. Taking a few years off wasn’t a plan he sat down and made, but more of a need to re-shift to a non-school context, as his mind “just couldn’t focus in college”. Prof. Wanket lived alone and worked at restaurants during his five years. He said it wasn’t easy for him to go back to school, but when he did, he totally enjoyed it, and was very involved in his studies. 

The struggle of returning to school is why Ms. McClellan suggests participating in a program that will hold your spot at college, or better yet, go straight to college and participate in year abroad programs so that you don’t get stranded in foreign country the following year when you’re trying to apply. If taking a gap year is appealing, between undergrad and grad school is a safer option. If you do decide to take a one, Professor Wanket says that students returning to college from gap years are very rewarding to teach because they are more focused and know exactly what they want.

Putting together a pandemic and a gap year does not yield great results. Jobs are especially hard to get right now, especially without a college degree. A lot of the service programs are cancelled, especially those overseas, meaning you might be left sitting at home staring at a screen anyway.

College students are missing out on a lot right now, but it is a small price to pay for the health and safety of the community. We are living in extremely uncertain times and getting a college education is important to ensure stability for the future. After the pandemic ends, the last thing you’ll want to do is go to school. Save the adventure for when it’s safe.

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