Mostly virtual classes, grab-and-go meals, multiple coronavirus tests and Zoom events have been a part of the new first-year student experience amid the COVID-19 pandemic at NIU and many universities across the country.
As the spring semester is set to begin, first-year students are reflecting on their abnormal first few months, both on-campus and off-campus.
Over the summer, first-year students were made aware their first semester would be unusual, as most classes were announced to be hybrid or virtual, along with mandatory on-campus surveillance COVID-19 testing, and meals would need to be eaten in residence hall rooms.
First-year journalism major Lacey Koran said she spent her first few months of college on-campus in Stevenson Towers. Initially, she had two in-person classes, but they were eventually moved online.
“Because there weren’t many things to do, I didn’t make many friends at all, so it was pretty lonely,” Koran said. “I definitely don’t think I got the full college freshman experience. It kind of felt more so like I was in jail than at college.”
Making friends through remote learning has its limitations and so does sitting six feet away from classmates for those with in-person classes.
Koran eventually ended up moving back home because of the experience and said she’s not sure if she’ll ever go back to NIU’s campus. Koran said she wished the university would’ve planned more socially distanced events for students to attend.
“Whenever a couple of friends and I planned on going to something, it seemed like it would always get canceled,” Koran said.
Despite students debating whether they want to return to campus or not, NIU saw the number of first-year students in the fall semester grow 8%, and the retention of first-year students went up by 6%, according to a Sept. 8 Northern Star article.
Other students such as Shani Bowens, first-year sports management major, said she chose not to live on-campus last semester to save money as the pandemic didn’t allow for the full first-year student experience.
Bowens said she chose NIU because of the opportunities offered in her major, and she wanted to be a part of a Division 1 community.
“While being at home, I did feel like I was missing out on the ‘freshman experience,’” Bowens said. “I also would have loved to get involved at NIU, but unfortunately every event was not virtual.”
Bowens said she plans to eventually move to DeKalb in the future for classes.
Finding the motivation to complete schoolwork from your bedroom has also been challenging during virtual classes. Despite this, Bowens said she had a good semester academically as a lot of resources were still available online such as tutoring.
Many students, including Cheyenne Taylor, first-year history education major, found ways to enjoy their first semester of college despite the pandemic.
Taylor said she created a Facebook group for first-year students at NIU prior to the beginning of the semester, and over 500 people have joined since. Taylor said this is where she met most of her friends.
“I got the whole college experience from eating dining hall food, kicking it with friends, eating noodles and budgeting $20 for the week and just overall making the best of it due to COVID,” Taylor said.