Jason Wu/Sun Staff Photographer

Students soak up the sunset on Libe Slope after the first day of classes.

September 29, 2021

‘I Feel Like a Freshman’: First-Year Students and Sophomores Navigate an In-Person College Experience

Print More

After more than an entire year of limited socialization and online classes, first years and sophomores have hopped into a bustling Cornell campus, navigating the challenges of in-person classes while hoping to meet new students after a year of virtual experiences.

Sara Abbasi ’24 is a transfer student who spent all her last academic year online. She described feeling a disconnect between her academic and social growth within the past year. 

“I was actually joking with my roommate about how I feel like academically and credit-wise I’m a sophomore, but socially I feel like a freshman,” Abbasi said. 

Abbasi said she signed up for multiple clubs to get more involved on campus. 

“Because everything is so new, I’m really excited to just try everything out and see what sticks,” Abbasi said. 

Sammie Lambourne ’25 has also used clubs as a way to engage with student life on campus: “I think for a lot of [first-year students], I can say we applied to every single club that we thought we liked just because we haven’t done social events in so long.” 

Noah Leety ’24, a sophomore transfer, is also adjusting to the change in the level of socializing compared to last year, which he described as “a fifth year of high school.”

“I feel like I had no need to socialize last year because I knew I was transferring and there was COVID, obviously,” Leety said. “I consider myself a pretty social person, but then I took a year off from socializing so I was like, ‘Wait a minute, did I forget how to do this, too?’” 

Students are also figuring out what it means to sit inside a classroom again, without access to materials like recorded lectures.  

“It’s weird not being able to go back to watch them again, but having that in-person class holds you more accountable to actually go and actually participate,” said Marlee Pincus ’24.  

Pincus added that despite being a sophomore, she is still familiarizing herself with campus.

“It feels like it’s my first year in a way,” Pincus said. “When you’re trying to find these buildings and where to get extra help, office hours, what do you have to do when you need to pick something up for a club or meeting somewhere, still putting [places] into Google maps, trying to find your bearing is different because we didn’t have to do any of that last year.” 

For Jefelyn Naula ’25, trying to find resources as a first-generation student has been a challenge. Naula initially expected that there would be more resources available to students who are part of marginalized communities. 

“I think there are a fair amount of resources, but I feel like there could be more,” Naula said. “Everything’s just felt like I’ve been doing it on my own.” 

Naula said she participated in Cornell’s Pre-Orientation Service Trips, during which she did community service in the local area and was able to make friends before classes started.  

“I created a sense of community there as well,” Naula said. “I already had friends and I really had a way of navigation around here, so that was definitely a plus.”

Timothy Holloway ’24 said that he “still feel[s] like a freshman to a certain degree.” He mentioned he is still adjusting to this year. 

“Last year, I got half of the freshman experience being here and this is the complete other half,” Holloway said.

Holloway added that time management has become an important part of his college experience. During his freshman year, Holloway said he felt as though he had more time to relax or schedule tasks. 

Lambourne said she’s also navigating the shift in expectations from high school to college, from finding her way around campus to studying for upcoming prelims. 

“A lot of my classes are self-guided, so I need to really practice my own studying habits. That’s been an adjustment, of not having quizzes every week or not having tests every week that test where I’m at with the skills,” Lambourne said. “Now I kind of have to go after it myself and test myself and see if I’m actually learning.” 

For Erika Yip’s ’24, this is only her second semester on campus as she starts her sophomore year. Yip opted to stay at home in Hong Kong for the first semester of her freshman year due to COVID.

“I was really nervous because I was scared that a lot of people already knew each other,” Yip said. “Now that I’m talking to people in my [class], everyone’s had such a different experience.”