Rising Second-Years Encounter Isolation and Academic Regression Over Long Summer Break

The summer break for rising second-year students is long — almost five months in fact. Stretching from the middle of May to the beginning of October, the break provides an unprecedented opportunity for these students to develop academically and further their budding sense of independence or — just as easily — regress academically and lose their sense of independence. Like the College attempted with Junior and Sophomore Practicum, they need to develop a similar plan to keep students engaged and connected to the school during this extended period of unstructured time.

The extended break threatens to weaken the friendships and peer networks that rising second-years managed to develop despite the mostly virtual academic year. This vulnerability is especially true for second-years who are not part of a fall sports team. Students who participate in such teams will be required to report to campus in mid-August, and they will have the opportunity to strengthen meaningful support groups during the months of August and September before school starts. For Conservatory students like me who aren’t in a sport — but who thrive in a structured schedule that promotes time management and discipline — I dread losing the camaraderie, support, and collaborative atmosphere the Conservatory brings.

I was also disappointed to see that unlike many other colleges and universities around the country, Oberlin does not offer online summer courses specifically designed for rising second-years. Oberlin is offering several thought-provoking classes to engage incoming first-year students, but no such classes are being offered for second-years. Language students face losing the gains made during the previous academic year, and professors may also have to adjust their curriculum to account for the extended interruption in learning. For students in STEM fields, there is little of this kind of flexibility.

Some second-year students — due to the isolation, anguish, and stress of a COVID-19 college experience — are struggling with mental health problems that they managed better at the College. Mental health resources were fairly easy to access while enrolled in-person at the College, but access to these resources at home can be much more unreliable, as I have recently written about in detail. For some students, the isolation of the pandemic has worsened preexisting struggles with internet addiction and substance abuse. Now that many students are at home for the next five months, they will have little opportunity to address their mental health.

Rising second-years also face challenges to their academic development. But among these students, those who came into college with greater academic needs are the most vulnerable. For students with academic accommodations — especially for those who struggle with time management, socializing, or focus — the extended break can be damaging because they lack access to resources through the College. 

As I write this article, I keep thinking of my past summer’s experience in the Peer Advising Leader cohorts, an initiative where older Obies mentor a group of incoming first-years. The program caught my life at a moment of immense and unprecedented change, and it molded that transformation into a remarkably meaningful experience. As a rising second-year student, I see myself and other students facing a similar scenario. We must define ourselves as college students in a post-COVID-19 world, yet for almost five months, we are on our own.

I hope Oberlin administration takes into account the sheer length of the summer break for rising second-years. Without a meaningful effort by the College to develop a plan to bring these students together, I am seriously worried that students will drop out or transfer to another institution because they no longer feel a connection to Oberlin. This is especially concerning given that many of us struggled to develop friendships and find our place at Oberlin during an atypical first year characterized by numerous COVID-19 guidelines. As rising second-year College student and columnist Sydney Rosensaft pointed out in her insightful column entitled “As College Students, Where Do We Belong?” there are few virtual events offered to off-campus students that could help them feel a greater connection to the College. Oberlin has a role to play in the lives of second-year students during this long break, and I implore them to remember what they can give.