‘I will miss everything’: Student survey shows changed plans for many in the new academic year

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To better understand students’ feelings and plans for the upcoming year, The Daily surveyed 483 undergrads over the first two weeks of September about their plans for the 2020-21 academic year. Respondents were not a random sample of the population, so results should be interpreted with caution.

Earlier this March, most of the student body believed that — while pandemic-induced changes to the campus experience would affect all students — the Class of 2020 would end up the most impacted after being sent home, without warning, right before their senior spring and robbed of an in-person graduation.

Six months later, Class of 2021 seniors are grappling with potentially losing their senior year as well, with many senior respondents to a Daily survey expressing little hope that University will follow through with plans to invite seniors to campus in the spring. 

Looking beyond the senior class, incoming frosh are mourning the traditional first-year experience they’ll never have, and sophomores and juniors report that they are navigating a huge decision-making period in their college careers with less guidance and more uncertainty than ever. 

“The six months I was on campus were the six happiest months of my life,”  one survey respondent wrote when asked about what they would miss about on-campus living and learning. “I will miss everything.”

Not having a normal senior year — it’s possible that March 2020 was the last time my entire class year will ever be together

The Daily ran its fall return survey for the first two weeks of September, collecting 483 responses. While respondents’ characteristics did not perfectly reflect the characteristics of Stanford at large, they were close along several dimensions. For instance, 30% of respondents were seniors, 20% were juniors, 22% were sophomore and 21% were frosh, while the actual Stanford population is relatively balanced across years. 16.1% of respondents reported that they were computer science majors compared to 17.4% in the graduating class of 2019. Furthermore, 8.3% of respondents said they were international students compared to 13% Stanford-wide.   

Plans for fall quarter

About 82% of respondents responded they were enrolling full-time in fall quarter, with notably little variance between students with different majors.

The percentage of students taking a gap year varied by class year: 27% of juniors opted to take a gap year, while only 13.5% of frosh, 17.7% of sophomores and 20% of seniors followed suit. Across all cohorts, students expressed the most interest in enrolling full-time in the quarters where they are expected to be invited to campus (winter for frosh and sophomores, spring for juniors and seniors).

Regarding students’ living situations, 28% of students receiving full financial aid received permission to live on campus outside of their designated class cohort’s quarter — compared to 4% of students not receiving aid. Notably, the share of students living with friends from Stanford in an apartment or Airbnb — 25% — was similar across financial aid groups.

Students cited the reduced social aspects of virtual schooling and the dramatically different educational experience as prompting their interest in taking leaves of absences, flex quarters and gap years. Many respondents indicated that in-class experiences and face-to-face conversations with peers and instructors were invaluable and irreplicable, especially for those still deciding on their major. 

Students especially cited finances as a significant factor in their decision to enroll and choose certain housing situations. While other peer institutions like Princeton have reduced tuition in light of the pandemic’s impact, Stanford increased tuition for the 2020-21 academic year.

When asked whether or not a 10% decrease in tuition costs, in line with reductions from other universities, would increase their likelihood of enrolling, 16% of respondents responded either “Probably Yes” or “Definitely Yes.”

 Stopping the spread is crucial, but it shouldn’t cost this much to do classes from home. Especially while the majority of my friends’ schools are on campus! Not looking forward to being lonely at home away from peers.

While the majority — 57.1% — of respondents are taking classes while living at home with family, many students across all class years have pursued other living conditions with their Stanford peers. 35% of seniors indicated that they were living in an apartment or Airbnb with other Stanford students making the Class of 2021 the most likely class to have organized off-campus housing. More than 11% of frosh did the same, not too far below the roughly 25% of sophomores and juniors who found housing with other Stanford peers.

I miss getting to spend my senior year on campus with my friends. We all worked so hard for so long to get here, and it really sucks that we won’t get to celebrate that

Respondents overwhelmingly said that the aspect of on-campus living that they’ve missed the most is dorm life, living with friends — leading many to recreate some of that experience by living with friends off campus.

In some cases, respondents said that on-campus housing used to be a form of escape from emotionally abusive families or unstable living conditions; without it, students had to either find other places to live or deal with the difficulties of taking classes and studying from less-than-ideal home environments.

Yet students who have chosen to live with peers — especially those choosing to live in the Bay Area —  have faced criticism from other students.  Students wrote in an op-ed that temporarily moving into an already expensive neighborhood would contribute to and worsen the Bay Area’s gentrification and housing crisis.

[I will miss] not being able to live with all of your friends in the same hall, floor, or even general area within a 10-minute walk. Just being around people is what I miss the most.

Although only 8.5% of respondents are currently residing on campus, the majority of students (64.4%) indicated that they were likely to return to campus if given the option in later quarters.

Perceptions of safety

Concerns about community spread were greater than concerns about personal health: 36% of students were somewhat concerned and only 10% of students were very concerned for their personal health due to COVID-19 — but 69% percent of students are somewhat or very concerned about the potential for COVID-19 transmission on campus when (or if) students are invited back.

In line with these responses, students were also generally favorable of the University’s decision not to allow the majority of students back to campus in the fall. 74% of respondents either agreed or strongly agreed with the University’s decision.

Students’ perception of their personal risk from COVID-19 was predictive of their likelihood of returning to campus when their class would be invited back. 44% of students who were not concerned about their personal health from COVID-19 plan stated they were very likely to return to campus. By contrast, only 19% of students who were very concerned about their health reported that they were very likely to return.

The negative correlation between COVID-19 concern and likelihood of returning is displayed in the heat map above.

Alongside the perception of safety on campus, students’ perception of how many of their peers would return to campus if given the opportunity correlated with their personal intention to return to campus. As shown below, students were generally more likely to plan to return to campus if they also expected more of their peers to do the same.

The lost quarters

Bike rides through Main Quad, midnight snacks at TAP, late-night conversations in dorms, running into people on the way to class, study sessions in the library, club meetings, laboring over research in labs, Stanford sports, meeting new people, meeting old friends — those are just some of the pieces of campus life respondents said they would miss in the upcoming year.

Others said they have appreciated safe spaces to express all parts of their identity, a place to focus on work and relationships away from bad home environments. Some students had been abroad and haven’t seen their friends in over a year.

Students are intimately familiar with the idea that the most significant losses from the lost on-campus quarters aren’t quantifiable.

“The power of place” is valuable, one respondent wrote. “Being on campus inspires me to work harder, engage more deeply, reflect more often, and appreciate what it means to be a Stanford student — not just a college student taking online classes.”

Contact Arjun Ramani at aramani3 ‘at’ stanford.edu, Elena Shao at eshao98 ‘at’ stanford.edu and Abigail VanderPloeg at abigailv ‘at’ stanford.edu.

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Arjun Ramani '21 is The Daily's Data Director. He hails from the Hoosier Heartland of West Lafayette, Indiana and is studying economics and computer science. Contact him at aramani3 'at' stanford.edu.
Elena Shao '21 is from Suwanee, Georgia. At The Daily, she is a Managing Editor for News. Outside, she's studying political science. She also enjoys learning foreign languages and is hoping to pursue a career as an investigative and data journalist. Contact her at eshao98 'at' stanford.edu.