As many colleges reverse course merely days before they were set to begin in-person instruction, and as some abandon their plans after already having opened, many students are left scrambling and making last-minute arrangements during the pandemic. While each class of students faces its own unique circumstances as plans to gather in groups, study synchronously, put on productions, and travel abroad are upended, there is one particular cohort that is uniquely affected: the incoming freshmen/transfer students.
New students during a typical year face the challenge of learning how to navigate the environment, prepare for the rigor of college-level work, as well as create networks of colleagues and friends. In a time when many of our students will be learning through a hybrid or fully virtual model, how can our incoming college students form connections?
Before getting into creating connections, it is important to discuss why friendships are so important. During the developmental transition associated with college-aged students, many either begin or continue to develop their identities. These emerging adults also become more autonomous and gain a better understanding of who they are, who they want to be and how to achieve their goals. For some, entering a large student body will enable them to expand their horizons and connect with others who they may not have had exposure to during their primary and secondary schooling. For others, they will seek out those with similar values and beliefs to form bonds based on shared interests. Either way, friendships help us navigate the college terrain, motivate us to engage with our work, and can enhance the overall school experience. During this particular time, creating bonds with others is extremely useful as friendships can provide a sense of safety, security, support and a little bit of normalcy in an otherwise uncertain world.
Colleges are each responding uniquely to the challenge of creating a cohesive and engaging virtual experience. Below are some tips for those entering the college setting for the first time in a very nontraditional way:
1. Reach out to key college personnel, such as academic advisors, assigned faculty mentors, orientation committee leaders, etc.
The typical task of these individuals is to create a safe space and to help students adjust to the academic rigor of the school and change in surroundings. Lean on these individuals to learn about opportunities at the college, ways to get involved when in person in the future and to find out about any virtual hangouts or events being offered to the incoming class. Attend as many of these events as you can (provided safety measures are in place), as you will start to see familiar faces and create connections.
2. Reach out to students in your courses.
Whether your college is planning synchronous or asynchronous learning, it is likely they will be using learning management software, such as Canvas, Blackboard, etc. Reach out to others and exchange contact information, as these connections will help you prepare for your classes, form study groups and get to know fellow students outside of the course room.
3. Attend club and volunteer meetings.
While it may be daunting to engage in meetings with upperclassmen who already had the benefit of meeting one another in person over the past few years, engaging with a group of people based on your interests will enable you to form friendships and create a space for yourself once you are able to return to campus. You will also have the opportunity to learn more about the college, campus and surrounding community.
No matter which way you choose to connect with others, remember that everyone in your freshman class is experiencing the trials and tribulations of entering college in a time of constant change. Find those you can both lean on and bond with to make this transition as smooth and as positive as possible. Good luck.
Dr. Marisa Cohen is a relationship scientist and coach and teaches psychology at the college level.