Leaving for college for the very first time is an incredibly challenging, exciting and important moment for students and their families. With so many uncertainties still surrounding college life amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the normal fears and anxieties in both incoming freshmen and their parents have been escalated.
When I first left to attend college in my freshman year, the transition from living at home to living in a new state at a school where I knew no one was a challenge. But it is a challenge that was incredibly formative in becoming who I am now. I have so much empathy for this year’s freshmen, and I recognize that just as difficult as the challenges of this year are on me as a senior, the pandemic has altered many crucial traditions and elements of freshman life.
However, regardless of the circumstance, making the decision to leave home to attend college is a major milestone for a family. It is a bittersweet moment for parents who have worked so hard to make this dream a possibility for their children. Their freshmen often feel overwhelmed in their new environment and may feel homesick, especially during the first semester.
Quarantine has made all of us experts when it comes to communicative technology. FaceTime, Zoom and other services allow us to connect over long distances. These tools can be immensely valuable to homesick freshmen and worried parents. In my own experience, FaceTiming my family allowed me to feel connected to them while being able to become fully invested in my new experiences. Being able to check in with parents, see the family pet and connect quickly make these resources the perfect way for freshmen, in particular, to reduce anxiety.
The uncertainty of college experiences this fall will also benefit from this quick communication. Students can stay in touch with their families and keep them updated on the situation, which can be stress-relieving for the students and their worried parents at home.
Taking a trip home can be a great way to relieve stress during freshman year. I encourage students to not push themselves too hard and to listen to themselves if they feel they need a break. If it is a safe and possible option, a weekend trip home can make a world of difference for a struggling freshman.
While parents will always worry about their children, it is my hope that technology will continue to connect us while we are apart. Students and families have to make the right decisions for themselves and their safety. Every student and family will navigate freshman year differently. But whether you choose to take classes remotely and stay home or choose to return to campus, freshman year is a challenge for all. It is a time to reflect on who you are and who you hope to become in the next four years.
Some of the traditional advice for freshmen about getting involved on campus may not be applicable this year. However, schools are working hard to ensure that students can continue to connect with one another and remain engaged in their community. Club meetings are being held virtually, campus newspapers are publishing on their websites, and some traditional events are being redesigned to ensure social distancing and safety while giving freshmen the chance to have some of the cherished memories of the college experience.
I want to encourage incoming freshmen to reach out to organizations on campus that they are interested in and see how they are operating in the fall. Even if things are being done virtually, it will still be an opportunity to connect with others and begin to establish a life for yourself in the school community.
Schools often remind their freshmen throughout their first semester that these will be the greatest four years of their lives. But as this pandemic has shown us, we are not able to predict the future. As someone who ended up transferring from what I thought was going to be my dream school, not every moment has to match your expectations. Often, it is the act of working through the ongoing challenges and finding small moments of pure joy that makes college as special as it is.
This is not the freshman year anyone could have imagined. But it is that unexpected reality that will forever bond this class (and all the others that have been affected). It will find joy in laughing at technology failures during online classes, sharing our fears and concerns with others to find they have just the same ones. It will make for memories that we will not forget and a gratitude like no other. We cannot predict what this fall will bring, but we can only hope for the best and be grateful for each moment.