College During COVID Student Survey - What Would You Sacrifice to Go Back?

Image depicting college students watching lecturer

As humans, we typically feed off of the energy of others. The same notion can be applied to life on college campuses, where in a non-COVID world, students thrive off interacting in a diverse, fast-paced, learning environment alongside professors, classmates and friends.

The necessary shift to remote learning amidst the pandemic has denied the majority of students the chance to experience the most dynamic parts of college life, such as face-to-face classes, on-campus dorm living, school athletics and student organizations. Here at Grand Canyon University, we have been fortunate to be able to bring our students back onto campus with safety measures in place for them to fully enjoy the college life. Across the country, though, we recognize that this is not the case for all.

With so many students eager to return to a traditional, on-campus college experience post COVID-19, GCU decided to explore the topic further. Therefore, with help from our partner Grand Canyon Education, we surveyed 600 college students from around the U.S. who are participating in hybrid learning or remote learning to uncover what exactly students would sacrifice to go back to campus. We found eye-opening insights around academic curriculum, college culture, technology, social media and more. Read on to see the full results!

Graphic showing how badly students want to return to campus and if their classes are remote, hybrid, or in-person

We first wanted to determine how students are attending their classes right now as well as gauge student sentiment around going back to campus, full-time. In the context of the survey, “going back to campus” meant the following:

  • Attending in-person classes, labs, and study groups on campus
  • Living in on-campus dorms/housing and enjoying on-campus dining options
  • Participating in on-campus events, organizations, clubs, greek life and sports teams
  • Socializing with friends in large groups on or near campus

When asked how badly they wanted to return to campus, over half of the college students surveyed (54.5%) want to go back to campus either badly or very badly. Only 20.8% of students surveyed expressed no desire to return and seem to be content with a virtual college experience.

Additionally, 48.5% of student respondents are attending classes solely online right now, whereas 43.5% are following a hybrid model, meaning some of their classes are online and some are face-to-face. Only 8% of students are attending classes fully in-person, which makes sense given that almost two-thirds of colleges in the U.S. are functioning either fully or primarily online right now, according to The Chronicle of Higher Education.1

Graphic denoting what students would sacrifice to return to campus

When asked which coveted technology or devices they would sacrifice for a month in order to go back to campus for a month, 50.5% of students would give up their smartphones, 70.2% would give up their AirPods and 71.8% would give up Spotify. What’s more, the majority of college students surveyed (56.2%) would give up exercising for a whole semester in order to go back to campus for a semester. However, males seem to be a bit more ambivalent about giving up working out than females – males are 11.5% more likely than females to answer “no” when asked if they would give up exercising for a semester.

When it comes to academics, as much as 48.3% of students surveyed said that given the option between open-book exams for the remainder of their college career or going back to campus for the remainder of their college career, they would choose going back to campus.

Surprisingly, 57.3% of students surveyed would endure the effort of taking on an additional exam in each of their courses during a semester in order to go back to campus for a semester. Such an insight speaks volumes in terms of overall student desire to return to a normal college experience.

Wildly enough, 64.8% of college students would sacrifice fast food for an entire semester in order to go back to campus for a semester. Sacrificing their cars, however, is where most college students had to draw the line. Only 32.7% of students surveyed would give up their car for a month in order to go back to campus for a month.

Graphic showing what students miss most about being on campus

With prolonged time spent learning from home and less participation in a vibrant campus culture, many students are feeling less motivated to do well in their courses.2 For this reason, we wanted to learn more about which facets of on-campus life college students miss most.

Fifty-five percent of students surveyed miss in-person classes, labs and study groups most as well as the opportunities for face-to-face, interactive learning with their professors and peers. Where you’d typically see group project members huddled together in libraries, student unions or computer labs, these meetings now take place primarily online using Zoom or Google Meet.

More than 18% of students surveyed mostly miss campus events, such as career fairs or a capella performances, and student organizations such as academic societies, student government, greek life, university theater programs, campus ministry or a school paper. More than 17% of students miss the camaraderie of sporting events, club sports and campus recreation most.

When it comes to food and drink choices, 4.7% prioritize a good meal above all else, missing on-campus dining and beverage options the most for their campus life experience.

Graphic denoting what social media students would give up to return to campus

As college students spend increasing amounts of time on social media for not only catching up with friends, but for entertainment, news, shopping and gaming, we couldn’t help but ask student respondents which social media network they would be most willing to give up for an entire semester in order to go back to campus for a semester. The largest number of students surveyed, 31.8%, said they would give up Facebook for a semester if they had to choose one platform, which makes sense now that Facebook usage is fastest growing among older generations.3

Surprisingly, TikTok, the domain of Generation Z college students, was the social media platform that respondents would give up second-most, following Facebook. Nearly 22% of students surveyed would give up TikTok for a semester for a chance to return to a tangible experience on-campus for a semester – a true sacrifice, given that younger generations spend 52 minutes on TikTok per day4 on average in 2020.

That wraps up our survey findings of what college students would sacrifice to go back to campus. COVID-19 restrictions are leaving many U.S. college students feeling unengaged and detached from their peers. It’s clear from the survey results that there are many of life’s daily pleasures that they would give up in order to return to a safe and fulfilling, on-campus experience.

1 Retrieved from The Chronicle of Higher Education in November 2020.

2 Retrieved from Best in November 2020.

Retrieved from Pew Research Center in November 2020.

Retrieved from Wallaroo Media in November 2020.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University. Any sources cited were accurate as of the publish date.