Virtual classes, part-time studies and deferred starts: How teens are facing post-secondary in a pandemic

As classes at many Canadian colleges and universities continue online, a new crop of students is already priming for September — without knowledge of what school will look like come autumn.



“It is too early to say what the world will look like at the beginning of the next academic year. Our recommendation to students and universities is to keep the lines of communication open,” Universities Canada, a national association advocating for Canadian higher education institutions, said in a statement.

“All of our members are doing what they can to keep students safe, supported, and engaged whether they are on campus or studying from elsewhere, and we expect that to continue for as long as is necessary.”


Amid the current wave of application deadlines for fall 2021 admission, teens and young adults share the choices they’re weighing as they embark on their post-secondary journey under the shadow of COVID-19.


Denika Ellis-Dawson: forging ahead


Juggling competitive synchronized figure skating and school, Grade 12 student Denika Ellis-Dawson knows the value of preparing for different scenarios and focusing on what’s positive when faced with adversity. Both her skating and schooling have been negatively impacted by the pandemic — notably separating the teen from her teammates and classmates — but she’s tried to roll with it.


“With skating, I’ve been able to really focus on my individual skating: help build up and bring out my muscles and bring out my flexibility and become stronger,” said the Brampton, Ont., student.


Though adapting to virtual learning has been difficult, she says it’s gotten somewhat easier. Her school’s current quadmester system “has allowed me to focus just on… two subjects at a time and be able to do well in those two subjects.”


With an eye to studying psychology, she completed applications to four universities — three in Ontario, one in British Columbia — in late 2020. While she considered taking a gap year to focus on skating, perhaps taking a few extra high school courses or working a job to help pay for university, Ellis-Dawson ultimately decided against it.



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