By Allison Jewel
Three weeks ago, a record-breaking 3,900 bright-eyed freshmen started their college careers at the University of Louisville. The beginning, however, may be a bit more difficult for some than others. Slowly rising trends indicate that students feel underprepared for college thanks to the delay that the COVID-19 pandemic had on their education.
EAB, an education consulting firm, surveyed twenty thousand high school students on how prepared they felt about higher education and if they would pursue it.
More than 22% of these students opted out of college because they felt they were not mentally ready; in 2019, this number was at 14%. 26% of students expressed their first concern as “whether I’ll be successful in college.”
But how does that fare at the University of Louisville?
Alex Courtenay is a coordinator of Commuter and Transfer Initiatives at U of L and works with a group of freshman commuters weekly. The biggest issue she sees, beyond her students struggling to adapt socially, is finding the motivation to socialize in the first place.
“During the first session, everyone sat at different tables,” Courtenay said. “I even made a joke about it, but no one seemed like they wanted to laugh.”
New faces and new locations can be overwhelming; when you factor in that a lot of their social interaction in high school was online, it makes it all that more difficult to acclimate. Despite seeing these problems, Courtenay finds the word “struggle” harsh.
“Some of these students just never got to flex that social skill — their school days were hybrid, or they just had no healthy reason to socialize,” she said.
One of the biggest complaints she gets from her freshmen is that they are struggling to find friends. To that, she suggests getting involved with the Engage Lead Serve Board, an on-campus group responsible for promoting community engagement.
Courtenay also mentioned how frequently overlooked intramural sports are, and students don’t have to have a team of friends to join.
“Join as a free agent,” she said. “There will always be teams that need an extra body, and that is a great way to make connections.”
A multitude of resources
Mary Hall and Nancy Castilla, two upperclassmen who serve as Ambassador Peer Mentors have also noticed a shift in the incoming freshmen, — mostly within the classroom.
“They aren’t confident in their academics,” Hall said. “I feel that they are so used to online classes, that they are intimidated in the real-life classroom.”
Hall mentioned that she struggled with this when she was a freshman. She started her college career in the fall of 2020 — right at the peak of the pandemic.
“I had to ease myself back into in-person classes, so I would slowly add more to my schedule after each semester. This would be a good way for freshmen with the same fears to get more comfortable being in person again,” she said.
Castilla strongly urges underclassmen to thoroughly explore their resources.
“Our university has so much to offer, but sometimes you must seek it out yourself. I know we’re so used to hopping on to Microsoft Teams but engaging yourself is important,” she said.
The new Belknap residences are filled with such underclassmen. Creg Avery, a resident advisor at Belknap South, observed that many of his freshmen had a hard time getting out of their comfort zone despite expressing feelings of loneliness and isolation.
“I try to be interactive. I held a scavenger hunt, and no one showed up,” Avery said. “Computers and electronics have been such an important part of our lives recently that it has affected student’s motivation to find interactions in real life. They can just log on and get it that way. I even find my attention span has lowered.”
Avery, currently a sophomore, checked the same boxes the current freshmen do. New campus connections forced him out of his comfort zone and saved him.
“Go to the counseling center, go to the PEACC center, try all the food you can on campus. There are so many great ways to make yourself feel better,” he said. “Don’t let your introversion deter you from being at your fullest potential.”
The bottom line
The COVID-19 pandemic left permanent scars on all those who had to endure it; it was just particularly unlucky if you happened to be a socially and mentally developing student at the time. Despite these growing trends, there are still many underclassmen finding success at their university, especially this one.
There are a multitude of resources available for struggling students. The Counseling Center, the PEACC Center, the Cultural Center, REACH, and the Writing Center are all helpful for students to recuperate physically, academically, or mentally.
At the end of the day, a student’s college career is their own personal journey — it is up to them to make the best of it.
Photo Courtesy // The University of Louisville, Student Engagement Staff