Students weigh pros and cons of returning for spring semester

By Charlie Keohane

Sarah Fagan

As students prepare to leave campus in the next two weeks, many are debating whether or not to return for the spring semester. The school required that students declare their intentions by Nov. 10, although they have the choice to opt out of the semester at any time. 

An unconventional fall semester has brought forth many new challenges, as more than half of all classes were held online and Covid-19 precautions limited opportunities for socialization and gatherings. Instead of returning to Middlebury in the spring, some students, like Emma McKee ’23, are planning to take a gap semester. 

“I’m really happy to be here this semester, and I’ve had a great time meeting people and hanging out with my friends, but seeing as it’s not going to be that different next semester with Covid remaining in the world, I just wanted to take this time to explore something totally new,” McKee said. 

McKee hopes to spend her gap semester working for American Conservation Experience, which offers six-month programs in Utah and California. 

Zander Kessler ’22.5, who is currently taking a gap semester in Colorado, is instead planning his return. While he is enjoying time off from school to tutor remotely and spend time outside, Kessler plans to re-enroll in the spring. 

“I feel like a whole year is too long to not do real school,” Kessler said. “I need to start doing something more academic.” 

As an environmental chemistry major, Kessler hopes to have some in-person lab classes and looks forward to reuniting with friends. But he does have some reservations. 

“It’s definitely tough to say I’m OK with paying Middlebury’s tuition for classes that are going to be at least partially remote, even if I’m on campus,” Kessler said. “It seems really hard to justify paying that amount of money.” 

Abby Wilner ’23, who is currently on campus, is leaning toward coming back in the spring so she can continue to spend time with her friends. She said that she has been much more satisfied being on campus in the past couple of weeks due to the easing of restrictions, but acknowledged that Phase One was difficult. 

“There’s a learning curve to figuring out how to make friends remotely and then make friends in person,” Wilner said. 

Wilner initially had doubts about coming to campus.

“At the beginning I was more like, ‘Oh, let’s wait it out, I’m going to take a year off, or a semester off, and wait until college is back to normal,’” she said. “Now that it’s looking like, ‘How long am I going to have to wait?’ It’s kind of moving towards the acceptance phase of grief. It’s not going to be normal, so I’m not going to wait around. I might as well try to live my life the best I can.”

Others are considering factors like athletics for their decision about the spring. Noah Laber ’24, a member of the tennis team, is leaning toward remote study so he can continue practicing at home.

“Most of the tennis team isn’t coming back, so I’m kind of feeling like it might be difficult to have a productive semester athletically if there is no one here for me to practice with,” he said. 

First-years in particular have struggled to make connections this semester. Joel Kofman ’24 and Sam Maxwell ’24 agreed that while the college has kept students safe from Covid-19, it came at the expense of social aspects they had looked forward to experiencing, particularly during the first couple of weeks. 

“The college has done really well with the safety of the students in terms of Covid, but not as much taking into account their social lives and mental health,” Kofman said.  

Despite the challenges this semester brought, many students worked to make the most of their time on campus. 

“I’ve taken the time to enjoy the small things more than I did last year, like the fall and spending time outside and having meals with close friends,” McKee said. “After being home for so long you enjoy all those little things even if some things from last year aren’t the same.”