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Preparing for an Unusual College Year

COVID-19 has thrown a wrench in college plans. A Kaiser Permanente pediatrician gives smart tips to keep students safe, happy, and learning — wherever they are.

Whether, learning virtually, heading to campus, or taking a gap year, proper planning is crucial for a successful academic year amid the pandemic, said John Dahmen, MD, a pediatrician at Kaiser Permanente Petaluma for nearly 20 years and a father of 2. Read on to hear his advice.

Distance Learning

Make home feel like college

Give your bedroom a makeover to create a dorm-like feel and distinguish it from high school. Designate a quiet space for studying with a desk and an ergonomically sound environment for long study hours. Treat learning seriously and eliminate distractions, including TV, phone, and video games.


Parents wouldn’t have helped you with homework or college affairs on campus, so try not to rely on them at home. If they are struggling with giving you space, talk to them about taking a step back while still being supportive.

“Learning hours should be time just for the young adults,” Dr. Dahmen said. “Parents should try not to ask them to take out the garbage or help with babysitting.”

It’s also important to do your own laundry, cooking, and cleaning to help develop life skills.


Stick to a routine for sleeping, eating, exercise, and free time. This helps with focus, burnout, and procrastination.

Get involved, virtually

Reach out to fellow students for virtual hangouts. Join online clubs and student groups, and stay connected with friends who are also at home.

On Campus

Most schools are enforcing COVID-19-prevention policies, including requiring face coverings, limiting dorm rooms to single occupancy, banning parties, and replacing many in-person courses with online learning.

Aside from abiding by this, Dr. Dahmen said communication also plays a part in safety. He advises students to advocate among their peers to wear masks even when outside, not participate in covert large gatherings, and spread the message that the more everyone follows the rules, the more likely in-person learning can continue.

Also, remember to have your flu shot.

Stay in touch

Call your parents, family, and friends often as you could face more isolation on campus. This can help prevent depression. Don’t be afraid to call your doctor or mental health care provider if you are experiencing feelings of loneliness or anxiety.

Plan for a shut down

This is a possibility for all on-campus students. Map out a strategy if you end up having to come home. Make sure to have plenty of emergency contacts lined up.

Packing is imperative

Pack a large supply of masks, hand sanitizer, soap, and an air purifier. Get an emergency COVID bag together with enough items for 2 weeks of isolation in case you’re required to quarantine.

Gap Year

For some, taking a year off school is the best financial or personal decision. Having structure is probably most important for this group, Dr. Dahmen said.

“Not having a plan could be a set up for danger because the risk of boredom, depression, and anxiety are huge,” he said.

Young adults need to create a year-long plan, which could include getting a job, filling free time with a COVID-19-safe hobby, or taking online general education courses.


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