Is the Full Fall Semester Better?

By Ellie Pratt

Fall 2020 was an incredibly strange time for most people, but especially for students. Here at St. Mary’s, the majority of classes were completely virtual, in addition to the semester being compressed. Rather than ending two weeks after Thanksgiving break, students went home the week before and had finals the week after online. 

This compressed semester did have its benefits. Due to concerns over a COVID-19 outbreak on campus, it made sense for students to not come back after visiting their families for the fall holidays. It also created a longer winter break, allowing many to relax after an incredibly stressful year. 

Senior Emily Corral noted that “The condensed semester allowed me to spend more time with my family and unwind before classes started again in the spring.” Corral also expressed concern for this semester, stating “Since the entire student population is on campus this fall, it leaves room for questions of if we’re going to experience COVID problems later in the semester when we all return from Thanksgiving break or even when a fair percentage of people go home and return from fall reading days.” 

Corral admitted that the 14 week semester with little to no break was “very mentaly and emotionally exhausting” and that being home and doing school virtually helped her through it a lot. She went on to say that the bumps and kinks of last fall’s compressed semester could have easily been solved for fall 2021 and that starting slightly earlier and adding a few mental health days–as the school did during the shorter spring semester–would have been simple and very possible. 

Sophie Hannah, a junior, expressed a different opinion about last year’s compressed schedule. To her, having a longer semester, “just makes work more manageable and prevents burnout.” Last fall was overwhelming for Hannah, as it was for many students, and she did not enjoy having to do the same amount of coursework in a much shorter period with no reprieves. 

Additionally, the lack of social and physical interaction during the school’s completely virtual semester was difficult to adjust to. Hannah put it plainly with, “The compressed semester was online and that sucked.” This blunt statement is echoed in research done on how online courses affect student learning with a study by Eric P. Bettinger, Lindsay Fox, Susanna Loeb and Eric S. Taylor for Harvard University. The study found that “taking a course online, instead of in-person, reduces student success and progress in college. Grades are lower both for the course taken online and in future courses. Students are less likely to remain enrolled at the university.” 

Having a compressed semester comes with both advantages and disadvantages; however, with the lack of an online option for students to work through the stress of a faster-paced term in the comfort of their own homes it may not be particularly desirable for most. There is always the option in the future of starting the fall semester slightly earlier and still ending before Thanksgiving break, reducing the possibility of people bringing COVID-19 back to campus and allowing for a longer winter break. 

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