Going off to college can be a nerve-racking moment, but Savannah Pappe has always looked forward to it because she'd be starting life on her own.
Knowing she wanted to study French in college, she found her match with Cal State Long Beach. Home wouldn't be too far away, and she could start enjoying life in a new city, surrounded by new people. She even reached out to various clubs on campus and professors.
But then things changed in mid-May: The California State University system announced classes would be mainly virtual for the fall semester.
"I was frustrated because I really, really, really wanted to be on my own," Pappe said. Instead, she will be completing her online classes from her home in Bakersfield.
As several universities in California plan to start the year with distance learning, incoming freshmen are grappling with losing out on that full college experience.
CLOSER TO HOME THAN ANTICIPATED
Terran Fielder originally had her eyes set on New York's Hofstra University and was ready to board a plane right before COVID-19 news had spread. Not wanting to risk her health, she decided to stay home, and upon further research, the school "ended up not being the right fit."
UC Davis was, however, and she will study political science and theater and dance.
The university recently announced that classes under 50 students will be held in person, while larger classes will be online, and that classes would not begin until Sept. 30. Fielder is waiting to learn if she was accepted in dance courses, which would be held in person. That would determine where she would be in the fall: on campus or at home.
"When you’re dancing, it’s hard on your body unless you have the proper flooring for jumping and turning," Fielder explained. "I can’t afford to purchase one for a couple classes" in order to study at home.
Whether she's on campus or not might also affect joining clubs or a Greek life sorority.
By going to Cal State Long Beach, which has a department of Romance, German, Russian languages and literatures, Pappe was looking forward to an opportunity to study abroad in Paris. She follows a YouTube content creator who's shared her experience spending time in the City of Light.
Right now, however, she can't count on that happening anytime soon.
"I got an email saying you can study abroad online," Pappe explained, which differs greatly from staying with a host family and exploring the streets of Paris.
Chloe Brunswick, who will be majoring in computer science at Cal State Bakersfield, was also looking forward to meeting new friends and starting her classes, not to mention attending sporting events and other campus activities. Even though she grew up in Bakersfield, she knew she would have the chance to branch out and meet others.
Having to stick to a mainly digital platform for her first semester is making her nervous, she said, especially since she didn't have the best experience with it as a high school senior. Distance learning classes weren't engaging, and it was hard to stay focused.
Doing it all over again in a brand-new setting is a bit intimidating.
"It’s so hard to feel motivated to do things when it’s online," she said. "You don’t have the motivation to get out, put on a cute outfit."
ONE OF THE LUCKY ONES
Few get to say they will experience their first year of college more or less in the way they intended.
New York University announced in May there would be a mix of online and in-person classes on campus when students return in the fall. Jackson Napier, an instrumental performance major, said he will have half of his courses in person, a fourth online and another fourth in a hybrid model.
"That feels really standard because that’s how college works anyway," he said.
Having those online classes also will work out in his favor, he said, since dorms are not on campus and he would not have to scramble to get to class on time.
Instead, Napier will use the extra time to immerse himself in the New York City lifestyle. He is also looking forward to meeting people from different walks of life, very different from what many of his friends can say.
Once he arrives in the city, however, he will have to quarantine for two weeks. At school he'll have to wear face coverings and maintain social distance.
"In May, if you asked me (if I was nervous to go), I would have said yes," Napier said. But New York's coronavirus safety measures have made him feel comfortable. Just a few days ago, California surpassed New York to have the most recorded coronavirus cases of any state.
"I’m not nervous at all," he added.
POSITIVES TO COME
Knowing they don't have control over the situation, students are trying to stay positive.
Pappe, for example, has taken advantage of online forums to meet some of her classmates. Staying home for a bit longer and starting classes online also helps her ease into this new chapter of life.
"I think starting online helps you get ready for classes and then you get into the whole scene of college after," she said. "It’s tiptoeing in the deep end, instead of cannonballing and it’s OK."
Being home also has some advantages for Brunswick, like saving money, not having to worry about running across campus and wearing pajamas all day long.
When Brunswick thinks of what it'll be like to be on campus once it's safe to return, her mind goes to the first day of kindergarten.
"Everyone's going to look their best, they're going to be nice, try to find friends," she said. "They’re going to be a lot of more dressed up than what I’m used to," like those comfy pajamas.