It’s a major life milestone, the first time many U.S. teens have ever been on their own. Even in normal times, freshman year in college can be a jumbled mix of anticipation, uncertainty and emotional highs and lows.
In these hardly normal times, when the quintessential college experience exists only in catalogs, freshmen are being challenged like never before.
Amid pandemic restrictions aimed at keeping students safe and healthy, colleges are scrambling to help them adjust. But many are struggling.
Social distancing requirements, mask mandates and daily temperature checks. Quarantine and isolation. Online learning glitches. Campus Black Lives Matter protests. Anxiety over whether to join partiers or hole up in dorm rooms or at home to stay safe.
This is freshman year 2020 for many college students nationwide.
“There is a lot of stress and distress among students now,” said Mary Ann Takemoto, interim vice president of student affairs at Cal State Long Beach near Los Angeles, where most classes are online.
Freshmen in particular “feel a little more fragile” than usual. “They feel overwhelmed by a lot of things going on as we approach this election. There’s this increasing national anxiety,’’ she said.
The Long Beach university offers an array of online resources on reducing stress, improving study habits, and where to go for counseling and other help. Takemoto said less than three months into the fall semester, almost 200 students — about 25% of them freshmen — have been referred to a campus counseling and crisis center. Five in one week went to psychiatric hospitals, a number more typical of an entire semester. While Takemoto didn’t have specifics on those students, she said some were likely freshmen.
“Sixty percent of our students are students of color. Many do not have technology hot spots, many do not have a good place at home for studying,” Takemoto said. The university has made efforts to loan laptops to needy students, but “we still know that it doesn’t always work.’’
Freshman Santiago Mayer, who moved with his family from Mexico to California two years ago, said he’s a naturally optimistic person trying to make the best of a “nightmarish’’ time.
He lives at home and said it’s often too distracting to focus on online classes so he spends his time on other pursuits. That includes a political campaign he helped create that encourages high school graduates to don their unworn prom clothes while voting in upcoming elections.
“At this point I’ve completely forgotten about having a normal freshman year,” Mayer said.