The Covid-19 pandemic forced everyone to change their way of living. Some of those most affected have been students, as school and university was cancelled and teaching was moved online. Currently, schools have reopened, but most university courses remain online.

We wanted to see how students felt about their last year in education, and how they think it will affect their future.  AYPH’s youth intern Eva Whitaker talked to two students about their experiences. Anya (15) is in Year 11 and studying for her GCSEs, Lucy (22) is a Master’s student, and also an AYPH intern. Anya’s answers are presented first and in blue, Lucy’s answers are second and in green.

What has it been like being a student in the last year? Have there been positives as well as negatives?

At first, studying at home was very appealing; the more flexible timings allowed us more freedom and self-regulation. However, without the normal interaction of a classroom, school began to feel very surreal. Staying at home definitely had its positives, with more freedom to eat and drink whenever I needed to, but the novelty very quickly wore off. 

Studying through the pandemic has definitely taken some getting used to. The biggest challenges come from the combination of increased workload, reduced support outlets, financial difficulty, and separation from family. However, over time, the flexibility of online study has allowed me to better manage my time and find balance. 

Do you think your grades will be impacted by Covid-19, if yes, how?

I don’t think my grade will be too badly impacted by Covid-19, but this is because I’ve had access to online learning all throughout lockdown. Many of my friends who haven’t been as lucky were unable to learn for most of their GCSE’s and are being severely affected. Many are having to spend time after school hours in catchup lessons, in order to try and restore their grades.

With the shift to online learning, I often feel out-of-touch with lecturers and more stressed than usual about assessments. Having said that, my actual grades so far have been unaffected. If my grades become negatively impacted, I think it is likely to result from increased worry about my grades – ironically! 

 Have your short-term plans (e.g. next year) changed as a result of the pandemic? 

Yes. Previously, I had hoped to go to a local college for my A-levels, but now I don’t feel able to be as independent. This past year has felt very inconclusive, so I don’t feel able to, or prepared to leave, and start at a new school in September. Because of the instability, I now plan to stay at my school’s sixth form.

I am in a fortunate position in the short-term future as I have temporary employment post-university. In terms of career path, my plans haven’t changed but I am worried about starting my new position if there are still restrictions. It will be difficult to settle into a role with little in-person contact. 

 Have your long-term plans (e.g. 1+ year) changed due to Covid-19?

During the pandemic, I have spent more time researching post 18 options and the realities of different careers. I have changed my mind, from being sure I wanted to go to University, to considering an apprenticeship or getting a job, if possible. I think that the pandemic has opened my eyes to how difficult it is to get a job and maintain a career.

My plans have not intentionally changed, but the increased competition in the job market has added uncertainty. I worry that being a student through COVID-19 will present barriers for permanent employment in the future. More optimistically however, I believe that being a student through the pandemic has equipped me with the skills to effectively navigate “the new normal” world of work. 

 What do you think non-students should realise about being a student in a global pandemic? 

I think that many people have the misconception that those that are falling behind while at home are lazy or do not care about their exams. For many students, including myself, staying motivated when you aren’t receiving feedback or direct support from teachers is extremely difficult. For many people my age, you are sleeping and working in the same room, and the monotony can quickly affect your mental health. Losing sight of exams and the bigger picture is so easy.

I can’t speak on behalf of all students but, in general, we are trying our hardest to help curb the spread of COVID-19. For most of us, this is alongside balancing online study and uncertain part-time jobs in restricted sectors like retail and hospitality. In my experience, the horror stories in the media about illegal raves and rule-breaking definitely only reflect the minority. 

As may be expected the Anya and Lucy have had very different experiences. Whilst neither student believes their overall grade will be impacted by Covid-19 disruptions both have encountered several challenges along the way.  Both stress the impact that uncertainty has had on their lives.  Thank you to Anya Perry-Slack and Lucy Ross for answering these questions.