The first semester of your freshman year can always be lonely - new place, new people, new life - but this year freshman fall is lonely for an entirely different reason: a lack of newness at all
Take it from a girl stuck at home this semester, hearing tales of the collegiate experience from every high school friend she had from the suffocating comfort of her childhood bedroom, removing the culture shift does not take away from the loneliness.
Classes are arguably not the best part of college, easily trumped by new friends, freedom, and fun
And yet, for virtual students, it is the only part of the college experience we have been given. I understand that my school is trying its best, and hold little disdain for delaying my on-campus experience as they aren't willing to sacrifice our safety for the probably well-needed housing and dining money we would bring. But virtual welcome weeks feel sad and empty. I went to one activity and didn't even get the names of the people I was on Zoom with.
There are some things that are simply impossible to replicate virtually
I've looked for advice. Google tips for college freshmen - there are plenty of tips on how to fight loneliness in a new place. "Stay on campus!" "Go to as much as you can!" "Open your dorm door so people stop by!" These are great ideas, but difficult to execute when there's no dorm door to open or no campus to stay on. Virtual college is simply not designed for personal connections.
And it's not just those of us stuck at home. The freshman class of fall 2020 is universally lonely, with on-campus students having limited ability to make friends outside of their roommates and maybe people on their floor. College is, and always will be what you make of it, but this year's freshmen were given very few tools to make anything with. To really make new friends is to not social distance, which means potentially exposing yourself to the virus, or even getting sent home. Nearly every friend I have who is on-campus has lamented to me about how hard it is to meet people while staying safe, and how impossible it feels to balance the two. Half of them told me they often regret going at all.
The one comfort is that we are not alone in our loneliness
Everyone I know at my university is feeling my same pain, both that isolation from old friends and their old life and the distance from their next steps and new communities, and even those with in-person experiences are struggling to find their place. It is hard to meet people through just social media and Microsoft Teams. Personally, I'm terrible at making friends or maintaining connections through my phone, really only able to do so in person. But the isolation we feel is not unique. We must recognize that we are struggling together, even if we're physically apart, and still try to make friends our freshman fall, in-person or not. On the bright side, with our senior springs, graduations, and welcome weeks canceled, at least the class of 2024 gets one time-old tradition: a lonely freshmen fall.