Last spring quarter we had to virtually say goodbye to the class of 2020. Although many UCLA seniors could not celebrate the way they wanted, surely, they would not trade their experiences at UCLA for the world. However, new challenges confront the class of 2024. Experiencing their first year of undergraduate school online leaves many first-year students feeling disconnected from one of the greatest public schools in the nation.
Read on to obtain a lens to real first-year experiences during fall quarter at UCLA.
The UCLA Acceptance
UCLA does not boast the #1 public school title in the nation for no reason! With unparalleled research opportunities, a socially inclusive and diverse student population and some of the best food you will ever taste, no wonder many first-year students felt beyond excited to receive their admission letter. Even Chicago-born freshman, Ahmad Rajwany, admits to never visiting the campus before committing.
“I got off the waitlist, so I originally committed to another school. But the minute I found out, I took 30 minutes to decide and sort everything out. I knew I couldn’t pass up going to UCLA!” Rajwany said.
For some, a simple UCLA acceptance letter was almost too good to be true.
“I was super excited I couldn’t believe it! To be honest, I thought they rejected me at first and were sarcastically saying ‘congratulations’,” freshman Raina Levy said.
What could go wrong?
Although COVID-19 sent many students home last school year, many first-year students were still optimistic about experiencing “college life” at UCLA for their first quarter. For freshman Raul Martinez Jr., his visit to UCLA before quarantine gave him much hope for the incoming school year.
“That experience was honestly pretty amazing. Even with hardly any life, the view of it was still amazing and my imagination ran wild with what it could be like in about a year when lockdown is lifted,” Martinez said.
Many looked forward to cultivating their vegetarian and vegan lifestyles with UCLA’s wide variety of dining halls.
“As someone that’s vegetarian, it was really cool to find out there’s an entire dining hall that has vegan food! I was even thinking of going vegan when I get there since there’s so many options,” freshman Astha Sahoo said.
Who wouldn’t fantasize about a school like UCLA?
Online Learning: Hit or Miss?
However, COVID-19 threw a curveball for these first-year students and remote learning became the new normal. The constant engagement with technology produced burnout quicker than anyone could imagine.
“With classes, office hours, readings and homework all being online, I find myself staring at a computer screen or sitting in the same chair sometimes for, like, 10 hours a day… and I know this is so bad for my brain. The computer screen makes my mind so stimulated that by the time I go to sleep I can’t fall asleep… and diminished sleep affects everything,” transfer student Kira Ellis-Josch said.
Stress-inducing emails and notifications also became the new normal.
“One thing overall that was hard socially and academically was having everything online. Since all information was sent over text or email instead of in-person, it was and continues to be hard to keep up with deadlines and friends,” Sahoo said.
Ironically, technology and online learning sometimes make first-year students feel disconnected from their peers.
“I definitely think learning material is much harder online — too many distractions and not enough guidance. Being an extrovert, I’m always kind of compelled to be social, so I’ve reached out to people but it’s not the same as physically being in the moment,” Rajwany admits.
Despite the plethora of social media platforms to connect through, some students still struggle to relate to others.
“Online learning has made socially bonding with other students really hard. We all rely on GroupMe group chats which are too large to make significant connections. By the end of the quarter, everyone in my discussion and lecture zooms had their cameras off,” Nguyen said.
Technology makes social connections easier than ever, but sometimes we prefer the simplicity of an in-person conversation.
The Glass is Still Half Full
Even through the constant stress that online learning produces, the resiliency of the first-year students never let up. They managed to find many positives to beginning their undergrad online.
“Academically, it was easier for me to understand a college course load without the pressure of having to uphold a social life with it at the same time. I know dealing with grades and friends and clubs and homesickness can be overwhelming, and I definitely would’ve struggled a lot with it if I had a normal first quarter experience,” freshman Lisa Nguyen said.
Homesickness and imposter-syndrome almost become a packaged deal with first-year experience. Even if our family members annoy us to no end, the familiarity of home can help students thrive through all the doubt and insecurity. Online learning also provides benefits academically. Believe it or not, our professors experience the same problems we do, but they do the best they can to alleviate school-stress for first-year students.
“I think one good thing I could think of is because of online learning, and of course everything going on in the world, professors were more lenient and forgiving. At least my professors were anyway. I think last quarter was a good sort of ‘test run’ for UCLA academics and learning,” transfer student Karina Doan said.
Students also took advantage of the benefits of recorded classes.
“Some upsides included being able to pause videos and take my time on recording notes. If I was too tired to continue, I could save the recorded lectures until later or the next day and get some rest which is very helpful,” Martinez said.
Maybe Zoom University provides more help than we give it credit for!
Name of the Game: Keeping Sane
Frankly, being online can wear someone out pretty quickly even with all the bonuses of curbing homesickness, lenient grading policies and recorded lectures. Luckily, UCLA first-year students found many interesting ways to break up the monotony of online lectures.
“During fall it was super exciting being in online classes, but I missed going out, so I’d go on drives without getting out of the car and I’d FaceTime people. I’m researching starting things like a Depop or creating brand kits for products, and I also manage musicians and make music,” Levy said.
Others also returned to their musical hobbies.
“I actually took my old keyboard out from the attic and started to teach myself a little bit!” Doan said.
Even if she did not play it as much as she would have liked, we always appreciate students taking the time to nourish themselves.
Others turned to more conventional yet fun ways to give themselves a break.
“Working out and going outside regularly is number one. Even when feeling lazy I force myself to do this because it always makes me feel better physically, mentally, emotionally, and even helps with sleep,” Josch said.
While some stayed physically active, some tried to stay socially active.
“I binged Blacklist and cooked a lot of Korean recipes. I also went on study dates with my friends from high school. Towards the end, I got a Tinder too!” Nguyen shared.
Dating, at times, can become an important part of the college experience. With online learning, of course, we make the transition to online dating. Cuffing season makes dating work one way or another!
Getting away from the screen seems to be the best option, but when first-year students could not do this, they turned to other areas of social media.
“One thing that totally helped me not only stay entertained but keep sane was memes. As crazy as that sounds, they really helped because of the comedy aspect and as a way to vent,” Martinez said.
Let’s be honest, memes probably saved most of us through this chaotic year, let alone fall quarter.
Bruins Look to the Future
Fall quarter for first-year students had its ups and downs. While most were disappointed that they would not experience UCLA’s fine dining, hanging out with new friends and yes, even those dreaded hills that we all miss, they managed to find the positives in online learning. Their unmatched perseverance leaves these students hopeful for the next year with plans already in mind.
“I’m looking forward to getting done with my pre-requisites and taking upper-division courses, as well as making and joining more clubs. I definitely would love to intern and do research while on campus. I’m not really sure as to what the opportunities are like, but I really think the sky’s the limit and I hope I can take as much advantage of it as possible!” Rajwany said.
Fall quarter might have presented many unique challenges, but these tenacious Bruins look confidently towards the future!