There are so many things that people had to adjust to during the COVID-19 pandemic, and going to college is one of the larger ones. Being thrown into a new environment is already stressful and scary, and doing it during a global pandemic is extra difficult. Given that, here are five pieces of advice that helped me during my freshman year of college while living through a public health crisis.
- Get out of your dorm room!
During my first semester of college, I was in my dorm room a LOT. Because so many of my classes were online and I didn’t really know many people, I routinely stayed in my dorm and watched TV shows on my computer while eating microwave oatmeal. This may sound relaxing, but it is the exact opposite of what you should practice. During my spring semester when I actually made an effort to find alternate study spaces, outdoor reading spots and invite friends and classmates to dinner, I was so much happier. Don’t get me wrong, it’s OK to have a night in every once in a while, but my prolonged lack of inactivity combined with my solace (spare my roommate, who was wonderful, but also had her own life) meant that soon I felt much more isolated due to the pandemic than I actually was. By leaving my dorm room and trying new dining halls, talking to more classmates and joining more organizations, I actually was able to feel like I was living a somewhat normal college lifestyle, despite the many restrictions that were still in place. So, don’t be a hermit, instead be a social butterfly!
- Go to class when you can, and sit in the front
Lots of classes this past year were online, and my classes were no exception. Many of my classes also offered a “hybrid” option, though, where students could attend class on a certain day of the week to limit the capacity. Unfortunately for the university, a lot of students made the same mistake I made in lesson #1, and did not attend their “optional” in-person class. This resulted in professors opening up the in-person option for students to come any day of the week, just to fill up the room. TAKE ADVANTAGE OF THIS. For my classes that were in this situation, I went to every single class in person, and I sat in the very front of the class. I kid you not, I felt like my professors were speaking only to me and teaching me directly, which was so helpful. I was able to be much more attentive to the class when I attended in person, since I didn’t have the available distractions I would have if I was watching the lecture online. Sitting in the front also minimized the chances of me getting off task, since I knew that the professor would have their eyes on me most of the time. This also allowed me to make more intimate connections with my professors, so if I were to ask for help studying for an exam, they would be more inclined to help me since I actually showed initiative in their course. Overall, if you have the option between sitting on Zoom or sitting in class, go to class - you won’t regret it.
- Find "your" study spot
I go to a huge school, and there are many places to study. Especially in a pandemic era, there are so many spaces that actually go unused and are perfect for you to claim as your own. I loved going to my proclaimed study area which was almost always empty, sitting in the corner chair, taking off my mask (there was nobody within 600 feet of me, let alone 6), and getting my grind on. I also had a go-to coffee shop that I would frequent, where I could go alone or meet friends and have a wonderful time chatting and studying. Especially when there is the danger of feeling “trapped” in your dorm (reference back to lesson #1), it is so important to find places around campus to make your own and that feel comfortable to you.
- Know the difference between “regret” and “reminisce”
When I went home for Thanksgiving break following my first semester of college, I was so excited. I had been counting down the days that I could go home for over a month prior to the trip and was so happy to be back in my home state and with my family - and especially my dogs - again. It helped that I also knew I would be staying home following the break, since the three weeks of classes in between Thanksgiving and winter break had been moved online. By the time I went back to school seven weeks later, I was dreading the return to campus and was so upset to be leaving my family again. Comparing this to when I was going to college for the first time in August is laughable, considering I almost despised most of my family then and could not wait for my independence. But the entirety of the extended holiday break, whenever anybody asked me how I liked college, I would cheerily quip, “I love it so much! It is so fun and I am having a great time.” Not all of this was entirely a lie, but considering I spent most of my first semester alone in my dorm, I didn’t have a lot of fun memories to look back on. Although, if people asked me if I regretted my decision to go to an out of state college at all, I would always answer, “no,” and that answer would be 100% true. I am so glad that I have had the opportunity to meet new people and create new experiences in a fresh environment, as compared to attending a college in-state where I would have a very similar experience to high school, which I did not want.
I knew over the winter break and when I went back for the spring semester that even though I did not want to go back, what I really did not want was to be sitting alone in a tiny room for three months like I did the first semester. It was not the fault of the college, and it was not the fault of the pandemic, but my own fault that I made that my reality, and I decided to change that. My spring semester was incredible because I chose to make the most out of what I had, and I knew that I did not regret my decision to attend my university, I was just longing for things to be how they normally would be, so that I would not have such a horrible time. But I turned things around and optimized my experience despite the pandemic. By doing that and knowing that what I really hated was not the college but the situation I put myself in, I was truly able to enjoy myself. So, if you are reconsidering your college choice, stop and think about the things that are making you reconsider in the first place - it may not be the fault of the college at all.
- You are not alone!
For a lot of my time at college, I thought I was the only one experiencing feeling like an outsider and feeling isolated. But after talking to others and creating more friendships, I found out that there are so many other people that feel the same way. Even though things may seem hard because you are in a new environment and things are completely different, everybody is feeling out of place, even the people that have been in college for years. COVID-19 threw everybody for a loop, and so many people had to make changes to their everyday lives. By realizing that everybody is struggling through the pandemic in their own way, I was comforted and felt able to reach out to others if I needed help, knowing that I was available to provide support for them in return. Even though it’s hard and may continue to be hard for a long time, there are so many people who are there to help you through it.