Voices from the classes of 2020 to 2025

How the pandemic has impacted college life

As the coronavirus pandemic reaches its two-year anniversary, there are now five classes of college students who have been impacted by COVID-19.

For the class of 2020, entering the workforce when many businesses were shutting down amid lockdown orders marked their postgrad beginnings. Students in the classes of 2024 and 2025 have never known college without a pandemic.

As we move into the third year of life with COVID-19, college students reflect on the unique challenges and unexpected lessons of being a student during these tumultuous times.


Virtual graduation ceremonies and a whole lot of unknowns characterized the end of college for the class of 2020, who entered postgrad life at the beginning of what would become an ongoing, seismic shift. For some graduates, a virtual workplace
is all they’ve ever known.

Missing Graduation

I graduated alone in my living room of my college apartment, on my computer, on video. I ordered a graduation gown, but I've never even opened that box, it’s at my mom's house collecting dust.”

“It's OK that I've missed some of these things; I think it's definitely sad. I think once I have my … (makeup) graduation in May, there's nothing else I can really feel like, oh, I didn't get to do this, or I didn't have this opportunity.”

Jessica Edwards, University of Pennsylvania graduate

Applying for Jobs

“I wouldn't hear back from anyone, so it got to the point where I was literally emailing the heads of these companies and agencies and stuff. And I'm saying like, ‘Hey, I understand times are tough, if you have internships, anything, I'm open,’ and everyone (who) responded was just like, ‘Dude, we don't know what's going on either, I just can't be hiring right now.’”

Trey Stepeck, College of Charleston graduate


The class of 2021 finished their senior year and graduated while the pandemic was still at record highs. For spring graduates, vaccines weren't yet widely available, and for fall graduates, the omicron variant started to surge around the time they received their diplomas.

Learning to Adapt

Weirdly it's helped, because with how much accessibility we have with the internet and being able to learn online, and also during such a tumultuous time, it has built the resilience. It’s meant that I can manage my at-home concentration a lot better.”

“It's meant that I'm a lot more patient, a lot more understanding, but I'm also a lot more tech savvy, because you have to be.”

Jessica Bryan, Coventry University graduate

Accepting a New Reality

“Once I didn't go back to campus, I never had that sense of community again; I never went back. And I never hung out with any organizations, because who wants to join a Zoom call, you know … So I feel like that really pushed me out of college life and into adulthood.”

“You think of early careers, and you are like, 'I'm going to travel around the world; I'm going to be meeting all these people.' I really had to make the adjustment and set the reality, and I'm never going to meet all of my co-workers. I'm never going to work in an office fully with them. You just kind of have to shift your mindset.”

Ava Peña, University of Houston graduate


The class of 2022 left campus in 2020 as sophomores and are now preparing to graduate with half of their typically four-year experience occurring during the pandemic. While COVID-19 cases have declined globally, many are still unsure of what the pandemic’s impact will have on postgrad life.

Being an Artist During a Pandemic

“My junior year started in July of 2021, and we condensed our entire third year to fit within six months, so I did my junior year as a study-abroad student in London at Shakespeare's Globe from July till December. And then my last semester has all been condensed, like the entirety of my senior year has been condensed into basically one semester.”

“I try to just feel, I try to remind myself that I wasn't falling behind, and that we're in our early 20s and that there's nothing that we can do to change the circumstances of the world. So all I can do is be my most joyous and fulfilled self in the circumstances that I'm stuck in.”

Ari Deram, Rutgers University student

Taking Advantage of a Bad Situation

Kelly Shono's unusual college journey has included living on a farm in California, having a “quarantine buddy" live with her family, and taking a 100-day trip on the Mississippi River with her classmates. Now, in her final semester as an urban studies major, Shono is once again taking in-person classes for the first time since her sophomore year.

“It's helping to not be the second-semester senior, where you kind of give up … because it's exciting to be back in the classroom and going to school is exciting,” Shono told TODAY.

