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The Virtual University Experience

So it’s not what you were expecting…

For many young adults, entering college or university is the exciting next chapter of life that is anticipated for months, if not years, leading up to it. While learning on campus is a focus for most students, many would agree that the “college experience” is so much more than just attending classes. It can involve first experiences of freedom from parents, meeting new friends that will last a lifetime, exploring a new city, discovering new fields of interest and passion, and creating memories of what many refer to as “the best years of life”. However, rather than the anticipated expectation of partying, midnight library studies with friends, and a self-exploring journey, the reality of college and university students during the pandemic are instead met with unknown and ever-changing precautions, group projects with virtual strangers, and Zoom classes from the isolation of bedrooms. When in-person learning was forced to switch to online amidst COVID-19, the original expected version of the college experience was practically robbed from students.


But maybe it’s not all bad…

Those who have had to make the switch from in-person to online learning have likely experienced a great shift in their expected reality. Those who never have physically been to their university or college while being enrolled online are likely feeling missed out or disappointed. Those who are choosing their college or university are likely feeling confused or vulnerable to the risk of changes. The sacrifice of in person socialization both in and outside of the classroom proves to be one of the greatest drawbacks which can cloud the mind of the benefits to virtual learning and of the bigger picture. This is common of unhelpful thinking traps such as “mental filter” (only paying attention to certain types of evidence) and “disqualifying the positives” (discounting the good things that have happened to other reasons) which many individuals fall into without even realizing it. While it can be difficult to see the bigger picture, it can be a helpful method to not dwell on the negative. For example, with no commute to and from school, a student may be able to save more money, which can contribute to other areas of life. Money saving could also be true of those staying home rather than moving to a new city. Moreover, Zoom classes do have potential to be quite engaging and even have a function of “break out rooms” which allow students to work together in groups during the meeting call with option to call the professor in to help. This allows students to get to know one another and even form friendships that can then blossom outside of class. Relationships, both virtual and physical, can and do bring value and quality to one’s life and sunshine, and activity can improve mental wellbeing (and online class is one that can be brought outside!).


How We Can Help

It can be difficult to feel the same level of engagement and interest when working virtually. Maintaining mental and physical wellbeing while navigating the uncertainty can be a challenging notion to face alone. For those who feel isolated, overwhelmed with the changes in their life, or unmotivated, CMAP Health has Psychotherapists such as myself who have personal experience with the challenges of online learning, and who work with evidenced-based approaches that could help you during your own unique experience.



Ultimately, the virtual university experience has both good and bad within it that are unique to the expected experience of in person college or university. Since the pandemic hit, there have been uncertainties regarding the switch to and from online learning which have taken away the traditional college or university experience for many. While feelings of disappointment can be prominent in these circumstances, a change in perspective can bring forth the brighter side of things. Moreover, there is no shame in reaching out for mental health support when things seem too overwhelming or isolating. Here’s to positivity, hopefulness for a future of in-person learning with the choices for online learning benefits, and the availability of psychotherapy services if needed!


About the Author:

Olivia Lundy is one of our (Qualifying) Registered Psychotherapists [RP (Q)] and a senior therapist under supervision at CMAP Health. She has an Honours Bachelor’s Degree in Behavioural Psychology from St. Lawrence College and is currently finalizing her Master of Arts Degree in Counselling Psychology at Yorkville University. To find out more about Olivia you can review her profile.


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