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Going To College With Three Classes Of Freshmen

By: Alli Loftus

A few weeks ago, I was talking to my brother, a junior in high school, about his social and academic life. He told me that he’s been struggling to make friends, and that the pandemic really changed how he works as a student. At the end of our conversation, I realized that even as a junior, even as an upper-classman, he never got the full high school experience. In many ways, he is going through what a lot of freshmen go through: the stages of finding your “friend group” and adjusting to class schedules. He is repeating these same steps….but as a junior.

The freshmen of the 2019-2020 school year were sent home their second semester (winter quarter) due to the beginning of the pandemic. Meaning, these freshmen only had around six months of in-person college life before everything hit the fan. Fast forward to the 2020-2021 freshmen class (aka my class): we spent our entire first year doing virtual classes either from the comfort of our own homes or restricted on-campus dorms. Then, beginning this 2021-2022 school year, a new wave of freshmen was introduced. In-person classes opened up, and their academic and social lives ensued (in a relatively normal fashion). However, this now leaves the four classes of students looking something like this: 

1) 2021-2022 freshmen: the actual freshmen

2) 2020-2021 freshmen: the second years who’ve yet to experience a normal college life

3) 2019-2020 freshmen: the third years who spent half their freshman year on campus but lost touch with that college life after spending their sophomore year virtually

4) Regular fourth-years

This is unprecedented. These juniors are supposed to be “upper-classmen”, but most of them spent half their freshman year and all of their sophomore year in virtual classes. Some may not have established a good footing at the school they’ve been attending for three years now. Some sophomores are entering their first year actually being on campus, having not known what it looked like previously. 

I was sitting in class the other day, talking to a first-year when they asked me where a certain building was. After telling them that I barely knew campus myself, we began talking more about how as a second-year I genuinely still feel like a freshman on campus. We bonded over that feeling of starting something new, being filled with adrenaline and curiosity, yet having that voice still lingering in the back of your head whispering that everyone is watching you. You may feel out of place because you’re essentially entering this new “world.”

But…I realize that these “three classes of freshmen” may feel the same way. Many of us feel out of place, scared, homesick…but we aren’t alone. We have all been through a very messy and unusual beginning college life, but that’s also what connects us. We have those shared experiences of what it’s like to take classes online, going from a year of taking open-note tests online to closed-note in-person tests, awkward breakout rooms where no one talks and you look at black screens. We’ve been there. Odds are, someone on campus feels the same way you do. So, that’s the advice I’m going to give to my brother. This past year and a half has been messy and uncomfortable, but if anyone’s going to understand what you’re going through, it’s the people you’re on this journey with.

Allister Loftus

Cal Poly '24

Alli is a second-year journalism major and environmental studies minor at Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo. She is from the Bay Area and currently on the editorial team for Her Campus. Alli is interested in writing about environmental justice and social justice topics. In her free time she likes watching movies, reading comics, and playing with her dogs.
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