Did The Pandemic Destroy The ‘Study Hard, Play Hard’ Doctrine Of College Students?

During a recent reunion I attended with alumni from the class of 2017, it was obvious just how different college students are today than they used to be. Long gone is the student doctrine — study hard and play hard. The pandemic eliminated the word play from this age-old principle leaving an imbalance in the college experience.

Cut back social activity on campus and it’s no surprise that student behavior is altered. Take for example the college class who will graduate in 2024. As high school students, they never attended their proms due to Covid-19. During their first year in college, they were isolated in dorm rooms, and many took classes only online. Plus, any form of misbehavior during the pandemic led to punishment by an administration following strict pandemic guidelines.

The whole concept of play hard was temporarily eliminated from the college experience. Outside activities like student organizations, where students normally find friends and develop social skills, were drastically cut back. Partying went underground and was only experienced by the most daring upperclassmen and women.


Eliminate fun from young adults in college and the results leak into the classroom. Today’s college students have the maturity and communications skills of high schoolers. Their classroom behavior is shy and fearful. They respond to questions in class and on exams with an immaturity and lack of relational insight that is a result of isolation, limited summer travel, uninspiring Zoom internships and significantly reduced opportunities to attend events or parties.

With limited perspective and maturity, students (post-Covid) view learning transactionally. The joy of scholarship and discovery has been replaced with a high school mentality—tell me exactly what to do, what to memorize, and reward me with my well-deserved grade.

Burnout among professors is higher than usual today because it takes twice the effort to teach college level material to students with the maturity of tenth graders who are solely focused on the effects of an A- verses an A on their grade point average.


Here are some successful methods I employed during the spring ’22 semester to restore vibrancy in the classroom.

Make Extra Time for Classroom Participation

I dedicated extra time each class period to engaging students in classroom conversations with me and their peers. At first, there were awkward moments of silence. After several weeks, the silence gave way to more active participation with students who started to gain confidence in their hibernating verbal skills. They slowly began to discover that verbal expression is an important element in the learning process.

Use Spontaneity to Decrease Transactional Expectations

One reason students view education transactionally is that on the first day of class they receive a lengthy, contract-like syllabus detailing subjects for every class period including assignment and test dates. During the spring semester, I surprised my students every couple of weeks with unexpected detours away from the syllabus. This helped them appreciate that learning doesn’t always take place while cramming for a planned test. It can happen when they least expect it. Unplanned guest speakers, relevant in-class group assignments, and occasional pop quizzes made the class experience less predictable than what they had become accustomed to.

Encourage and Participate in Extra Curricular Activities

With a belief that social skills have a better chance of developing outside of the classroom, I encouraged all my students to actively participate in campus clubs and professional organizations. I was generous in giving them excused absences for events and I continued to volunteer as a faculty advisor for two clubs.


Campus social activity is quickly returning to normal suggesting that the student play hard doctrine is not in jeopardy. However, the study hard side of the dogma is having a slower recovery. Many students continue struggling to free themselves from the habits they developed while taking classes on Zoom. They remain detached in today’s live classroom that for centuries has been the best environment for higher education.

My experience during the spring ’22 semester suggests that by employing a few simple pedagogical tactics, students will again discover the value of spontaneous interaction with professors and peers in a live classroom setting. Once they started speaking in class again, I witnessed a transformation. My students discovered that participating in class was a more rewarding learning experience than simply turning off a Zoom camera and hiding behind a blank screen.

Bill is a teaching fellow and lecturer in marketing at the Robins School of Business at the University of Richmond, where he has taught for 12 years in the undergraduate and MBA programs. He has over four decades of experience working in marketing, advertising, and publishing, including as president of the Bergman Group, a Richmond-based marketing and advertising company. He has four times been named one of the Poets&Quants for Undergrads’ Favorite Professors: in 2017, 2020, 2021, & 2022.


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