Back to School: Tips for navigating a return to in-person classes

Posted on September 8, 2021

For most of us, the only consistency of the past year and a half has been a persistent stop/start of life as we once knew it. Many have taken this opportunity to reflect on what matters most to us, to come to terms with the incredible collective and personal losses, and have begun to carve out a post-pandemic vision for our future.

For students who are returning to college this fall semester as campuses reopen for in-person opportunities, that post-pandemic future vision feels within reach. For students who experience mental illness, or are re-entering college after leaving due to mental health challenges, that vision may still feel a little blurry and riddled with anxiety. That’s why our College Re-Entry staff, students, and Fountain House members have pulled together some helpful tips and words of encouragement that will help ease the transition to the new semester, and remind students that a hopeful future lies ahead.

1. Get (re)acquainted with your new surroundings

Being back in person, on campus, will feel “new” even if you have been on campus before. We recommend students get acquainted with the buildings and the campus environment by going once or twice before classes start. Head to the library, dining areas and other communal campus spaces to find out what, if any, rules apply to those spaces. By being proactive, you will avoid a lot of surprises and keep that anxiety at bay.

“I am excited to return to school at Columbia University this fall. After launching my leadership and research career at Borough of Manhattan Community College, I feel confident about studying on the inspiring morning side campus. I also feel reassured knowing that I can turn to College Re-entry when I need support.”

- Oneil, 24

2. Connect with teachers and your office of accessibilities

Reach out to your teachers early on, either during office hours or via email, to share your excitement and also anxiety about returning to classes. Even prior to COVID, mental health crisis were growing on college campuses, and teachers were often the first to recognize that a student needed accommodations to reach their academic goals. Reaching out early on will get you on a teachers radar and open those vital lines of communication if you need additional support.

Look up the school’s office of accessibilities and find out what is available for students who have a mental health diagnosis or what accommodations you can request. There are often student support groups associated with the office that can provide vital peer support.

Do not be afraid to ask for help. Accepting that you need help is a difficult thing to do, but it’s so worth it. Your school’s Accessibility Office is there to help you towards academic success.

Lyn, 25

3. Create a buddy system or join a study group

Take a moment in each class to connect with your peers. Get their contact info and offer to be someone that others can reach out to if they miss a class and need to be filled in, and vice versa if you have to be out.

4. Get clarity on your school’s COVID protocol

The pandemic has often been frustrating because COVID protocols have changed quite a lot month to month, and school protocols can vary widely. If your school requires regular testing, you will need to build that in to your regular schedule so you can manage your time and so that the expectations are clear for what you’ll need to do to remain compliant. Remember, although it may be frustrating, following COVID protocols and guidance protects your health and your community.

5. Embrace change, reflect and stay connected

Change is inevitable – and arguably the only constant we can expect.

We don’t know how the next phase of the pandemic is going to unfold, but remembering to check in and acknowledge our achievements and growth, big and small, can help the semester feel less overwhelming. Set aside time each week to reflect on how far you have come, acknowledge your challenges, and reach out to and build your network of support.

"I became a better version of myself by following through on daily actions, holding myself accountable, and by accepting and learning to be gentler with myself. I know as long as I continue on with good intentions, I believe I will do just fine this semester and forward. That’s all that matters. There is no such thing as perfection.”

Ivan, 22


Mental health challenges can prompt a college student to leave school for a time. If you, or someone you know, have left college due to a mental health challenge, let us help you return with a program of individual coaching, academic preparedness, wellness training, and community. Fountain House College Re-Entry is now enrolling and scholarships are available through the Danny Zorn Scholarship fund - fill out an application today.