After spending their final months of high school at home, incoming freshmen said they’re concerned about forming and maintaining relationships during their first college semester.
In interviews, more than 10 incoming freshmen said they’re nervous about connecting with their peers and performing well in their classes entirely online but are excited to begin their first semester of college. Students said while they’ve struggled to adapt to new methods of meeting and getting to know each other online, they’ve also had the opportunity to meet new people outside of their major via social media and text group chats that they may not have formed in person.
Eleven students interviewed said they have relied primarily on social media as a means of connecting with their peers during the summer over orientation. Three students said they’re concerned about forming close friendships during the semester, while two said they appreciated how the online semester offered a chance to meet others outside of their major.
The Division for Student Affairs hosted a month-long virtual New Student Orientation during August consisting of online modules with “interactive content” and “virtual live events” leading up to the first day of classes.
Maureen Rafter, a freshman from western Maryland, said she applied to GW early decision and has been connecting with students through social media and in-person since December. She said she’s sought out group chats with students who live nearby or share similar interests but has found it difficult since the pandemic started to maintain friendships because she doesn’t feel comfortable attending meet-ups.
“As of right now, it’s easy to follow someone on Instagram and like people’s pictures and comment when people are asking for help and stuff like that,” Rafter said. “So even if I don’t have all of my best friends set up in line, by the time I get to campus, you’re still familiar with people, and some of them I’m taking classes with so that helps you get to know them, even if you’re not going to be in person.”
She said she has found herself reaching out to upperclassmen in student organizations or other freshmen when she has questions instead of advisers. She said they’ve been able to share similar worries about recalculated financial aid packages for the fall and gave her tips on the upcoming semester.
“I feel bad saying that because, again, I understand the situation that they’re under,” Rafter said. “But I also think they can be making a better attempt and making sure that we understand everything that we’re supposed to be doing.”
Gillian Villarroel, a freshman from Arlington, Virginia said she joined the Organization of Latin American Students this summer as a freshman representative to stay busy during the semester. She said she prefers attending events like live streams hosted by student groups instead of New Student Orientation, which she said felt “scripted” and did not provide her with many opportunities to meet new students.
She said she went to dinner with a few OLAS executive board members in the DMV and heard about GW from their perspective, which helped her feel more comfortable about the start of classes.
“I thought joining student organizations, virtually, was nice because many of them are putting on different events now like on Instagram, which are really nice to attend, and you get a lot of information from people who are upperclassmen and not necessarily freshmen,” Villarroel said.
Reeya Patel, a freshman from Northern California, said she is excited to head back to school and have more to do with her time but is nervous that she will struggle in her higher-level courses without being near her peers. She said she would find it helpful if her professors assigned group projects at the beginning of the semester to facilitate group conversations.
“I’m in these group chats with all my classmates on GroupMe, but we only really communicate on there if we have a specific question, so if I was guided to actually get together with a couple people and either FaceTime or Zoom with them, that would be really nice,” Patel said.
Five students said they were anxious about being able to complete their courses remotely. Students said they adopted new techniques like rearranging their room to create an office space and accommodating their schedules to create a course load they can manage from home.
Steve Giammona, who is taking classes from Long Island, New York, said after the semester transferred online, he decided to take more classes and select courses that would count toward his general education requirements. He said he is buying a webcam to prevent himself from getting distracted on his work computer during classes.
“I have the feeling that if I have a webcam on, and not always, but there’s a chance that eyes are going to be on me,” Giammora said. “It’s going to keep me more honest and more diligent with my work when it comes to writing papers and doing homework.”