Harvard Students Report Strain of Online Semester in Undergrad Council Survey


The Undergraduate Council’s Student Experience Survey found students were dissatisfied with their transition to online learning and hope to return to campus this fall, according to a summary of the data presented this week.

The anonymous survey examined students’ virtual learning experience, health, wellbeing, and engagement with student life after the University’s move to remote instruction due to the global coronavirus outbreak. It had a 29.6 percent response rate, drawing 1,964 responses from April 26 to May 3.

Survey coordinators Jenny Y. Gan ’22 and Oliver S. York ’21 said they have discussed the survey results with administrators including Faculty of Arts and Sciences Registrar Michael P. Burke, who is leading FAS’s planning for fall 2020 alongside Dean of Science Christopher W. Stubbs. Gan and York also said they have shared the results with faculty deans and administrators from Harvard University Health Services.

According to Gan and York, key takeaways from the survey include data showing students’ dissatisfaction with their academic experience following the move off-campus. Students also said they lacked the necessary resources to have a successful academic experience, with many citing a lack of physical space to study.


Gan and York also said students reported that their overall emotional and physical health has declined. Nearly half of those surveyed reported that their physical health has worsened, and 81.1 percent of those surveyed reporting their emotional health has worsened. Due to the coronavirus pandemic and its resulting impacts, the students surveyed also reported new or worsening symptoms of anxiety and depression.

In response, Gan said the Council is working on addressing the negative impacts the pandemic has had on the physical and emotional health of students.

“Clearly, health and wellbeing have taken a hit since the evacuation off campus, and I think we're trying to think of ways to improve that and trying to plan meetings with HUHS and CAMHS for fall semester,” Gan said.

Engagement with student life has decreased over the course of this semester, per the survey results — both participation in residential life and extracurricular activities declined.

Echoing recent student petitions, the survey results indicated undergraduates’ displeasure with the possibility of more virtual learning, with many indicating a preference for a delayed semester on campus over a virtual semester. According to Gan and York, 45 percent of students surveyed said they were very likely to take a leave of absence in the event the fall semester is virtual.

Gan and York also said certain demographics were more likely to report considering a leave. The survey results indicated that rising seniors, students paying full tuition, and students studying the humanities are more likely to be considering a leave of absence.

The UC Student Experience Survey also asked students about their experiences with the universal satisfactory-unsatisfactory grading system adopted by the College for spring 2020. The survey asked students to rate the fairness of the satisfactory-unsatisfactory grading policy both for themselves and for their peers.

“Generally people thought the grading policy was really fair, but what was a striking result was people thought it was more fair to their peers,” York said. “We see students recognizing that this situation has hit people differently, and a lot of their peers have had a hard time.”

According to Gan and York, they plan to meet with administrators from the Office of Undergraduate Education next week to continue to discuss the survey results to provide student input as details about the upcoming fall semester are discussed.

—Staff writer Sharon Xu can be reached at