Finishing college from home: students reflect on a remote final semester

Three seniors reflect on the disappointments and silver linings of spending their last semester of college at home, studying remotely.

A white desk is centered below a painting of two birds. Alejandro Villa Vasquez shares his zoom set up. (Photo by Alejandro Villa Vasquez) (Alejandro Villa Vasquez)

“Promises were not kept.” 

Alejandro Villa Vásquez spoke these words from the Queens apartment where he attends classes remotely. A senior in NYU’s College of Arts and Sciences, Villa Vásquez is not only in his final semester of college, but also his third semester studying online through Zoom. Though he was promised four years at one of the country’s top universities, he is now having to graduate remotely after losing a year and a half to the pandemic. 

“I am disappointed. We absolutely did not get what we were promised, he says. “And I’m not even blaming NYU, because they can’t control the pandemic. You can’t blame anyone, and there’s nothing you can do.” 

The final semester of senior year is often a tumultuous time for students, between the stress of graduation and post-graduation plans, the nostalgia for the place that has been their home for the past four years and the exhilaration of completing the final stretch of their college journey. However, members of the class of 2021 who are studying remotely also have to grapple with an additional emotion: grief for a college experience that they will never get back.

For Villa Vásquez, the most disappointing part of graduating remotely is the loss of access to resources, especially valuable connections with other people in the media industry, his desired field. 

“I committed to NYU because it offered me access to social capital that I wouldn’t find otherwise,” he says. “And that’s what I mourn most — the fact that I can’t have relationships with professors and other students in a way that could be beneficial.” 

Although it is possible to meet people and form connections online, he says it’s just not the same.

“It was so disheartening to realize that I would never be in close contact with people who have a lot of sway in this industry,” he says. “Conversations are not as rich [online] as they would be in person.”

A desk is utilized for zoom class, but also as a drop-off storage location for other items including books, headphones, hand sanitizer, and a camera. Kyra-Lee Harry shares her zoom set up. (Photo by Kyra-Lee Harry) (Kyra-Lee Harry)

Kyra-Lee Harry, a senior at NYU’s Tandon School of Engineering, has struggled to come to terms with the fact that her last day with her classmates was over a year ago instead of this May.

“I wish I could be on campus and share these moments with my friends,” she says. “Just being able to be there and reminisce, and make sure I have that lasting memory with everyone before we move on and venture off to our new lives.”

However, studying remotely did give Harry the opportunity to participate in the annual Forbes Idea Incubator, an all-female challenge hosted by Forbes and NYU Tandon that aimed to close the gender gap in electric vehicle buyers.

“I was able to engage with other students and connect with people from Tandon,” says Harry. “And that was really great, because it spoke to my experience. I’ve never done [the challenge] before. They always held it in person, but I was able to do it virtually.” 

Harry even went on to become the first-ever winner of the Trailblazer Award for her teamwork and collaboration skills.

For Natalia Haberberg, a Tisch Film and TV senior studying remotely in Krakow, Poland, living at home had some silver linings as well. 

The view of Krakow, Poland out of a student’s window. (Photo by Natalia Haberberg) (Natalia Haberberg)

“I’d only gone home for a couple weeks over the past four years,” says Haberberg, “So it was really nice to catch up with childhood friends and be with my family and see my grandma.” 

She was even able to find an internship at a marketing agency in Krakow and work in person briefly, which she says would not have been possible had she stayed in New York. 

Despite how unconventional their final months of college have been, these students have tried to keep their college experience alive by participating in online competitions, attending Zoom events, or simply keeping in touch with their friends around the world.

“I don’t really care for Zoom trivia nights or Zoom bingo,” Villa Vásquez said. “But I have friends that I see sometimes, and I hang out with my roommate a lot, making cocktails at home.” 

Villa Vásquez also mentioned that he would be reading at a Zoom event later that evening. Similarly, Harry has been maintaining her friendships through social media and online communication. 

“I stay connected with classmates through texting and FaceTime,” she says. “Of course, it’s not the same as engaging with people on campus. I’ve just been trying my best to stay up to date with what’s going on in my friends’ lives and checking in with them.”

Knowing that many students around the world are going through the same struggles has helped her keep going. 

“I’m trying my best to live out my senior year and remember that I’m not doing this by myself,” says Harry. “There’s thousands of other students who are going through the same thing. I’m grateful that I have the opportunity to at least finish school, because a lot of people couldn’t.”

Alejandro Villa Vásquez was formerly a deputy managing editor at WSN.

Brooke Nguyen and Mariam Khan contributed reporting.

Email Caitlin Hsu at [email protected]