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College & COVID

I’ve never set foot in the college that I attend 1,000 miles away

I daydream of escaping the Chicago suburbs and the computer screen, and pine for the bustle of Boston streets.

The writer logs into her Emerson classes from home in Chicago.From Molly MacDuff

Two nights a week, I open my laptop and attend remote courses from a university I’ve never visited in person, in a city I’ve never seen for myself. I attend a graduate program at Emerson College, but, you know, not at Emerson.

I had the option of taking classes conducted partially in person. But the threat of COVID convinced me to delay my move to Boston and has kept me confined in my childhood home, in the suburbs of Chicago, for my first year. I’m not alone. Students like me attend schools while living in different time zones, sometimes even in different countries.


My experience when we first went into quarantine taught me what to expect. I knew I could open my laptop one minute before class began and sign into Zoom without worrying about what I would wear or how long it would take to travel to campus. Sitting and staring at a computer screen for hours at a time makes me antsy and gives me headaches. Because I’m almost legally blind, blue light glasses have become an essential school supply.

‘43 % of US colleges were fully or primarily online in fall 2020’

Davidson College’s College Crisis Initiative, September 9

I daydream of escaping the suburbs and the computer screen, and pine for the bustle of Boston streets. My time will come, I’m sure. But for now, I take advantage of Emerson’s remote learning tools: I’ve participated in virtual conferences for jobs and internships and joined the staff of the student-run literary magazine.

Another student from the Midwest, Allison Leahy, was planning to start undergraduate classes at the College of the Holy Cross’s Worcester campus last fall. By mid-August, in the middle of her precautionary two-week quarantine, she learned COVID would be keeping her home in St. Louis for her first semester.

“It was disappointing to have to stay at home,” Leahy says, “but Holy Cross provided a good transition with virtual orientation and messages from the staff.” Despite being over 1,000 miles from campus, Leahy was able to participate in extracurricular activities including choir and remote service trips. Her classes, like mine, put more emphasis on group work to help students forge connections. “In a way it has made the college transition easier for me,” Leahy says, “knowing that [next year] I’ll recognize people around campus from seeing them on Zoom.”


This story is part of a special report was produced in collaboration with an Emerson College writing and publishing course led by assistant professor Susanne Althoff, a former editor of the Globe Magazine. Molly MacDuff is pursuing a master’s degree. Send comments to magazine@globe.com.