The Class of 2025 is nearing the end of their first year of college — as the year wraps up, students spoke about the struggles of adjusting to college workloads amidst changing public health guidelines. First-year students were the second class to begin their time at the University during the COVID-19 pandemic, most having finished their last year and a half of high school in a masked and hybrid learning environment.
Before moving into dorms last August, every student was required to be fully vaccinated. Other restrictions were also in place, such as mask requirements in University buildings such as dining halls, libraries, and classrooms. For first-year students, this meant students had to adjust to both following COVID-19 policies and tackling college-level academics.
First-year Engineering student William Stone found the transition from high school to college difficult due to the difference in workload. Stone explained how although he knew college is best experienced as a balance of fun and work, he was surprised by the level of studying that confronted him upon his arrival.
“It’s a lot of fun and a lot of work, but the amount of work is more than I was prepared for,” Stone said. “The transition from high school to college is huge and getting used to the work schedule and how to get your work done takes some time.”
First-year Architecture student Cecilia Brock echoed Stone’s sentiments, noting the drastic change in workload compared to her high school experience.
“My classes have definitely been hard, but I signed up for that when I decided to come here, and I’m definitely having to get used to the work-hard, play-hard mentality,” Brock said.
Both Brock and Stone agreed that even though their classes were time consuming, the work they did in them was engaging and tapped into their interests. Stone, for example, enjoyed his Introduction to Engineering course because it helped steer him towards his now-chosen major of systems engineering. Meanwhile, Brock found a balance between art classes in the Architecture school and other departments.
“My favorite class would have to either be my first semester studio class, which was mostly artsy projects, or my Eastern religions class,” Brock said. “It was fun to take a class I would never normally sign up for,and it ended up being so interesting to learn about and took my mind off of my more stressful classes.”
Further comparing experiences in high school versus college, first-year College student Charlie Danis emphasized differences in classroom relationships. Danis noted how hard it was to make connections with those around him in comparison to the familiarity of high school friends and teachers, attributing the difference to substantially larger college class sizes.
“College was different than I expected because it’s a lot harder to make connections and relationships in classes and with professors,” Danis said. “In high school, it’s more close and personal because you know everyone and you know your teachers well but college is not like that because you don’t regard your teachers as close relationships.”
First-years had to adjust not only to the change in work and classroom dynamics, but also to evolving COVID-19 restrictions. While many students reported having grown used to adhering to public health guidelines as the pandemic surpassed the 18-month mark, others expressed frustration over the impacts of the regulations.
First-year College student Livie Warren felt the mask requirements negatively impacted her fall semester as she adjusted to Grounds and attempted to build a community. When the year began, the University had an indoor masking requirement for University-owned spaces, including office buildings, IM-Rec facilities and venues. While the mandate was lifted March 21, it remained in place in classrooms, U.Va Health facilites and University Transit Services.
“I understand why the University had to have the protocols in place at the beginning of the year, but it was really weird meeting a bunch of new people when you can’t even see their face,” Warren said.
Warren further expressed how appreciative she was when the mask protocols were lifted in March. While the University initially made masks optional everywhere except in classes, University leadership announced that masks would be optional for students and professors in classrooms beginning in late March.
“The protocols were pretty standard at the beginning of the year, but I’m really glad they changed it in March,” Warren said. “I’m especially happy they quickly realized that just wearing masks in class was strange.”
Danis was also eager to see the mask requirement lifted, as he said being able to see classmates and have face-to-face connection made a difference in the comfort of the classroom environment. Danis said he felt the logic behind the restrictions throughout the year was inconsistent and confusing. The University ruled this semester that masks would not be required in on-Grounds housing due to the high vaccination rate of students, but would be required in all other University buildings.
“I thought the COVID-19 restrictions were weirdly strict but also ambiguous,” Danis said. “In some places wearing a mask and other COVID-19 restrictions didn’t matter at all, like in dorms, but in other places they were very strict on enforcing masks, like in dining halls and the [Aquatic and Fitness Center].”
With mask requirements fully lifted across Grounds and spring enrollment underway, first-years are already looking forward to next fall. Many students said they are enrolling in more specialized classes as they decide which major they wish to declare.
Stone voiced excitement to move on from required Engineering courses standard for a first-year Engineering student and take classes more narrowly geared toward his systems engineering major.
“I’m especially excited for the Introduction to Systems class,” Stone said.
In addition to taking a more personalized class schedule, first-years reported hopes to use their second-year to join clubs around Grounds, get a job or even try out for intramural and club sports.
Warren is hoping to get involved in an art class next fall, as her schedule and dorm life this year didn’t allow for her to engage in art as a hobby in her free time. Warren is also looking forward to the option to bring a car to Grounds next year and says she would use the car to explore places in Charlottesville that are currently inaccessible to her as a student living in dorms without a car.
Unlike Warren — who has hopes of venturing off-Grounds — Brock plans to get more involved on-Grounds in organizations she didn’t get a chance to be a part of this year.
“I want to try and get more involved around campus because I really didn’t do much this year,” Brock said. “I want to try something like A-school Student Council or club soccer, or maybe even get a job because I desperately need one.”
Looking forward, Danis is excited to move out of dorms and settle into an apartment on the Corner. Looking back, Danis had one piece of advice to offer future first years that helped him transition into life at the University.
“First day of the year, open your door wide open and just walk into anyone’s room and introduce yourself if their door is open,” Danis said. “It’s hugely important and it’s how I made my best friends.”