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First Year Voices #2

How do you prepare for college in a pandemic?

For this year’s incoming freshmen, there is more than the usual stress and excitement around college. While last summer’s college-bound freshmen were booking flights and connecting with roommates, members of the Class of 2024 might be wondering if they will even be allowed on campus. At the same time, the prospect of going off to college and meeting new people has never been more appealing.

In the second installment of First Year Voices, we’re talking to incoming freshmen whose colleges plan to reopen about how they are preparing for the upcoming year. Through these conversations, a few key considerations emerged. Several students noted how the pandemic has impacted the logistics of leaving for college, including travel, dorm setup, and more.

Lauren, a San Marino High School graduate, has begun planning her move to the University of Pittsburgh in the fall. She said that Pitt provides its students “with this site where you can buy comforters and sheets and pillows and have it delivered right to the dorm, so I was going to do that.” Lauren added, “once I get there in the fall in two months, I will buy some stuff from stores locally, because I can’t bring too much on the plane.” Overall, she is excited about getting ready for her freshman year. “Because we’re spending so much time at home, I’m definitely looking forward to having new experiences and moving out of the house,” Lauren said, “but there’s some worry that it’s not going to work out.”

While Lauren plans to fly to Pittsburgh, Gaby and her family will drive to Lehigh University, which recently announced its plans to reopen. “My family has decided to take the 40-hour road trip across the country,” Gaby said. She explained that the decision was motivated by several factors: “I think the first one was the pandemic, the second one was how much stuff I’m transporting… [and] the third is we’ve never really done a big road trip, so it would just be fun to try that.” She joked, “I’ll kind of be ready to leave after a 40-hour road trip.”

Brendan, who graduated from Gabrielino High School, is pleased with how USC is helping students prepare to start college. “I feel like I’ve been able to prep pretty well just because USC’s been doing a great job letting us know what we have to do to get ready, how to register, things we need to bring, and what the fall might look like,” he commented. “I honestly feel pretty prepared for what’s coming in the fall, and I’m glad that they’re keeping us up to date with all of that.”

Other students are finding that the uncertainty of the pandemic has made it hard to plan for their college education, like Olivia, an incoming San Diego State University student. “Honestly, because it is ever-changing, it is really hard to start planning, even getting supplies,” Olivia remarked. For now, she feels that “all I can do is just think good thoughts and try and do my best with the social distancing.”

Nell is also waiting for more announcements from her college, Notre Dame. “We haven’t really found out any information about what days we have to move in... so we haven’t booked any flights,” she said. “We’re kind of waiting it out until we get more information.” In the meantime, Nell and her mom “did make a registry at Bed Bath and Beyond.”

Similarly, Julia is taking things one step at a time. At the moment, she is focused on completing the preparatory tasks that Oxford College at Emory University has given her. “I still have things to do given by the college… [like] placement tests, figuring out the schedule, courses,” she said. Like other interviewees, Julia emphasized how the unpredictability of the pandemic impacts her ability to plan ahead. “Because it’s still not certain, I don’t know if I’ve been thinking much beyond that in terms of planning or preparing myself for college,” she said.

University of Edinburgh, School of GeoSciences, Institute of Geography, 2007. Image courtesy of Matthew Enger.
University of Edinburgh, School of GeoSciences, Institute of Geography, 2007. Image courtesy of Matthew Enger.

A number of students discussed how starting college is a big step toward independence, one which is currently threatened but needed more than ever.

Take Phoebe, who is deciding whether to attend UC Riverside or the University of Edinburgh. Her response to the uncertainty of the pandemic and her situation—unsure of what country she will go to college in, let alone whether she will be on campus or not—is to find solace in imagining what college life might be like. “I haven’t actually taken any physical or concrete steps, but I’ve been doing tons of research because I want to get out of my house, really badly,” Phoebe said. “I had a lot of fun looking at the different housing available at Edinburgh,” she mentioned as one example. For Phoebe, preparing for college “has been a sort of escapism for me, even though I’m not sure… whether I will be able to go start a new chapter of my life.”

Regardless of the pandemic, Kendall, a Village Christian High School graduate who will play volleyball at UC Berkeley next year, feels both anticipation and worry. “Obviously college is just an exciting change,” Kendall said, citing “living in a new place” and enjoying a “new level of freedom.” But starting college also comes with stress. “At the same time,” Kendall said, “I am extremely nervous, not just because of COVID, but just because I will be on my own and I have to manage my own time and figure out a routine.”

Evidently, students are experiencing a range of reactions to getting ready for college—some feel frustrated, others maintain confidence, and still others focus on getting ready one step at a time. As an incoming freshman myself, I am realizing that now is the time to prepare for what fall might look like, and I hope the voices of these incoming freshmen will help other students get started too.

Update (June 23, 2020): Phoebe has decided to attend the University of Edinburgh and is busy planning her move.

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