The past year left many students with no choice but to enroll in Zoom University, AKA suddenly taking online classes from their childhood bedrooms. This fall, sophomores who had their freshman year interrupted will experience their first “full” introduction to the college lifestyle, a phenomenon I like to call the “double freshman” experience. I spoke with three students whose first year of college was impacted by the pandemic about virtual learning, making friends, and how they’re feeling about next steps. Here’s how the double freshmen are feeling about returning to campus this fall.
Navigating virtual classes
Over the past year, college students have experienced uncertainty, stress, anxiety, and feelings of isolation. This was particularly amplified for “double freshmen” like Sidney, 18, a student at Illinois State University, whose freshman year was disrupted by COVID-19 when she was required to shift to online learning. For her, attending virtual classes meant dealing with technological difficulties and lack of communication with professors.
“I think the worst issue…was that [professors] weren’t answering our emails or they weren’t good with technology,” Sidney tells Her Campus. “If there was something I had a question about, I wouldn’t always get a response.” When asked how she feels about returning to in-person classes in the fall, Sidney shares, “I’m definitely not going to miss dealing with all the weird tech glitches and communication difficulties!”
Kaytlin, 19, a student at the University of Michigan, was able to live on campus during her first semester, unlike many college students who weren’t given the option of doing so. Although she was attending classes in-person, Kaytlin recalls how attending live classes felt drastically different than she imagined.
“By the time we started the school year in late August, I had one lab class that was hybrid [style],” Kaytlin tells Her Campus, referring to a class structure in which students have both online classes and socially distanced, in-person classes throughout the semester. “That class did three-week rotations, so for two weeks, you’d be virtual and the third week you’d go in-person. The first time I went in, it was just me, then it was just me and one other girl, and the third time [the professor] canceled, so the class basically [ended up being] remote.” Despite many schools adopting a COVID-conscious academic plan, it became clear that the college experience would be different.
For some students, the pandemic forced them to consider what was best for their personal comfort and safety. Cindy, 18, who attends San Jose State University, say that staying at home during the pandemic made her feel safer amid the surge in discrimination and hate crimes against Asian Americans. Over the course of the pandemic, incidents of racially-motivated violence led to over 1,800 racist encounters reported from March to May 2020. Cindy tells Her Campus, “As an Asian person myself, I was a mixture of unsurprised but also fearful…for my family and my friends and myself. I wasn’t comfortable going back [to class] in person if this was the current climate [we were] going to face.”
Making new friends
While concerned for their safety amid the pandemic, many double freshmen still wanted to make meaningful connections with classmates and foster a sense of community. Sidney, for instance, was able to make connections through campus organizations, virtual activities, and social media groups. “Even if I couldn’t meet with people in-person, being around other people on Zoom in groups really helped me socially and made me feel like there were people I knew at school,” she says.
For others, making friends proved to be more difficult. “It was pretty hard [for me] to make friends on campus, just because everyone was completely virtual,” says Kaytlin. “Even if you were living in the dorms, you didn’t see anyone in class and there weren’t really any type of social gatherings — literally everything was on Zoom. A lot of people wanted to go out and meet people, but at the same time, our RAs and the university staff were strict about going out. They would check your room if they thought that you had people in there.”
Though Kaytlin wasn’t able to meet many other students during her first year, she managed to make some friends in her residence hall. And while the University of Michigan will continue to offer virtual classes in the fall, Kaytlin is excited to kick off sophomore year living with friends in a new apartment. “I’m pretty hopeful for next semester,” Kaytlin says. “I have some friends on campus and we’ll have an apartment together, so I hope that goes well.”
Getting involved on campus
This fall will be the first opportunity for double freshmen to explore campus, meet peers and professors in-person, and get involved. And despite having limited opportunities for campus activities over the past year, double freshmen like Sidney feel optimistic.
She has already joined a sorority, a Women in Business club, and the Her Campus chapter at Illinois State University — and she is excited to finally engage in campus life this fall. “I’m looking forward to meeting even more of the people that I’ve gotten to know in a virtual capacity,” Sidney tells Her Campus. “I’m also excited to be on the campus and take advantage of all the amenities, because I’ve only been there a handful of times before. It will be kind of weird for me, because I’ll be a sophomore and learning where things are.”
As a double freshman, Kaytlin also plans to prioritize on-campus activities in the fall, which didn’t feel as interesting during freshman year due to everything being virtual. “I probably would have tried to get more involved with the small virtual social things that the school offered,” she says while reflecting on the past year. “At the time, it seemed kind of pointless to go to a virtual social night, but I feel like it could have been worth my time so I could meet people and engage.”
For Cindy, most classes for the fall term will remain online, but she’ll have the option of visiting campus for select activities. “There’s always a mix of anticipation and also fear, [along with] anxiety,” says Cindy when asked how she feels about returning to campus life. “I imagine going into my sophomore year…[thinking], ‘Oh I haven’t used my social skills in a year, what if I say something wrong?’” Whether you’re a double freshman yourself or simply figuring out how to brush up on your old skills again, know that there are a multitude of ways to cope with anxiety — and it doesn’t have to define your college experience.
On figuring out what’s next
Some double freshmen are apprehensive and uncertain about how they will navigate campus or learn “college norms” as sophomores. For instance, as a commuter student, Sidney has only visited campus a few times, and worries about not being able to figure out where classes are located. “I feel like I have a loose idea, but I think I’m going to visit a few times this summer and walk around to familiarize myself more,” Sidney says. “I don’t want to be late or end up in the wrong classroom or anything like that.”
Meanwhile, Cindy wants to focus on building friendships, professional connections, and finding potential mentors at her college. “When I was in high school, [college students] would tell me, ‘Make sure you talk to your professors, go to their office hours, get to know them and it will help you in the long run.’”
Cindy has even created a bucket list of goals to accomplish before she graduates, and looks forward to embracing activities that weren’t an option her freshman year. “I was really interested in trying out for the club volleyball team last year, but because of COVID, that obviously didn’t go through,” says Cindy. “Along with my major, I also want to declare a minor. I’m also hoping to study abroad, whether it’s next year or just before my graduation.”
Despite each of their unique challenges, double freshmen have proven to be resilient while navigating a year like no other. Finally, double freshmen will be able to explore a much-deserved on-campus experience after having their first year taken from them due to COVID-19. If you’re a double freshman, know that returning to campus this fall is an opportunity to utilize your resources, form connections, and finally make those college memories you’ve been waiting for. To all the double freshmen out there: may you tackle this year with confidence.
Sidney, Illinois State University
Kaytlin, University of Michigan
Cindy, San Jose State University
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