When Thomas Doster ’24 started his first semester at Cornell, there weren’t frisbee throwers on the quads or 4,000 brand new freshmen on campus. Along with all first-year spring admits, Doster arrived in January to several inches of snow and mask mandate signage decorating each doorway.
Cornell welcomed 50 first-year spring admits last year, continuing the program it reinstated in 2016 to address a lack of dorm space. The University waits to enroll FYSA students until the spring semester, and it gives them freedom to spend their first semester as they please.
Some students, like Kieran Adams ’24, stayed in their hometowns through the fall and took classes at local universities. Adams enrolled in two virtual classes through the Harvard Extension School. Similarly, Matthew Nagy ’24 took classes in person at the University of Georgia.
Others took on jobs, like Doster — who worked for his family’s construction company in Alabama — working 40 hours a week.
Given how COVID disrupted the traditional college experience last semester, none of them felt disadvantaged arriving a semester late.
“I actually thought it was a blessing because I got to get a great work experience and miss one of the COVID semesters, when they’re figuring it out,” Doster said.
Spring admits typically have their own orientation week to meet each other and acclimate. This semester, students like Valerie Hu ’24, a spring admit in 2020, led virtual orientation groups.
Hu said her students seemed comfortable talking, and some knew each other from group chats that formed over the fall. Virtual events like speed-friending and a first-year dinner simulated previous January orientations.
Doster said the orientation program was a good resource and the best the University could do under the circumstances, but he found it difficult to meet new people, especially through masks. It was also tougher to transition into full-time school: “I’m finally after a week of classes getting my brain back into it, but it was definitely a bit of a rude awakening,” he said.
Adams transitioned to in-person classes — and a mile-long trek to his First-Year Writing Seminar in Stocking Hall — after a semester at home. He lives in the North Campus Townhouse Community, which used to be a busier social hub before COVID restrictions. Its perks now come with its personal kitchen, for escaping dining hall food, and living room, for an alternative Zoom location. He said having different places to work on campus feels better than being home, where it was harder to be productive.
Thanks to the pandemic, Nagy also faces a different social life than previous Cornell freshmen, and one much different than that currently at UGA, where Greek life plays a larger role and COVID restrictions are less enforced in bars and restaurants. He never took a COVID test at UGA; now he’s swabbed twice a week.
As spring admits navigate their new campus lives, they’ve found the adjustment similar to that of first years who enter in the fall, they said. The pandemic continues to uproot normalcy for all freshmen, requiring compliance to mask-wearing and social distance mandates and denying usual social venues.
“The feeling I get when I meet other first years in dining halls or wherever is that, generally, people are still looking for friends,” said Adams, who couldn’t visit friends at home in person last semester.
With socially distanced spaces and Zoom meetings alone, the spring admits don’t seem to be too far behind their fall-admit peers — at least in finding social connections.
“People and clubs are more excited and ready to welcome you than you might think coming into it,” Hu said. “So put yourself out there.”