Student Voices: The College Freshman Experience During COVID-19

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For most college students in the United States — especially freshmen — this fall term has been anything but normal. Due to the COVID-19 outbreak, many college campuses remain closed, with the majority of classes being held fully or primarily online. These changes have caused many students to feel more stressed out and disconnected from their peers and professors, and have bolstered barriers for underserved learners.

Even at campuses that have reopened, students are being denied the traditional college experience once promised to them. Many students are breaking schools' social distancing rules, leading to local surges in the coronavirus and more campus shutdowns.

It's clear that college won't return to normal for some time. And this dismal reality is already having major repercussions for students, particularly those in their very first semester of college.

In an effort to learn more about how college students are handling these sweeping changes to higher education, BestColleges interviewed University of Missouri freshman Sophia Chelist for her perspective on campus life, social restrictions, and online education amid the public health crisis.

Interview With College Freshman Sophia Chelist

Portrait of Sophia Chelist

Sophia Chelist

Sophia Chelist is a freshman at the University of Missouri. She is currently living on campus and has been taking classes remotely since August 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Sophia is pursuing a degree in elementary education with a minor in human development in hopes of becoming a teacher.

With social restrictions in place, has your college experience still held the same value?

College has definitely not been the same. Although I don't know how it usually is because it's my first year, there's little to nothing to do. Everything downtown closes early. All of the fraternities are very strict about letting girls in. My sorority has not been able to do anything. Bid day was very short and different. Tailgating is against the law, so if you're caught doing it, you'll get arrested.

Has the pandemic and the economic recession made it harder for you or college students you know to afford education?

I definitely believe it's been harder for parents who are struggling or might have lost their jobs over the summer. I know a lot of kids who are living at home this semester so that they don't have to pay for room and board here in Columbia, Missouri.

Have you or students you know reconsidered going to college at this time?

I have not, though I'm in a Facebook group with parents of students at my college. There were posts all the time at the beginning of the semester explaining why their child has decided not to go to college and asking for advice or whether anyone else's child is thinking the same things.

Are you more likely than you were before to include online education in your college plans?

I've definitely gotten used to learning online, as I've been doing it since March, though I don't learn even close to the same amount I would be able to if classes were held in person. I feel a lot lazier since I don't have to get up every day and attend class.

Have the technology requirements of online education (good internet access, a good computer) made it harder for you or students you know to succeed in college?

Online classes have definitely made school a lot harder for me. I always interact with my teachers, but this year I haven't made even one relationship with a professor. Also, I tend to ask questions often, and now all of the questions are asked over email. While teachers do hold office hours, by that point I feel like I've already powered through the question I had two days before and pushed through it.

How is the psychological stress that college students face this year different from previous years?

I think that since some of my classes are self-paced, I'm a lot more stressed out than usual. The teacher just posts all of the assignments on Canvas and gives a due date. There's no teacher-student interaction whatsoever — just a textbook and a worksheet.

I feel this is so bad for students to be learning this way and trying to understand what we're learning. I've definitely not learned a lot since I've been here, even though these are crucial classes for my major.

What is your overall impression of your freshman college experience so far? Has it changed your perception of a college education?

Overall, college as a freshman in 2020 is different. While I'm trying to make the most of it, it's nowhere near normal. I've had fun days, but I don't feel as though I'm living the college experience — especially the freshman experience.

Feature Image: kajakiki / E+ / Getty Images