Insight: Sophomores transition to an in-person experience after an irregular first year

After spending their first year largely behind a computer screen, sophomores are still feeling like freshmen

Nearly every class my freshman year was over Zoom, and on any given day, I was lucky to see five people in person despite living on campus.

Coming into this fall semester, I expected more of the same, but three weeks later, it still shocks me how many people I see as I walk to classes. Despite the familiar environment, the campus I knew and had lived in for a year has changed dramatically.

COVID-19 has changed every aspect of the ASU experience. 

For over a year, students went to class almost entirely virtually, teachers taught over Zoom and everyone worried for their health. Things have begun to change this fall semester with most classes being in person once again, and for most students, the experience mirrors what they would have seen pre-pandemic.

But for the class of 2024, current sophomores like me, this semester is like being a freshman all over again. 

“I definitely feel sort of like a freshman, even though I’m a sophomore,” said Emily Sargent, who is studying nursing. “I feel like I’ve matured even since just last year but at the same time, I don’t know that much about in-person classes — I don’t know how to act in a lecture hall.” 

A student’s freshman year of college is often seen as a rocky one, even without COVID-19. 

However, in a normal year, by the time students come back to campus for their sophomore year, they understand how to be a college student — living on their own, setting their own schedules and getting through the day-to-day of college life.

“Last year was supposed to be the time of adjustment, by this year we’re supposed to be super ready to go,” said Alex De Cossio, a sophomore studying medical studies. “But now, we’re just like, ‘Uhhhhh.' We’re figuring it out, we’re just like freshmen.” 

Something as big as going from an online environment for a year and a half, to completely in-person classes, is going to have an effect, said Aaron Krasnow, the associate vice president of ASU Counseling Services and Health Services. 

Krasnow said there are two main reactions students coming back to campus have — concern about being around so many others after a year of seeing so few and relief at beginning to have a normal college experience.

READ MORE: Full return to campus brings all-time enrollment high, COVID-19 threats

De Cossio's experience falls somewhere in the middle. They are excited to experience a more normal year at ASU but still have concerns about taking classes in person, something they, like many sophomores, haven't done since high school.

“In-person classes have been kind of frightening,” De Cossio said. “It’s been fun, I definitely feel like I’m interacting and I’m learning more, but I don’t know, it’s kind of confusing at the same time.” 

Even without a pandemic, Krasnow said “the sophomore experience, in general, has always been a little weird." A student's second year is the first time they can truly live alone, off campus, and away from others, Krasnow said.

However, I'm one of those sophomore students who are still living on campus. I live at the same building as I did last year, a dorm building that mainly houses freshmen. Many times, I find myself in a packed elevator, completely surrounded by freshmen, and every day, I feel more like them.

“It freaks me out, I’m like, 'Why are there so many people here?'” Sargent, who lived on campus last year and again this semester, said. “I walk around campus and I’m like, ‘Where did you guys come from?’ like, ‘What are you guys doing here?'” 

Krasnow said many students think they are the only ones experiencing these feelings but often that's not true.

He suggested that students speak about their problem out loud to another person. By doing this, it doesn’t keep these thoughts private and they may find the person they speak to feels the same way.

“Immediately at that point, you’re not alone,” Krasnow said. 

This is something that De Cossio recognized. 

“It kind of feels like I was thrown into a new thing this year,” De Cossio said. “But also, everybody was, all the sophomores were lost on the first day, trying to get to classes.” 

To help sophomores successfully transition to an in-person environment, ASU is also offering a program called the sophoMORE Experience, comprising services and events directed specifically at sophomores. 

“For this year, what we wanted to do is to be intentional about reminding students about what activities and events (there are) that help complement their academic experience at the University,” said Cassandra Aska, the Tempe dean of students. “We wanted to reconnect them with ... those experiences this year, which may look different.”

Sargent attended one of the program's events on the Downtown Phoenix campus and expressed disappointment about the experience.

"It was not what I was expecting, it was kind of small,” she said. She felt disconnected from ASU’s school spirit, comparing the event to a "lecture."

Aska said ASU will continue to connect with students to hear what other experiences would be meaningful for them throughout the course of the year. 

“They are wanting the in-person experience, that’s the biggest thing,” Aska said. “Then it becomes connecting with peers and connecting with what the University has to offer.” 

Despite a more than unique and rocky freshman year due to COVID-19, Sargent doesn’t see it as losing her freshman year.

“I think that it was such a unique experience,” Sargent said. “I can kind of talk about that in any situation, like, 'Oh my gosh, I was a freshman in college during a pandemic.'”


Reach the reporter at mcfisch4@asu.edu and follow @morgfisch on Twitter.

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