As a high schooler, I couldn’t wait to become part of the hustle and bustle of a college’s campus life. From game days to club fairs to crowded lecture halls, the notion of living with a few thousand new people my age, while also getting closer to finding my passion, excited me.
Ever since COVID-19 struck, however, that notion of the idealized college experience became muddled by questions of whether an on campus experience would even be possible. To my fellow freshman embarking on their college journeys, I am so sorry this is how it is beginning. Even through triumphs of getting an on campus experience, in person classes, and receiving the assurance that Notre Dame is doing their part to flatten the curve, it is hard to face restrictions to what my expectations were built up to be.
With all of the challenges of this semester, it’s important for college freshmen to keep a perspective and adjust their expectations in a healthy way. There are so many stressors that already come with starting college, such as living away from your family for the first time, enrolling in college courses and navigating the influx of new people that are now your new community. With those stressors come the added pressure of wanting to have a seamless transition. We are bombarded with social media posts of college that only represent the highlight reel and the picture-perfect moments. Seeing other people make seemingly flawless adjustments to their new environments only adds to the stress of our own adjustment.
It’s easy to feel like you’re not doing college right when you compare your experience to your expectations and all you see are other people’s highlight reels. That is why it’s so important to change how you perceive your adjustment to college amidst COVID-19. When I find myself struggling with disappointment or pressure to have everything figured out already, there are a few reminders that I use to interrupt this misconception.
First, remind yourself that this time is truly unprecedented. That doesn’t just mean that nobody you know has lived through a pandemic like COVID-19, but it also means that they have never navigated the unique challenge of going to college, let alone starting college, during a major disruptor. When you find yourself comparing your own experience of starting college life to a sibling out of college or a parent’s experience, remember that they did not face these restrictions and that typical college experiences cannot be replicated right now. On the flip side, think of how many new experiences and upgrades we get to enjoy in the coming years.
Another helpful reminder for freshmen starting college right now is that some things take time. Even without COVID-19 restrictions, the chances that you would meet your closest friends for the next four years in your first month of college are not guaranteed. It takes time to learn how to maintain a healthy exercise and eating routine even when gyms are open and the dining hall offers a full assortment of food to choose from. Learning how to be successful in college classes and learning the balance between school and a social life all take time.
Overall, I hope that freshmen remember to be kind to themselves right now and give themselves the time and the space to adjust to a completely new world. It should be acknowledged that our class is having to navigate an especially difficult transition. Still, something that brings me hope is reminding myself that the best is yet to come. I am so grateful for the opportunity to be on a college campus for my first semester and enjoy all the incredible communities and organizations Notre Dame has to offer. Although I learned to adjust my expectations about what college life would look like right now, I have high hopes that my class has so many exciting times ahead of us.