“I don’t think I’ve been cheated out of an experience. Even though I didn't make good relationships or the best relationships at college, I had really good relationships at the camp I worked at."

Kelly Shono, Augsburg University student

Getting Back to Social Life

“Most years, I meet a lot of new people ... but junior year, I really met nobody new. That was like one thing that stood out to me, like, I gained no friends, no new friends, which is just crazy.”

“I would say the biggest impact is I think we have this weird feeling like we have to do everything that we couldn't do last year, so there's this escalated need to go out."

Joshua Gottbetter, Boston College student


Most students in the class of 2023 barely know a college experience without COVID-19. Halfway through their freshman year, these juniors moved to "Zoom university" and are now preparing to be seniors on campus.

Pursuing New Interests

“I was the most alone I have ever been, working 15-hour days at a pretty stressful job, and so the benefits that we get (that) usually even out some of those other experiences weren't really there due to COVID. And so after that internship, I switched my major to psychology, and I'm now pursuing an entirely different career. And it's really hard to say, I think I could have loved that job had I been in-person.”

Heidi Meyer, Davidson College student

Switching Between Virtual and In-Person Learning

After living on campus during her freshman year, Madison Woods moved back home with her family. It was like being “back in high school,” she said of informing her mom where she was going in between virtual classes. Afterward, she continued online learning from an off-campus apartment. Now, having to adjust once again to the commute to classes, Woods said she struggled to adapt to on-campus life. 

“I would go to class and come right back to my apartment, whereas like freshman year, obviously being in college, I was on campus all day … out of my dorm room all day doing stuff,” Woods told TODAY. “So (now) I think I've gotten a lot more used to just being home.”

“There’s very much this pressure, I think, to go back now to school and have the full experience of college. But it's like, now, my mindset has kind of shifted ... that's not really the most important thing for me to do anymore.”

Madison Woods, University of Massachusetts Amherst


The class of 2024 was also the high school class of 2020 — seniors who got creative and celebrated milestones with Instagram posts, digital proms and driveby graduation ceremonies.

Adjusting to College Academics

Sydney Berger initially thought Zoom classes as a senior in high school were a “joke,” she said. But transitioning to college proved a challenge when Berger and her classmates had to take virtual classes seriously.

“I took biomedical engineering 101 online, and it wasn't even online, it was asynchronous,” Berger told TODAY. “So we didn't even meet ever, we just turned in homework and I was like, 'OK, so I'm not going to learn anything here.'”

“I think that forever on it will affect education. I got COVID this year, and on the day of, I am getting emails from teachers, because the teacher was like … ‘You're still expected to be there on Zoom.’ That's ridiculous. I'm like, 'Well, you're still expected to be a human and get better.'”

Sydney Berger, Union College student

Still Feeling like a First-Year Student

“I think the weirdest thing for me was that there were a lot of people who, my freshman year when we were online, decided to still move to D.C. and either get apartments or houses of their own or stay at the Residence Inn. And so when I moved here this past fall semester it felt like I had a lot of catching up to do because there were a lot of people who had already been living there. And for them, it was really their sophomore year, but for me it was my true freshman year and they already made friends and stuff, and it definitely felt like I was on the outside looking in.”

Maria Mitri, American University


Many students in the class of 2025 began their college searches at the height of the pandemic. Between selecting a school and finishing up virtual and hybrid high school classes, their educational experiences cannot be separated from COVID-19.

Auditioning for Music Programs Online

“All the auditions had to be held over Zoom, which is never ideal for an audition just because there's always, like, technical issues. I had to get a bunch of stuff set up that I wouldn't have (had to) if I’d just gone in person and auditioned for someone live.”

“Since I had just had so much time on my hands, it was a lot of time worrying about if I would even get any college."

Andrea Larez, Northeastern University student

Selecting a School

“It was kind of this loss in the sense of, you can't actually feel what it feels like to be there. It was hard to feel that true in-person sense of connectivity with whatever school you are looking at.”

Jontae Sanchez, Boston University student