For the most part, members of the Class of 2021 experienced their last year of college via Zoom. Since March 2020, when the College evacuated undergraduates from campus to curb the spread of Covid-19, seniors have scattered across the globe, living at home, in Airbnbs and apartments with their friends, and back in the Boston and Cambridge area. Less than half of surveyed seniors returned back to campus for their last semester this spring, adjusting to varying levels of reopening and restrictions on gatherings and public spaces enforced by the College’s Community Council.
Life During the Pandemic
The COVID-19 pandemic impacted everpy Harvard student’s education, but some dealt with the additional burden of contracting the virus or having someone in their lives fall ill. While survey respondents have taken advantage of increasingly available vaccines across the country, there is still a small group of seniors who say they do not want to receive a shot.
- Eleven percent of respondents said they have contracted Covid-19 since the pandemic began. When it comes to vaccinations, a clear majority of respondents — about 80 percent — have received two doses of a Covid vaccine. Roughly 13 percent of seniors who took the survey said they have received one dose of a vaccine.
- The pandemic also impacted students’ home lives. Ten percent of surveyed seniors said a family member or personal contact died of the virus within the past year. Sixteen percent of respondents said a member of their household lost their job or was furloughed during the pandemic.
- Only 7 percent of survey respondents reported not having received a dose of the vaccine. Twenty-seven percent of people who had not taken the shot said they were not eligible or did not have access to it where they are living. Forty percent of unvaccinated respondents said they did not receive the vaccine because they did not want to get it.
Whether living with blockmates in Cambridge, crashing at home, or returning to a highly regulated campus, seniors reimagined the Harvard experience during the pandemic. Some chose to pause it entirely by taking time off, opting to return to campus when classes resume in-person and dorms are open to all.
- Although college seniors were allowed to live on campus in the spring semester, many chose to live off-campus for the entirety of this year, learning or relearning how to cook, clean and manage their academic lives. Forty-seven percent of surveyed seniors lived off-campus for both their fall and spring semesters. A plurality of respondents — 48 percent — lived in Harvard dorms in spring 2021. Thirteen percent of survey respondents lived in Harvard housing in fall 2020.
- Not every senior chose to log into virtual classes for both semesters of the academic year. Eighty-nine percent of respondents who had taken time off during college cited the pandemic as the reason for their leave.
- Few seniors who took the survey said they had ever been called by the Community Council, a body composed of students, faculty, and staff that enforced the compact for students living on campus during the pandemic. Only 1 percent of respondents said they appeared in front of the Council.
The pandemic also shifted seniors’ priorities while completing their last year remotely. Thirty-six percent of respondents said that academics became “less important” or “much less important” to them during the pandemic. Sixty-five percent of respondents reported that their extracurricular activities declined in importance.
- Friends and jobs, however, became even more valuable to seniors during the pandemic. Fifty percent reported that social life increased in importance over the past year, while 39 percent said paid employment was more important to them.
- Seniors reported a significant decline in the number of close friends they had at Harvard during the pandemic year. According to the survey, 35 percent of respondents said they had more than 10 people who they considered to be their closest friends in March 2020. Just 24 percent of respondents said the same is true now.
Thanks to the pandemic, seniors had a new variable to think about when mapping their future after college. Nevertheless, the majority of surveyed seniors did not let the virus get in the way of their plans. Forty-three percent of respondents said that the pandemic did not inform their post-graduate plans, while 23 percent said it “greatly informed” and about 35 percent said it “somewhat informed” their path.
- Of the respondents who said that the pandemic greatly affected their post-graduation plans, 54 percent will be working right after they graduate and 15 percent will attend graduate school. Twenty-three percent of respondents who said the pandemic most impacted their plans will be going into consulting.