Well, it’s that time of the year. Just as I was moving out of Waiparuru Hall last week, I was seeing new faces and the residential team giving tours to families and maybe future residents. I started thinking about how I’d first approached all the decisions to be made when moving to Auckland, and realized that I’d counted on a completely normal, standard first year experience. All I had to do was think about what I wanted within it.

Of course, I never saw COVID coming.  It was never an element in my decision-making process. But for some of you reading this, you may have to factor in the very real element of how COVID-19 may affect your own experience, and could even be asking yourselves: are halls worth it with all the uncertainty of COVID?

As one of the COVID’s online learning guinea pigs, I think I can safely say yes.

Let’s tackle the bigger question first. Is enrolling into university worth it at all, with all the uncertainty about jumping in and out of online learning?

There’s no doubt online learning doesn’t compare to in-person classes. When I paid my tuition fees, I signed up for the engagement, exploring campus, striking up a conversation with your elbow buddy, sitting in a lecture theater full of people interested in the same things as you and hearing an expert on the topic (your lecturer), open up a realm of knowledge and then open up the floor for discussion and debate, is an experience every university student wants to have. Attending faculty events in O-Week and STEINs, walking through the clubs expo, and going through the usual blunders and mishaps of a new environment is all part of the package. We don’t just go to university to get our dream job; we also go for the experience. Although we were in lockdown for a length of time, which was unavoidable, we also did have a lot of on-campus experiences.

In terms of the pure quality of your education, I would say the university had a great transition to online learning (at least for law and arts). I found some of my most productive hours to be over lockdown, or even when things stayed uncertain and we remained in online classes for extra time. One of the best things about uni is that you get pointed into the right direction for all the right resources. All you have to do is read them. With online learning, it was just me and my education, and I discovered that without a lot of the outside noise, I knew that law was still exactly what I wanted to do. Lecturers were very understanding and provided extensions for most assignments, offered extra office hours, and provided more support than they usually would. With less time for distractions and commuting to uni, I could take them up on those offers and got to know some of them more personally. While the university experience is important, it’s also great to feel yourself growing when you can access and really take the time to enjoy what you’re studying.

That said, it does depend on your degree.

Now back to the question that can really define your university experience. Are halls worth it even if we go back to online learning? This isn’t just a question of education and relationships and your own preferences; it’s an expensive question. The cheapest hall (O’Rorke) is $398 per week for the academic year. Waiparuru Hall is $412 per week for the academic year. The others range around this number.

This one is a much more definitive YES. I loved halls and was so disappointed to go back home over lockdown. People get much closer in these times and there’s a real sense of ‘we’re all in this together.’ Floor and hall activities are always planned to keep people in touch with others (movie nights, game nights, baking, etc) and you can still go on occasional outings to the domain or Albert Park. Regardless of whether we go back online or not, the sense of community you get at halls, and particularly as a first year, is irreplaceable. In fact, I knew several people who joined halls in semester 2, knowing we might go back to online learning, but who still wanted to have that experience. There’s really nothing like it; I like to say it’s like a daycare for young adults. You get that feeling of independence, but in a supportive environment, and with all sorts of activities and opportunities to connect with others.

So here we are. I guess the fundamental question is, how set are you on your time of graduation? Waiting doesn’t hurt, but online learning isn’t as bad as you may think, and halls of residence are definitely something that you shouldn’t exclude just because of fear of COVID (in my humble opinion). Of course, it depends on what degree you’re doing and if online learning would really impact that. But at least from a law and arts perspective, a whole year of bouncing back and forth between online classes and lockdown was still one that opened up my mind to things I’d never considered and was really, really enriching nonetheless.

P.S. The featured image for this post is my floor’s photo wall in semester 2 alone (remember this included lockdown, 2 extra weeks of online learning, and 1 week of online exams)