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When College Is a Four-Year Journey: Junior YearVicki Nelson
My daughter has been busy from morning till night with a flurry of activities to welcome new students to her college campus. There’s been mini golf on the lawn, epic games of giant Jenga, bingo nights, spa nights, dorm meetings, roommate bonding activities, and a class photo with every new student sporting their crisp class t-shirts in a beautiful shade of emerald, for they are the new green class of 2025.
Except my daughter is actually a member of her school’s red class. The class of 2024.
She is a sophomore returning to her campus as an Orientation Mentor, providing guidance, support and information to new students as they join the college community. She’s been tasked with supporting new students in a transition she never experienced in this traditional way.
Her own first-year orientation was virtual due to the raging pandemic last fall. And while she was so grateful to be able to start her college experience on campus a year ago (many students didn't have that option), there were no in-person meet-ups, no class picnics and games on the lawn, and no roommate to share a new space and a new life with. Like most of the entering class of 2024, her college experience was lived through a computer screen and socially distanced small gatherings, grab-and-go meals and masked faces.
My daughter is thrilled to have this opportunity to participate in (secondhand through the freshmen) the in-person college orientation she never had. Although she admits it’s bittersweet as she now realizes all that she — and all this year's sophomores — missed.
In many instances, second-year students are returning to campuses they never set foot on (except maybe as a high school student on a college tour). And even sophomores who did get to live on campus in 2020–21 are navigating classes, roommates, dorm life and extracurricular activities in a way they did not and could not last year.
It’s important to acknowledge that in a lot of ways this is a new experience for our college sophomores. So as college campuses open more fully this fall, a few important pieces of advice I shared with my own sophomore may be helpful in ensuring other members of this intrepid class of 2024 get back on track after an academic year so adversely impacted by Covid-19.
Most colleges start the new academic year with activities fairs. Last year these events were largely virtual. This year most college campuses are conducting them in person.
I urged my sophomore to attend this event and to join a few new clubs or organizations that may interest her. While many virtual activities were available last year, they just weren’t the same. My daughter will attest that playing her trumpet alone in her room via Zoom during her freshman year just can’t compare to the experience of playing in the big band this year.
Stick with some old activities that will now be experienced in a whole new way, but also try something different. Something you may never have considered before.
Many college campuses that welcomed students back last fall put in place precautions to ensure student safety. Often these measures included curtailing off-campus travel.
Now, however, widespread vaccination is making it possible for college administrators to ease some of these restrictions. I urged my daughter to explore the city of Boston which is less than 20 miles from her campus.
Learn how to use public transportation that's available to you, whether that’s the bus, train or subway. Shop, eat out, visit a museum. Participate in the life of a city or town you were probably unable to fully explore last year.
Note: Because of the highly transmissible Delta variant and uneven vaccine rates, Covid-19 cases and hospitalizations are rising nationwide causing some schools to update their fall semester health and safety protocols. This may include reinstating limits on off-campus activities and travel, so it's important to stay up-to-date on rules and expectations.
Don’t forget all the resources available to support you. There are academic tutors, resident advisors, academic advisors, professors and campus ministry to help you thrive on campus.
These valuable members of the community offer mentorship, relationship and necessary guidance. Reach out to staff and support personnel you may have been in contact with virtually last year. Meet in person. Attend a professor’s office hours. Utilizing all these resources can have a big impact on your academic success and your emotional well-being.
Speaking of emotional well-being, the campus counseling center is available to any student who is struggling. Being a college student during a pandemic is hard. According to a survey of 2,000 students conducted by Inside Higher Ed and College Pulse in May 2021, nearly one-quarter of students have lingering concerns about Covid-19.
Taking online classes had its challenges for many students last year; acclimating to a mostly unfamiliar environment is also hard. Meeting with a member of the counseling staff in a safe, professional setting can make all the difference.
While so much may still be new to the sophomore class, the freshmen can truly benefit from the wisdom you’ve acquired. (And trust me, you’ve acquired plenty of wisdom.)
Help them navigate life on a new campus. Give someone directions if they appear lost, sit with someone who seems lonely. Smile. It’s very possible some of these strangers may be future friends.
Being kind can also help your own emotional well-being. A 2019 study in The Journal of Social Psychology found that people who performed kindness activities for seven days saw a boost in their own happiness levels.*
I remember so clearly returning to my college campus as a sophomore. The feelings of confidence and familiarity were hard-earned by successfully completing what was for me a very difficult freshman year.
Covid-19 has upended much of our students’ college experience, and our sophomores may be returning to their campuses a little more unsure and a lot more nervous. Yet the resources are there to help them successfully navigate a year that should (hopefully) be richer and more robust than anything they could have imagined. I hope the class of 2024 will seize every opportunity and prove, once again, just how truly resilient and remarkable they are.
*Rowland L, Curry OS. A range of kindness activities boost happiness. J Soc Psychol. 2019;159(3):340-343. doi:10.1080/00224545.2018.1469461.
When your college student starts their first semester, it’s not just a big deal for them. It’s a big deal for you, too. Get the First Semester Guide for College Parents now!