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Freshman year plus a global pandemic? Advice you need to hear, from a fellow senior

Dear Freshmen: 

As your first college academic year begins amid this global pandemic, you’re probably feeling a mixture of turbulent emotions: anxiety, grief, bitterness, excitement, anger. First and foremost, I’m sorry. I’m sorry that you may be missing out on the time-honored live-in college experience and all the thrills and woes that accompany it, but hopefully I can impart some advice to help ease your college transition, even if you may not physically be on campus.

The Academics

They’re a lot more challenging, but they don’t define you. In the beginning, you’ll most likely be enrolled in many level 100 general education classes, and depending on your major and interests, you’ll probably have to adjust to the academic rigor. 

Even though level 100 courses are notoriously easier than upper level courses, they provide you with a valuable opportunity to refine your study skills — and believe me, you’ll be doing a lot of studying throughout your college career. 

Equally important is communicating with your professors. Now more than ever, capitalizing on your professors’ (virtual) office hours and seeking out their knowledge when you’re struggling will be crucial to your academic success, especially if you have extenuating circumstances that are negatively affecting your academic performance. 

While the prospect of dialoguing with an academic superior can seem daunting, professors are normal emoting human beings who want their students to succeed. Plus, they’re way more likely to extend leniency if you openly communicate with them; if not, they may misinterpret your waning grades as academic indifference.

TL;DR: Collegiate academics are more cumbersome and require self-sufficiency, but in no way do they define you. College is for your benefit and is simply a tool to expand your future possibilities. Your grades are not exclusively indicative of your future.  

Socialization and Community Involvement

You’re now surrounded (virtually) by thousands of strangers and are probably eager to make new friends. I met many of my friends through my on-campus living situation, but since that may not be the case for you, you may have to resort to other ways.

Engaging with others in class, whether in person or online, is a great way to expand your social sphere. I highly recommend forming study groups (if you’re not on campus, then via Zoom) for their dual efficiency — they increase your social exposure while simultaneously strengthening your understanding of class material. 

There’s also Fall Involvement Fest, a university-wide gathering of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County’s 230+ student organizations from Sept. 8-11, which will be held online this year. I strongly encourage you to attend this virtual event because it provides the opportunity to join organizations that align with your interests and easily connect with like-minded individuals. Not to mention, student organizations offer a sense of community and are a positive way to build friendships. 

If you’re struggling to ward off feelings of loneliness, I suggest staying in contact (virtually, of course) with your high school friends, despite the fact it may feel like you’re regressing socially. With many universities opting for remote learning, chances are, your high school friends are also encountering difficulties meeting new people so they may be able to provide some social fulfillment. 

TL;DR: Although online interactions will never be a comparable replacement for in-person socialization, there are still ways to meet new people. You just have to be willing to modify your approach to socialization. 

Resources and Facilities

During this global pandemic, University Health Services is a must-know resource to address your health concerns. Located on the ground floor of Erickson Hall, UHS provides free coronavirus testing as well as telehealth visits. Beyond coronavirus-related matters, they also offer an array of services like nutrition counseling, contraception and medication refills. 

I know you’re at the start of your collegiate journey so the idea of a career seems unfathomable, but it’s never too early to gain real-world working experience. The Career Center provides interview preparation, resume critiquing, networking opportunities and much more. In fact, I landed my first summer internship through the Career Center’s online portal, UMBCworks

Lastly, I would be doing you a disservice if I failed to mention UMBC’s primary dining facility, True Grit’s, colloquially referred to as “D hall.” This cafeteria-style dining hall is a rite of passage for every UMBC student. During normal hours of operation, they serve breakfast, lunch, dinner, late-night and an assortment of snack foods. If you are living on campus, you’re going to be well-acquainted with this dining spot. 

TL;DR: It’s impossible to enumerate all of the resources UMBC provides to support their students physically, emotionally and academically, so make sure to check all of them out on your own time. 

Parting Thoughts

College is filled with an abundance of trial and error. There’s a good chance you’re going to feel uncomfortable during your first semester because you’re trying to acclimatize to your new environment, and that’s normal. Just try your best and don’t forget to take care of yourself, because that’s all you can really do.