Freshman year of college during COVID-19

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The Granby Memorial High School class of 2020 had its senior year cut short as the pandemic first surged in March, now over a year-and-a-half ago. Much of that class are now entering sophomore year of college, having started freshman year at the height of the pandemic in the fall of 2020. Each of those students will without a doubt agree that college in a pandemic is a uniquely challenging and unforgettable experience.

Making the transition from senior year of high school to freshman year of college can be one of the most radical, complicated, and scary times of a young person’s life. That difficulty was multiplied for those members of the class of 2020 who began college, or attempted to, this past fall. For many students, institutions allowed freshmen to move onto campus with strict guidelines: masks at all times, absolutely no guests allowed, weekly testing (usually twice a week), and daily health check ins/assessments. 

Most colleges and universities did not allow family to enter the student’s dorm on move in day, many students were not allowed roommates, and all welcome events and commencement ceremonies were cancelled. For the students who managed to move on campus and remain there, the vast majority of classes were taken online from their dorm room. Put simply, the first semester —or the entire first year, for most, was completed in isolation.

But that is the story of only a fraction of 2020 freshmen. For many, their colleges and universities cancelled in-person living only a week before move in. For others, all students and staff were sent home a few weeks into the semester. For some, the institution closed all together, even historic colleges that survived world wars and economic recession closed their doors for good because of the pandemic. 

Some students contracted COVID-19 while on campus, and were put in quarantine or, unfortunately, far worse. Some students had family and friends who contracted the virus and lost loved ones without the ability to say goodbye in most cases. The pandemic left some students in a financial situation that made it impossible for them to begin college. A great number of students completed their freshman years virtually from home, or not at all.

If you spoke with every member of the GMHS class of 2020, every student will have had a different situation for the last year. What is true for all of us, however, is that essentially nothing went as we had planned. As freshmen during a pandemic, we were left to navigate an entirely new world of independence during some of the most unprecedented times in history. For some, the challenges of this past year were the most rewarding of our lives.

We had the chance to understand ourselves in ways we perhaps never would have otherwise, and will live life post-pandemic very differently. For others, this past year was the worst year of our lives, losing loved ones, hitting extreme lows in physical and mental health, and navigating it all in isolation. Most will report this past year being a confusing and complicated mix of both.

As cases of the delta variant rise, many sophomores are feeling as though history is repeating itself. Some institutions are maintaining the same guidelines enforced in the previous year, many institutions are again closing in-person instruction, and for most students, the fate of this upcoming semester is unknown. College years have never looked like they do now for current students and will likely never completely return to pre-pandemic conditions. If you have a current college student in your life, be patient as they navigate what is unknown and messy for all of us, and be there for them if they need it.