When I started my freshman year of college, I certainly had a lot of mixed feelings. I was anxious to get started, nervous about being in a new place and wondering what life would be like at my new school.
Of course, I never anticipated my first year would get interrupted by a worldwide pandemic.
So, like so many other students, I finished the school year not on campus but at home. And needless to say, it was a pretty remarkable experience on a lot of levels.
To get a better sense of what life was life for first-year college students during coronavirus, I interviewed seven of them from a variety of schools (large, small, public, private, in-state, out-of-state, satellite, etc.). I’ll be sharing these as a series of posts in this space.
Here’s the second installment in this series – Rachel Lawson is a first-year student at a large, private university on the East Coast.
What college do you attend, and what do you plan to study?
Fordham College of Rose Hill (Bronx NY). I plan to double major in Physics and Environmental Science.
When and how did your college react to the COVID-19 pandemic?
March 11th, I believe they shut down the school and most left within the week, myself included. I had homework due the day of my plane trip. I wouldn’t say they were too concerned with COVID impacts on academics, although I may just be bitter.
How were you impacted by the transition to social distancing and online learning?
In my opinion, I think every class I took suffered incredibly in quality. Most of my teachers were unsure about how to do Zoom and only posted homework and exams. [My college] is on the east coast, and none of my teachers allowed me to take exams at a later time. Six a.m. two-hour exams really tested my academic abilities! Beyond academics, I think COVID helped me in other ways. I was reintroduced to the concept of learning in a dynamic way that is lost in high level education systems, and through that I discovered a little bit more of myself.
While colleges may not like the truth of this, I’ve found that most of my classes (at least fact and memorization-heavy ones) had absolutely no need for in-person instruction. I had more help from Khan Academy and published journals than I would have found in my 100-student class….It means that I have put thousands upon thousands of dollars into an experience that I could easily get with my laptop and much less anxiety.
Rachel lawson – student, Fordham college of Rose Hill
What were the benefits and drawbacks of your college online learning experience?
See above, also: I began to realize just how much I can do on my own. While colleges may not like the truth of this, I’ve found that most of my classes (at least fact and memorization heavy ones) had absolutely no need for in-person instruction. I had more help from Khan Academy and published journals than I would have found in my 100-student class. It was not a pleasant realization. It means that I have put thousands upon thousands of dollars into an experience that I could easily get with my laptop and much less anxiety. I’d say I realized that the true learning experience in a college setting comes from a uniquely good professor (I have had some of those) and the daily experiences you have outside the classroom.
To what extent and how did you keep in contact with your peers and professors at college?
For the most part, I did not. My professors did not answer emails, nor did the majority host Zoom calls. It was assignment, grade, exam, repeat. I had to take the initiative with my peers because I am so far removed from them now. Most fell into minor to major depressive episodes, so I lost contact. I myself experienced doubt in most friendships, but over time began reaching out. I have also made new friends via online groups both in and outside of my campus!
Has your college announced its plans for the fall? Are you considering changing your plans to return based on what your college does? If so, would you consider taking a year off to work or do something else, transfer to another school, or plan to return no matter what?
Fordham has officially announced it will open this upcoming fall semester. Whether or not this will actually happen, I don’t know. As you know, New York was heavily hit by the virus. In my personal opinion, the opening of various businesses and parks (Central Park in particular) was too much too fast. I would not be surprised if a second wave occurred in the area, and so I am not fully committing to the idea of moving back to New York. In the meantime, I am exploring some other passions and continuing to look for new work that opens up.
How will you remember your first year of college?
Despite the brevity, it has been one of the greater years of my life. Every day was like 30 life lessons condensed into a few hours. I have more stories than I could possibly recount, and I have hopefully brought new people into my life for many years to come. I do regret that it was cut short, but for me personally, it came at time when great self-reflection was needed. I like to call it ‘quitting while I’m ahead’— even if an epidemic was the catalyst.
Editor’s Note: Cami Brix is a former intern at EEN.
Our seven-part series “Stories From School” shares the personal experiences of first-year college students from a variety of campuses during the coronavirus pandemic. Their perspectives on how things went can help guide colleges as they go about re-opening this Fall.