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Let’s Face It: College Is Going To Be Super Weird This Year

For the first time in forever, freshmen won’t be the only ones lost around campus.  

Fall semester is quickly approaching, and campuses across America are set to return to in-person instruction after a year-and-a-half of online classes. Many universities are requiring vaccinations for all returning students, with the hope of providing a safe environment for their students.

While campus life during COVID-19 will continue to have some restrictions and limitations, it’s exciting to finally return to campus and in-person classes. I will be entering my senior year of college, so I am grateful for the possibility of one last (somewhat) normal year in school after over a year of digital learning. 

Needless to say, my friends and I are thrilled to be back to normalcy and walking around campus with each other. As the excitement for the fall semester built up, we’ve begun to realize our return to campus is going to be a little stranger than we thought. 

But wait, I was just a sophomore!

Recently, my friends and I were reminiscing on the past three years and laughing at our now hilarious embarrassing moments from freshman year. A friend of mine joked about how she still views us as sophomores, living in the dorms and meeting up for pancakes on weekends to laugh about the previous night.

That’s when a realization hit me: we only completed three semesters of in-person classes. As seniors, we’ve spent the same amount of time taking classes online as  we have taking classes on campus.

When I was a freshman, I thought seniors had their whole future figured out and were experts on school. While I know that kind of thinking was definitely naive, seniors usually do know almost everything about their school.

Whether it’s which floor of the library gets the most sunlight, what dining hall makes the best pancakes, or where to go for the best midnight pizza — seniors are the ones who know the answers. They slowly pass their knowledge down to younger friends, who tell their friends, and so on and so forth.

The question is, if this upcoming year has a senior class with  the in-person experience of a second semester sophomore, who will be the wise students on campus? 

“I didn’t even know how to pay for my food in the dining hall with my meal plan because it had been so long since I was there,” says Daniella, 20, a senior at Binghamton University. “They changed the way you pay to tap scanners, and I was just as confused as the freshmen.”

While I definitely know which dining hall has the best pancakes, (it’s C4 by the way, for all you Binghamton University students) I don’t feel like I know nearly as much as most college seniors normally do.

Here’s where it gets even weirder

After I was done being upset over my college experience being cut in half, I came to an even weirder realization. If the seniors have only finished three in-person semesters, the juniors have only completed one.

Not only did juniors get sent home for quarantine after just one normal semester, it was the fall semester of their freshman year. I don’t know about the rest of you, but I still needed a map halfway through my first semester and I couldn’t tell you the difference between a single dining hall.

If you think that’s odd, think again. This year’s sophomores have not experienced one single day of college before the pandemic. Some sophomores haven’t even stepped foot on their campus yet!Usually you can tell who’s new to campus and help them out, but students are realizing there are a ton of students who are just as lost regardless of their year. 

“It’s [ridiculous] seeing how a good majority of commuters don’t know how the school bus system works because freshmen and sophomores have never ridden them, and juniors only spent a semester and a half using them,” says Melike, 20. Melike is a senior at Stony Brook University, a big commuter school. “The other day a girl asked if she could sit next to me and I was dumbfounded — anyone who isn’t new would know you just sit down without asking. The funny part is she could have been anywhere from a freshman to a junior,” Melike tells Her Campus. 

These are students who should have memorized campus, tried all the dining halls, improved their study habits, explored the city (or surrounding area of their college campus), and made all the mistakes that come along with being a freshman. Yet a sophomore I know couldn’t name one restaurant in our small college town. In his defense, why would he have eaten at one? Freshmen didn’t have cars and our university shortened the bus schedule last year in an effort to slow down the spread of COVID-19 in our community.

Many colleges did allow students to return to campus last fall, but most students’ schedules included online or hybrid courses. While this may have been the closest thing to normal college life any school could offer, it definitely was not the same.

“I feel like there’s an element of embarrassment with it because of the stigma around freshmen on campus. It’s ‘embarrassing’ to not know your way around campus, so I should know where everything is as a sophomore, but I don’t,” says Samantha, 19, a sophomore at Binghamton University. “But it’s been less lonely than it could be because people have been sharing their experiences on TikTok, so I’ve realized there’s nothing to be embarrassed about.”

Personal growth hits different on campus

Honestly, probably not. I’d like to think campus will be chaotic and the first week of school will be a hilarious mess, but I doubt it. Just like freshmen figure out their school’s best spots and adjust to campus living pretty quickly, the sophomores and juniors will likely get along just fine. In my opinion, the biggest difference between this year and college student bodies in the past is the personal growth students will experience, regardless of age.

