My husband and I visited my youngest daughter at Purdue this weekend. As we drove through campus, I was surprised at how many kids were walking around, laughing and enjoying each other. Most were wearing masks, but not all, as they gathered in the warm spring air. The atmosphere was ripe with energy and youthful optimism. This is how college life should be, I thought. For the first time since we dropped my daughter off at Purdue, college life seemed normal.

This past summer, my daughter’s future was uncertain. As part of the class of 2020, she lost the end of her senior year, prom, and didn’t get to walk for graduation. Would she be able to go to college? Would Purdue open up in the fall? These are questions I never dreamed I would be asking. We were relieved when we learned that she could move into the dorm at Purdue as she had planned. However, I didn’t anticipate how different it would be.

I’ll never forget the evening we dropped her off at college back in August. When we arrived on a Sunday evening, the campus was a ghost town. Compared to dropping my oldest off at college two years prior, where the campus was bustling with activity, the scene here was sobering. We were confused about the move in procedures and there was nobody to help us. Not a single soul. Not a single smiling face of an eager college student assigned to help freshmen move in. That was when it hit me. A normal college freshmen experience was not going to happen in a pandemic.

We ended up going to the police station and they helped us figure out where we were supposed to go. When we finally got my daughter settled in, it was dark and we were all exhausted and emotional. As we said our goodbyes and walked away, my heart sank. I thought, how can we leave her like this? She was tearful, scared, and alone. She didn’t have a roommate because she was assigned a single room instead of rooming with her friend because of COVID. Leaving her there that evening was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do.

Although she loves it now, it has been a difficult year. In addition to the mask mandate, the dining halls only being open for takeout, the groups and activities being cancelled, no football games, having mostly online classes, and being told to keep their doors shut, this was her freshman year. It was supposed to be magical. It wasn’t what I had promised it would be. When COVID hit, all bets were off. Masks went on. Social distancing became a way of life. And loneliness exploded on college campuses.

When my girls were in high school and would have difficulty with friends, I would tell them to just wait until college. I promised them that they would find their people when they went to college. When I was in college, friends were found at every turn. Community was built in. “Making friends will be so easy” I would say. Not so anymore. Loneliness on college campuses is an epidemic. Technology and social media keep kids in their rooms with their heads down. No longer do college students have to leave their room to see their friends, or play games, or do anything. Doors are no longer open down the hallways of the college dormitories. The community aspect of college has been lost, and when you add on a pandemic, loneliness becomes the norm.

What can parents of college students do?

  1. Use technology for good. Text your college student words of encouragement. Send messages through Marco Polo and FaceTime with them frequently. College students need support from home now more than ever before. Being in regular contact with kids who are struggling in college is a must.
  2. Send care packages from home. Include treats as well as pictures of the cat and dog, and mom and dad too!
  3. Encourage them to get out there and meet people. It is no longer always easy in college to make friends, but they must have community. Friends are crucial at this stage in life.
  4. Suggest counseling. Most colleges and universities offer counseling to their students. Meeting with someone regularly that can listen to them and offer support could be just what they need. Support groups may be available which would allow your student to meet other students who may be lonely as well.
  5. Trust God and pray for your child. God is as much on His throne as He ever has been. He knew this was coming and even COVID is under His authority.

College students in 2021 can thrive. They just might need a little extra help getting there.