“I’ve been so disconnected:” First-years say post-pandemic burnout is real

Students are struggling with disengagement and apathy now that campus has returned to pre-pandemic norms


Jamal Magoti, ’23, and Vanshika Sood, ’25, labor over assignments on a Sunday night. Students report more burnout this year. Photo courtesy of Kate Barnes, ’24

Claire DiChiario, Staff Writer

First-years’ transition to college has an extra layer of complication this year: students are also adjusting to fully in-person classes and higher expectations after lighter high school classes during the pandemic.
Burnout is the culmination of stress, anxiety, and other factors resulting in a loss of motivation and engagement. The phenomenon has increased among college students in recent years. 87% of college students reported education as a major source of stress contributing to burnout, the American Psychological Association reported.
More lenient, COVID-flexible policies, such as allowing absences for extenuating circumstances and reduced penalties for late work, were in place during the 2021-22 year at the discretion of each professor.
Many professors have reverted to allowing a fixed amount of allowed absences, ranging between 2-4 days, students reported. Late work is often either zero-tolerance or results in a fixed decrease in grade.
Madison Kessack, ’26, said she’s seen students check out altogether this year.
“Everyone knows that one person who just doesn’t show up to class,” she said. “I know one person in my class last semester almost failed because of his attendance record.”
The desire for interpersonal interaction also sometimes trumps academic obligations, especially at a school known for its tight-knit social life like Washington and Lee, Kessack said. She said pandemic-induced isolation in high school has changed her motivations.
“I’ve been so disconnected from friends for so long that I just crave being around people now,” Kessack said. “I do all of my homework in the common room around people, and it doesn’t help me focus.”
Other first-years said that with to many tasks before them, prioritizing academics isn’t always easy. Necessary tasks often entice students into “structured procrastination,” a term coined by philosophy professor John Perry in 1995 that describes the completion of less-important tasks to distract from a more important task. Structured procrastination is alluring because it provides students with feelings of productivity even while unmotivated.
“Within the last 24 hours, I’ve deep-cleaned my room but haven’t studied for my quiz tomorrow,” Libby Devooght, ’26, said.
Kessack said it’s hard to tell whether what she’s experiencing is burnout specifically caused by post-Covid adjustments, or if it’s just a normal part of college life.
“I feel like I didn’t learn proper coping mechanisms, [such as] learning how to pace yourself and proper time management skills,” she said.
Resources for burnout on campus include the University Counseling Center and GroupEx meditation classes.