As someone who lived through a full, non-pandemic freshman year, I can look back and see all the progress I have made since then. Everyone experienced some sort of growth during quarantine, but going back to college in person will ignite and inspire self-discoveries for freshmen, sophomores, juniors and heck, even seniors.

Taking in-person classes my freshman year helped me discover what I wanted to do in life as well as what I definitely did not want to do. I was majoring in biochemistry and was in a research program. I absolutely dreaded walking across campus to sit in the biology lab and research plants (or whatever it was we were doing on any given day). I could hardly focus and all I thought about was when I would finally be free to go to my next class.

Meanwhile, there wasn’t a single part of my writing course I didn’t enjoy. Most of my fellow STEM students despised this class, but were forced to take it as it was a general requirement for all freshmen. While my friends from chemistry dreaded hours in the library writing and the day we had to present our papers, I was dreading my science research presentation and paper. It was in these differences between my classmates and I that I started to realize I wasn’t dreading long hours in the lab; I just had a different set of interests.  

Sure, online classes can help you get a sense of what type of career you’d like, but there’s nothing like realizing you’re 15 minutes early to your 8 a.m. class, despite the snowstorm and the fact that the class isn’t even for your major.

Experiencing moments like these in college can really help students figure out their various passions and interests. This year’s sophomores and juniors haven’t had much of a chance to explore their interests and meet other students. We are heading into a year with a student body that has a lot of self-discovery left to do.

Another part of the college experience most juniors and sophomores missed out on is falling victim to procrastination and piles of homework. Many students have a hard time adjusting to the demands of a college course load, but everyone perseveres after a few mistakes made along the way. For lots of people, online courses were much easier to manage because you could do them on your own time. Usually, freshmen are thrown into a heavy workload in a new learning environment, which can cause a rocky start. 

Emily, 20, a junior at the University of Rhode Island, is stressed over the harder work load and content now that classes are in person. “It’s going to be difficult to figure out study strategies again since most of my college experience has been digital. Professors teach and create assignments differently in person,” Emily says. 

If it wasn’t for my procrastination in the library with my friends in freshman year, I would have never learned proper time management skills. There’s just something about eating mozzarella sticks at 1 a.m. with your best friends and realizing you’re doomed for the chemistry exam in the morning that makes you realize it’s time to start scheduling study hours.

In terms of college fun, I’ve made my fair share of mistakes. My friends and I can’t help but cringe when we look back on the first time we went to a college party. Half of us were wearing flip-flops in the basement of a frat house. The rest of us wore nice white jeans or brought giant bags and backpacks to hold onto our stuff. Our feet were stepped on, my white jeans were stained with punch, and someone lost a bag that night. 

I’ve lost keys and locked myself out of my dorm more than once. My friends have wandered off and lost the rest of us at a party, causing chaos to ensue along with frantic searching. Still, if we didn’t make these mistakes, we wouldn’t have grown into the kinda-sorta adults we are today. 

Now, we have mastered the art of gathering the friend group and scheduling Ubers right when everyone begins to crash. We know to avoid the buses back to campus because the line gets wild and you’ll never actually get on. We’ve found our favorite table in the library that overlooks the greenhouse and gets tons of natural light. We know which restaurants sing the best birthday songs and where to go for a post-party snack. These are all things you can’t learn from sitting in your bedroom on Zoom all day — and whether you’re a freshman or a junior, you might be dealing with some culture shock this year.

We’re all basically newbies

This upcoming year, most of the students have not had the experiences outlined above. Half the student body is walking into the school year with bright, fresh eyes. They’ve never seen the dining hall packed with students after a night out or laughing with their friends the next morning at breakfast. They aren’t sure what to expect from the first week of college. They’ve never even experienced a real snow day, where classes get canceled and everyone’s outside building snowmen.

So, yeah. This year is going to be a bit weird. But weird is good, strange is great, and new is exciting! This student body truly is the first of its kind. Sure, no one really knows what they’re doing or heading into. But let’s be honest, did the seniors who graduated in pre-pandemic times ever know what they were doing back when they were wearing the newbie shoes? As tumultuous as the past year and a half have been, maybe some things about college never change.

We’re all just trying our best, trekking across campus and hoping to come across the best pancakes to eat with friends.

Isabella is a junior majoring in Literature & Rhetoric at SUNY Binghamton University. She writes articles for her university's newspaper, focusing on culture, entertainment, fashion and campus events. When she's not writing, Bella is typically thrifting, creating new Spotify playlists, learning vegetarian recipes, or painting.
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