My College Journey in the Age of COVID-19

Categories: EMPOWERMENT AND SUCCESS: Scholarship Opportunities, SCHOLARSHIPS: Students Under 24 Years of Age, Students,

Editor's Note: Throughout the 2020-2021 school year, we will be sharing dispatches and sentiments from students receiving scholarships from the Community Foundation of Sarasota County. Our fourth guest author is Sachit Gali, a 2019 recipient of the Lela D. Jackson Scholarship (an award of $50,000 over 4 years, with $12,500 per year).

Hello, my name is Sachit Gali and I was born and raised here in Sarasota, Florida. I graduated from Pine View School in 2019 and began my studies at the University of Pennsylvania in the fall of 2019. I am currently in my second year of college and am pursuing a major in Mathematical Economics.

The COVID-19 pandemic has made drastic changes in everyone’s lives, students included. As a freshman in college last year, the pandemic impacted the way I learned, worked, and socialized. Now a sophomore, I’ve been able to reflect on my journey navigating the pandemic as a student as well as what tips I wish I could give to my freshman self.

Switching to Online Classes

When school shut down in March, all my classes shifted to zoom calls or pre-recorded videos for us to watch. At first, it was difficult to stay engaged—I quickly encountered “Zoom fatigue” from staring at my computer screen all day and missed interacting with professors and other students. It was especially tempting to skip the live Zoom meetings and watch the recordings afterwards, which my professors allowed.

But I soon realized that I worked most effectively by taking on the mindset that I was actually in the classroom—this meant taking notes as the professor spoke, asking engaging questions, and participating in breakout room discussions. Engaging in live lectures was also the best way for me to stay on pace for all my classes. While I could miss live lectures to watch the recordings later, missed lessons would quickly pile up, leaving me with dozens of lecture recordings to watch all at once.

In addition to interacting more in class, it was helpful for me to form study groups outside of class. While in the physical classroom I could form study groups by simply sparking conversations with the students sitting next to me, virtual classes forced me to be a bit more creative. I personally reached out to friends from last year’s courses if they shared any classes with me this year, and even asked if their friends were in any of my classes to expand my social network. I also used our school’s social media groups to find other students in similar classes. By the time exams rolled around, these efforts definitely paid off, as they connected me with others to study and prepare with.

Maintaining a Routine

Before the pandemic, I had a set daily routine at college that alternated between the lecture hall, dining hall, library, gym, and my dorm. When I came back home due to the pandemic, I lost the sense of structure in my daily life—I was holed up in my room most of the day, without clear distinctions of what task to do when. Without having to walk across campus to get to class, it was also tempting to just wake up in time for class without having breakfast or going through my normal morning routine.

To regain some structure in my life, I started planning out my daily schedule each night before I went to sleep. Simply putting in writing what tasks I would do the next day, and what times I would do them, made a big impact on my productivity and motivation when working from home. I also made my family well aware of my schedule, so that they could help me stay accountable.

During his sophomore year at the University of Pennslyvania, Sachit Gali (above) had to reimagine his college experience in the face of the coronavirus pandemic. He did so by exploring online classes, maintaining a routine, and staying optimistic.

Staying Optimistic

Although the pandemic has been a challenging period, I’ve tried to get through it by focusing on the positives—for me, that meant being able to spend more time with my family, having a more flexible class schedule, and having more time for hobbies. I’ve also made an effort to stay in touch with my friends from college over text or Zoom and catch up with old friends from high school. This past fall, I also joined a few new clubs at my school to virtually meet more students and look forward to new activities.

Ultimately, the pandemic has helped me reflect on the parts of my life that are important to me, such as the people in my life and the educational opportunities available along my journey.

Missing out on side conversations with classmates or get-togethers with friends over the past few months has made me realize how fortunate I am for the small experiences in life that are so easy to take for granted. As life returns to normalcy, I know I will be more thankful for all that I have been given and will always make the most out of whatever situations I face.

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