The beginning of the school year is anxiety-invoking enough, but add a global pandemic that changes all the rules, and students are scared and confused.
Incoming college freshmen who will enter a brand-new environment during a pandemic get a double dose. In addition to navigating the campus landscape, learning how to study for exams, and becoming familiar with college life, students will also have to adapt to social distancing and wearing a mask to help thwart the spread of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.
Many say they feel lost and need guidance on how to take on college during the pandemic, which closed many campuses earlier this year and will open them only partially in a few weeks.
"My advice to incoming students is to come to campus with an open mind, fully prepared to step out of their comfort zone and ready to invest themselves in the college experience," Alphonso Garrett, director of admissions and recruitment at the University of Maryland Eastern Shore, wrote in an email to VOA.
"Although Fall 2020 may be a non-traditional semester in terms of student experience and class delivery due to social distancing, universities like UMES are completely dedicated to student success and satisfaction," Garrett wrote.
Nadjia Haskins, a rising sophomore studying bioengineering at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University, sent this advice to VOA for incoming freshmen: "Do as much research on your school as possible, because you could get there, and not like it. You might think it's great on paper or on the internet. But when you get there, chances are it's different, and you might not like it."
She also suggested that students double check their freshman course load to ensure it meets the direction of their degree path.
"Also, check what you're supposed to be taking as a freshman for your major, because if you don't know, then you don't know what classes to sign up for," she added.
Many schools have a degree/credit audit system that you can find online by going to your institution's website and logging in to your account.
Tuition and financial aid
"If you plan on going to college but you don't know if you have the funds for it, I recommend going towards a community college," advised Christian Gonzalez, an engineering student at the College of Southern Maryland. "It's a lot cheaper."
The average total cost of attendance at all four-year institutions was $32,595, compared with $15,766 to attend two-year schools, according to the National Center for Education Statistics for 2016-2017.
"Also, I would say stick with a full load of classes, form study groups which are very important for each class, visit your professors, and always pay attention to your syllabus," Gonzalez said.
"Because, when I gained the syllabus, I was able to time manage a lot better about where I can delegate my work and my time into study," he said.
Many colleges and universities offer student volunteers as peer advisers who work alongside admissions counselors to help new students adapt to the new environment.
Emma Sonnier, an orientation peer adviser and a student majoring in mathematics with an education minor at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, has the following advice for students: "I would encourage incoming students, if they can, to live on campus because you'll at least get kind of used to what good independence is like."
"I think the second most important thing is just getting to know people, whether that be virtually or in person, like if you can go to classes in person, talk to the person that's six feet away from you, like, especially if you don't think you're going to be really good in that class," she said.
Another tip, Sonnier said, is to make connections on your campus "because it's so important."
"If you're indecisive of what you want to do in life, don't feel bad because, like, 80% of undergrad students will change their major. So, if you're, like, really confused about what to do, don't worry about it, basically everybody is," Sonnier said.
"An estimated 20 to 50 percent of students enter college as 'undecided' and an estimated 75 percent of students change their major at least once before graduation," author Virginia N. Gordon said in the book, "The Undecided College Student: An Academic and Career Advising Challenge" (Second Edition).
Leyla Middleton, a rising junior majoring in biology at Morgan State University in Baltimore, told VOA: "Don't go to college thinking you're invincible. Things can and will happen to you and those around you. But, I just finished my sophomore year, and coming in as a freshman, I would've never thought any of the experiences I've had would've happened to me or people around me."
Also, bring a TV, Middleton said, "especially if you're not the type of person who likes to go out" to parties and large social gatherings.
"I wish I would've known before I started college that it's not as hard as people make it to be," said Micayla Minnis, a student studying psychology with a business minor at Towson University in Maryland. "If you keep up with your work and manage your time well, then you will succeed."
Staying in control
A recent HuffPost article put it succinctly, suggesting students keep an "old school" calendar, be resilient, have a regular routine, be self-aware, ask for feedback, and use mistakes as learning opportunities.
"Also, one thing that every student should bring to school is a storage container with a lock so that you can keep your stuff locked up," like laptops, money and food, "because I've know people who've had their personal items stolen."
Many upperclassmen have taken to social media to advise new college students.
"My advice for college freshmen moving away from home is to never let your roommates try to dictate your life and the choices you are allowed to make! you're allowed to mess up and figure out who you are! don't let somebody else control your mental health!" @RiopelleJordyn tweeted on May 24.
A study by Virginia Commonwealth University in 2019 found that students' use of alcohol was influenced most by the drinking habits of their peers, including the greater college community, and not just their roommate or others in the dorm.
@MonroeRebekah tweeted this tip for freshmen on May 21: "My advice for college freshmen: ALWAYS WRITE DOWN YOUR FAFSA PASSWORD WHERE YOU CAN FIND IT AGAIN."
FAFSA refers to the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), a form that college students use to apply for financial aid.