UTSA freshmen had an unusual start to their college experience. After spending their high school senior year preparing for the biggest transition of their lives, they ultimately began college directly from their laptops at home. Unlike those in previous years, this semester’s freshmen missed out on many traditional college experiences: living on-campus, Fiesta, rushing through campus before their next class, study groups in the library, hands-on learning, meeting with professors in person, football games and so much more. Even though it’s disappointing, students are focusing on what they can control and making the most of it.
As the semester progresses, students are still trying to figure out how to handle online classes. The online class transition has revealed every student’s strengths and weaknesses while simultaneously adding new problems they’re not sure how to solve. Four freshmen have answered questions regarding how they feel about beginning college in a fully virtual experience: Stephanie Edwards (SE), a public health major; Ian Gabriel Montenegro (IGM), a kinesiology major; Marseille Savala (MS), a chemical engineering major; and Lesli Araujo (LA), a public health major.
Q: How did you feel on your first day of college?
SE: On my first day of college, I felt both a mix of excitement, nervousness, and disappointment. Throughout my years of being a student, I always looked forward to the first day of school. The joy of waking up the next morning and getting ready to meet new people and see the old friends you haven’t seen since last school year, experiencing what your schedule for the rest of the year is like, and meeting your new teachers was always my favorite part of beginning school. So, when thinking about beginning my first day of college, I expected nothing more. Unfortunately, I did not get the first-day college experience I had hoped for, yet I attempted to stay optimistic. I was excited to meet my professors, see who was in my classes through the Zoom lectures, and get a feel for how the professors were in the classroom.
LA: On the first day of school I was very nervous, but didn’t quite feel like a college student. All my assignments were posted and I just turned it in when due. It sometimes scares me how easy it seems, it feels I’m doing something wrong with my work. This is a whole new type of experience where everything is so independent, it can become difficult at times.
Q: What’s the one thing you wished to experience during your first semester the most?
SE: Experiencing dorm life and getting to know my roommates. Initially, I was going to a dorm with three other girls, which I was incredibly thrilled to do. The thought of living with your best friends always seemed appealing to me. However, due to COVID and online schooling, I decided to save the money and live with my parents. Choosing to live at home has been challenging since I cannot socialize with others, and have to do school simultaneously as my other siblings and parents who work at home.
IGM: Being able to meet new people in my classes and make some new friends. And who knows, maybe fall head over heels for someone then totally get rejected. Can’t really do that with these live meetings and GroupMe.
MS: Honestly, walking to class. It gets tiring being confined to the dorms and the library. I wish I could’ve experienced seeing all the students walking to class, and having friend groups in each class too.
LA: I wish I could’ve met new people in person without any restrictions. Though meeting online is still an option, it’s difficult to hang out with other students for the safety of us and others. Having physical interactions with others can be easier to build friendships and memories.
Q: Are you more stressed?
SE: I feel more stressed because it’s difficult for me to learn through a screen. I’m in chemistry so I need to concentrate, but students like to put different backgrounds on their Zoom calls and mess around during class. It’s extremely distracting. It doesn’t help that we only meet for a certain amount of time each week. I also feel extra stressed about the computer not working and the Internet slowing down when all of my siblings use it at the same time.
IGM: I definitely feel more stressed since I don’t feel as if I’m learning anything, it’s more like “gotta read this” and “I better turn this on time.” Honestly, I’m really struggling with my chemistry class because I didn’t really learn much in high school, so instead of chemistry being a refresher course it’s more like a new concept. Only reading the textbook doesn’t really help me learn/understand the material.
MS: Stressed is an understatement. I have to keep planning out my days by the minute if I want to get anything done, and if I forget to do something, it’s like I’m behind for three days. I am constantly trying new time management techniques to prepare myself for the following days to come.
LA: I am currently working 3 jobs and I don’t feel as stressed as it seems. With my online classes I am able to have a flexible schedule with both work and school. I sometimes don’t really have time for myself, but I try to make that time because I don’t want to overwork my body. That can become very unhealthy.
Q: What is the hardest part about taking all online classes?
