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My Very First Semester of College Was During a Pandemic

As a high school senior, when COVID-19 first shut down the country, I was completely split about whether I wanted to go to college or not. I had already been accepted to VCU, my dream school, but in the face of a pandemic, I was unsure whether or not I wanted to take a calculated risk and move to campus for my first semester. What seemed like a better idea, assuming COVID would still be an imminent threat come fall time (which turned out to be true), was to opt for a gap year, resuming my education when I could have a more ‘traditional’ college experience. Not only did the threat of contracting COVID or, forbid, passing it to a loved one, scared me to my core—but I spent the bulk of my quarantine period in relative comfort in my family home, where I could envision myself staying at college.

Through endless deliberation and discussion with my parents, who I look up to greatly, I finally decided I would move to campus and pursue my freshman year in person as I had originally planned. My parents’ justification was that they wanted me to take a closer step towards independence and that living on campus, even in COVID times, would be the closest thing to what I would have gotten in a different situation. Although my mind was made up, I was still extremely apprehensive, and early on, I blamed my decision on my “parent’s orders.” Soon, particularly in the days leading up to move-in, I got extremely excited. I couldn’t wait to move in and see what college had to offer me—pandemic protocol, online classes and all.

Elbow tap
Photo by Gustavo Fring from Pexels

The first few days on campus before the semester kicked it into gear were a dream. I had a great roommate, my best friend from high school and two other friends from high school to (safely) spend time with as well. As the excitement of arriving slowly wore away and classes got started, I more and more found myself missing the comforts of home and my family every day. I’ve always been a homebody, and in the face of the virus, my fear and anxiety of exposure to the virus grew. In the same period, I saw other American universities forcing their students to pack up and head home in response to campus outbreaks. I safely assumed my university would do the same. When it didn’t, my anxiety grew twofold.

My parents and older sister (a current college fourth-year) told me to wait it out and that everybody’s first few weeks of college were trying. The trouble was that, as a student in COVID, I had already discerned myself from “everybody.” I convinced myself that it would not, could not, get better. No other college students in recent history have studied through something like this. I was scared, and I wanted to go home.

A month or so into the semester, I connected with some other people in my building, and things started looking up. Now, I couldn’t be happier that I stayed. My individuality complex proved to be wrong, as it often is. I had a great semester, for which I feel very lucky.

In terms of online classes, I think I got a better deal than most other college students this semester. I found my classes more manageable than before because they were online, many asynchronous. However, the main way I felt my semester was lacking in terms of traditional education was that I had little opportunity to form a truly personable relationship with my professors. 

All in all, this was a good semester for me—perhaps because expectations can’t be disappointed when you come in without any expectations at all.

Emily Richardson is a psychology and sociology double major at Virginia Commonwealth University. She has contributed to a number of independent publications and has a passion for music, writing, and social issues.
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