Li Zitong had everything planned out for her postgraduate studies in New York, but this is not how she imagined her plan would unfold.
Getting enrolled as a master's student in School of Social Work, Columbia University, Li started taking online classes when the semester began. One of the biggest challenges for international students like her is time difference. More often than not, Li has to get up very early in the morning to take classes.
The COVID-19 pandemic has left Chinese students who applied to study abroad restrained, forcing them to take remote classes.
However, the overall willingness of Chinese students to apply for colleges overseas has not decreased, even if it means studying remotely for the duration of the programs.
As of October 15, 2020, the number of British undergraduate applicants had increased by 12 percent compared to the figure in 2019. Among them, Chinese students increased to 4,340 from 3,310 in the preceding year, a 31-percent spike, according to data released by the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS), a UK-based organization responsible for managing the application process for British universities.
While it may be safer for students to take classes remotely, as it mitigates virus concerns, it brings extra burden for students like Li, whose classes are taking place overseas.
"For us, there's a strong sense of uncertainty. Your original plans were upended, and everything is disorganized. You have to start over and reconsider your future," said Li, adding that the way she's taking classes does save living expenses, but it would be regrettable if she ends up spending two years studying online.
Li's hoping the situation will get better in the U.S. by her second year. Otherwise, she said she was thinking of taking a gap year and start working in China first.
Meanwhile, many online learning industry insiders have expressed concerns, saying good spirits and regular, manageable time schedules are important for students undertaking distance learning.
Despite this issue, some in the industry have an upbeat outlook.
Zhou Yanping, founder & CEO of Touchdown Education, said the colleges in the U.S. are "most likely" going to switch back to the in-person learning mode or the hybrid mode in the fall semester, and safety is going to be the primary concern for the universities.
Her remarks were strengthened by Tom Dretler, chair of the U.S. News Global Education, who said in his article published on January 19 that international students "will be on campus" this fall as plenty of U.S. universities have made efforts to contain the virus and multiple high-efficacy vaccines are being distributed in a widespread manner across the United States.