College freshmen say being on campus in the age of COVID is 'complicated and weird'

Beth Greenfield
·Senior Editor
·5 min read

College, just like everything else in 2020, is straight up bizarre — especially for freshmen who are living away from home for the first time, in dorms, but can’t have visitors, eat in a dining hall, party with new friends or enjoy any of the perks of freedom that are staples of campus life.

Yahoo Life checked in with five college freshmen living in dorms around the country to get a sense of what this surreal semester is like so far.

“I really wanted to live on campus, mostly because of the opportunities. I wanted to be able to connect with other students and talk to professors, and try to get an internship or maybe a job my freshman year,” says Louis Ciano, living in a single dorm at New York University.

But the reality, of course, has been quite different. There are no fully in-person classes (just blended and remote), and there’s no dining hall (Ciano eats mainly outside in the nearby park or in his courtyard). And, he says, “The university isn’t allowing anyone to go into other people’s rooms. We can’t go into other residence halls and we’re not really supposed to interact with other students who aren’t our roommates.” He’s mainly met new people in the courtyard or elevator. “The only other way to meet people is online, by just messaging them or walking up to people and introducing yourself. But you have to be careful, because sometimes the Ras or the people in charge will get mad at you.”

If they hang out in groups at all, he says, it can only be as big as groups of five people, with social distancing measures in place. “So, sometimes it’s a little bit difficult to talk to multiple people at once, especially if I’m with my suitemates, which is already three people.”

Ciano admits, “I actually got in trouble already. One of my suitemate’s friend from high school came into our room and we got written up and we're still waiting to hear back, but they basically told us that there's a high possibility that we could get removed from housing and have to go remote.”

College freshmen, from left, Miles Soloman, Jamie Coslet, Samantha Rheingold and Louis Ciano.
College freshmen, from left, Miles Solomon, Jamie Coslet, Samantha Rheingold and Louis Ciano. (Photos courtesy of Soloman, Coslet, Rheingold and Ciano)

Fellow NYU freshman Miles Solomon, meanwhile, tells Yahoo Life that he was worried about online classes, particularly because he’s an acting major, who’s “supposed to be connecting with people.” That is “what actors are supposed to do, but it’s hard when you’re doing it online and you have to interact with a Zoom screen.” But now, he says, “you have to go out of your way to make friends… You have to really put in the work.”

Solomon, who lives in the dorms, adds, “I was planning on doing the freshmen plays, maybe some clubs and stuff like that, but now it’s just weird… I imagined having a free, full college experience or weekend, obviously partying and having a good time.” Now, he laments, “It’s very different. It’s very closed off… but at least I’m here in the city. I’d much rather be here than at home.”

Andrew Bloom, a freshman at Florida Gulf Coast University, says he was “planning on probably joining a fraternity,” but, he adds, “I don’t think I’m to do that this semester, just because everything going on.” He checked out rushing, which is “very weird right now,” he says.

“We’re on Zoom, and it’s around, like, 50 people… or they have you go to, like, I guess a little freshmen pool area and all the frats to over their fraternities, and you meet everyone by the pool, but you have to keep your mask on and social distance. It’s just very complicated and weird at the moment.”

Similarly, Samantha Rheingold, a freshman at the University of Florida, had a strange experience rushing her sorority — a process done completely on Zoom. “You had to send a video to them, and then round two was on Zoom. You would go into breakout rooms,” she explains. But there was a silver lining. “I feel like it was better than normal rush, because in Florida it’s so hot and it’s rainy and gross, and running around to all the different sororities, I hear, is awful. But definitely it was less comforting… harder to get the vibe and see if you really like that sorority.”

Mealtime at her house, she says, is “three girls to a table,” and unless you’re sitting down and eating, “you have to be wearing your mask.” And everything is in to-go boxes rather than normal plates. “They like, serve you. It used to be a buffet. I’m a freshman, so I don’t really know, but it’s definitely different than it was in the past.”

At Washington University, freshman Jamie Coslet has just one in-person class, every other week, for chemistry lab, which makes it harder to meet people, she says — especially with the big intro classes, which are pre-recorded.

Coslet adds, “I do actually think people are more willing to go out of their way to meet people. I wasn’t expecting that… Everyone I pass by says hello, everyone’s super friendly.”

Still, she says, “A lot of people are sticking to hanging out with their roommates and people they knew from high school,” a reminder of all the time he missed with high school friends during the end of senior year and throughout the summer in quarantine. “I actually did consider taking a gap year… or be fully remote,” she adds. “Ultimately, I didn’t want to do that, because I really wanted the in-person experience and to meet people around me who are going through the same thing as me.”

Video produced by Jenny Miller

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