COVID-19 and the First Year Experience

By Katelyn Oswalt ’24, Aiden Walsh ’21

Staff Writers

March 7, 2021


The HWS Classes of 2024 had long expected a normal college experience going into the fall of 2020. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, however, this class doesn’t know when they will experience that “normal,” or let alone what that normal is even like.

Although most first-years have experience with online classes from their senior year of high school, they did not expect that their college courses would also be remote. Erin Howe ‘24, a member of the William Smith cross country team, stated, “It is definitely harder to focus with remote classes. If I were in class, I would have taken notes, and probably gotten a better grade.”

Another challenge remote learning brings is a lack of face-to-face interactions with professors. Clare Burke ’24 highlighted this issue, explaining how it was difficult for her to ask for letters of recommendations when she had only met one professor face-to-face during her college experience. However, she tries to stay positive with regard to remote learning, noting that “with the opportunities we are given so far, I feel like it works well.”

Burke, an intended English and Education double major, also noted disparities between different majors. “I feel like if I was a bio major and having to do lab, or being a math major and having to do math lab once a week, [that] would be a little more difficult,” she said.

Other students’ experiences seem to corroborate this. Johnson said, “It is hard to learn science and math online, so [remote classes] made me have a different appreciation for being in an in-person lab or classroom.”

Students also discussed the impact going virtual has had on their extracurricular involvement. Madelyn Kilmer ‘24, part of the Mindfulness Club and the Random Act of Kindness Club, said, “I really wanted to do musical groups since I got a music scholarship, but it’s not available right now. I get sick of Zoom meetings. There are so many interesting things but they aren’t offered because of COVID.”

While some clubs are fully remote, others have socially distanced in-person meetings. Kylie Rowland ‘24, a member of PLEN, noted that social distancing protocols have limited some club meetings. “You have to sit so far away, and by dividers, it’s not really a discussion like it used to be,” she said.

It has also been more difficult for students to find opportunities during this time. Burke explained, “It’s difficult to understand what’s out there and what there is to do … it has been so hard to reach out and find out what there is to do.”

Howe has been more hesitant to join clubs recently. “I know the meeting would be virtual, so it would not be as interesting, because normal activities wouldn’t be happening,” she said.

First-year students possess different mindsets regarding their experiences at HWS so far. Kilmer expressed that “the Colleges are trying their best to get people involved to experience a somewhat college experience, but I don’t think that I am experiencing as much as I want to. I can’t blame them because of COVID, but it wasn’t what I was expecting.”

William Smith soccer player Emily Johnson ‘24 said, “The pandemic is really hard on everyone in school no matter where you go, so that is keeping me from being like, ‘Oh man, I am not happy or this is not fun,’ because since everybody is going through the exact same thing. We are going through it together.”

Students acknowledge that the school is not at fault for holding classes and events on Zoom, since it is safer than being in person in many cases. Riley Nash ‘24, a Hobart cross country runner, said, “When you think about college, you don’t think about COVID. A lot of things are taken away. It’s not the school’s fault, but the world we live in.”

The new normal seems to change every day. While it can be disappointing to have hopes and expectations not met, HWS students stay positive by focusing on what they do have, whether that be from resources on campus or at home.

New Writing Colleague Annette Stevens ’24 decided to stay home this semester. “COVID’s impact on the social scene was definitely considered in my decision not to return in person this semester,” she said. “The strain that is put on the balance between meeting people and having fun with friends, and studying and attending classes was difficult.”

Despite being fully remote, Stevens continues to stay positive and excited for her return to campus. “I am grateful for the efforts of the school, faculty, and students to make the most of this year. It definitely hasn’t been ideal for anyone, but the general attitude on campus first semester was of camaraderie and positivity, which is one of the reasons why I love the HWS community,” she explained.

Burke also looked back at her fall semester fondly, saying, “In the end, I was very happy with my college experience, between meeting my friends, still getting to participate in my sport, still finding clubs that I enjoy, and getting to know people on this campus.”

Most first-years have something they are looking forward to, which seems to go back to hopes of the pandemic being better controlled in the near future. When asked what she will do first once regulations are eased, Rowland replied that she wants to “go downtown to Geneva and be able to eat without being scared of COVID.”

Johnson hopes for a “fall season as normal as possible,” since she knows how amazing it will feel to finally get to play in games. Howe plans on studying abroad much earlier than she thought, as the pandemic has helped her realize that she wants to focus on “academics and things I can control.”

Expressing a shared goal of many first-year students, Nash hopes to “meet more people.” Similarly, Kilmer just wants some return of normalcy. “I hope by next semester we are back to normal,” even though “I don’t know what ‘normal’ is going to be,” she said. No matter what “normal” looks like next semester, first-year students are determined to make it their best yet.

Featured image by Ani Freedman.

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