SE: I think that question also ties back into being distracted. I laid out a planner of everything I have to do in regards to when my Zoom classes and what I have to do this day or that day, but some of my professors aren’t as involved compared to others. So with that, it doesn’t necessarily make me forget everything I have to do, but if they were to post on Blackboard and I just happen to not check it that day I could miss out on a new lecture or assignment.
IGM: Not every class provides lectures, so with some classes I don’t necessarily understand what’s going on in class since it’s just reading the textbook and completing the work. Instead of learning, I’m just briefing the readings and turning in my work as quickly as possible. Some of the stuff I’m supposed to read, I don’t even take a second glance to understand it better, I just keep going through it to finish.
MS: The hardest part of online classes is remembering the office hours of each professor and which courses are asynchronous or synchronized. Luckily, I don’t have any hybrid classes or else that are back to back would make it harder for me to be on time. Up until last week I didn’t realize my lab for General Chem 1 was synchronized and missed 4 weeks worth of that I’m still trying to catch up on.
LA: The hardest thing about taking online classes is that I have to manage my time well with my assignments and work. Due to having asynchronous classes, I have to create my own school schedule and create daily to-do tasks. Another hard thing is having to do group assignments without being able to physically partner up with other classmates. Sometimes there’s students who won’t reply to emails or won’t reach out at all and that creates conflict.
Q: Would you prefer online or in-person classes?
SE: Definitely in-person! I would like to get the full college experience like being able to walk to my classes and actually live on-campus instead of sitting at home on my computer all day. When I’m staring at a computer all day/every day my eyes start to hurt me really bad, and I know that wouldn’t be the case if it was in-person.
IGM: I’d prefer to go to in-person classes because it would be easier to focus in class compared to being in my own home where anything and everything can distract me. During some of my classes that provide lectures, I won’t even pay attention because of the distractions around me. I’d start doing other things, like pacing around my room questioning when class would end or what am I going to do once class finishes or even if I should leave class to sleep.
MS: I would prefer in-person classes so I could receive the instant feedback and criticisms for my work instead of having to email professors at all hours about the coursework. Although sometimes it’s nice having the luxury of attending class while I’m on the go running errands, I can multitask and have more time to study.
LA: I personally would have enjoyed doing in-person classes because I’m more of a hands on and visual learner. As a first-generation college student, I always looked forward to my first year of college. It is a big achievement coming from immigrant parents, and with the first year having other alternatives it lowered my excitement.
Q: How are online classes going thus far?
SE: So far, online classes are going pretty well. I’m in an intro class for my major, and we only meet once a week, however I don’t really hear much from my professor. I think I might’ve missed a class … Hopefully that won’t happen again. My main worry is maintaining a balance between my home-life and school.
MS: Online classes are trial and error at this point. Fortunately, I took the same level classes in high school, so it’s basically a review. But, if I was an incoming freshman not knowing anything I would 100% be stressed. Hopefully, life can return back to normal by next year, because that’s when my major-specific classes are introduced. I will say that since I’m in the Freshman Interest housing on-campus, the head of the department has been making it easier and gave us helpful tips for our transition.
Q: Do you feel like an actual college student?
SE: I do but don’t feel like an actual college student. When I think of college, I think of walking around campus with my peers and sitting in large classrooms with a multitude of students. However, I’m doing work at home, just like my high school Senior Year. It feels as if my college experience was robbed from me as I am continuing the same concept as the year prior. Another part of me does feel as if I am a college student because I have more responsibilities.
IGM: I don’t feel like an actual college student. How this semester is going feels the exact same as my last semester of high school. Only difference is I’m actually turning in my work before it’s due instead of turning everything in late.
Students don’t seem too pleased with starting college online, which is definitely understandable. Throughout high school, teachers and parents build up expectations about college. They preached the importance of higher education and shared anecdotes about how excited they were when they started all those years ago. No one could’ve predicted the circumstances these students were going to face when their time finally arrived. As students, we must remember we aren’t alone in this struggle; it hasn’t been easy for anybody. It’s important to keep learning how to cope in a healthy way with the current situation and go through the semester as best as we can. In the meantime, this incoming freshman class remains hopeful for next semester and a more fulfilling sophomore year.