When Claire Jumper was choosing which college she wanted to attend, she was looking for somewhere to meet a lot of people. 

Since the pandemic, Jumper, a freshman psychology major, said she has not been out to eat or attended any parties or large gatherings. Her sister has asthma, so she did not want to take any risks.

“I’m naturally a big extrovert, so it’s been hard,” Jumper said. “Throughout high school, I was always somewhere on the weekends, but now I don’t do anything besides watch movies with my roommates.”

Jumper said she feels like she spends all her time in her dorm room because she has a constant fear of hanging out with people who could potentially have COVID-19. She said she never knows if the people around her could be going to parties or if they are being tested regularly.

“I have to be conscious of every single person I hang out with,” she said. “You have to constantly keep yourself in check, while also doing all of your classes, so that’s been hard.”

After missing out on high school milestones like prom and graduation parties, first-year students at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln have had a lackluster freshman experience.

Jonah Bricker, freshman mechanical engineering major, said he is part of the Mechanical Engineering Mentorship Program, as well as a few choirs on campus, such as the All-Collegiate Choir and Big Red Singers. The mentorship program has mostly been online while the choirs have still held in-person meetings. However, the choir members have had to stand and sit 6-10 feet apart from each other. Otherwise, it would be shut down, Bricker said.

Jackson Taylor, a freshman mechanical engineering major, said he struggles with having most of his classes online. 

“I don’t focus very well online,” Taylor said. “I don’t pay attention nearly as much, and I think we definitely have to do a lot more work to get the basic goal accomplished.”

Jumper said she has also struggled with having classes online. As someone who already struggled with time management in high school, she said it was difficult to adjust to asynchronous classes.

“I managed to pass one semester, but I think it’s just been stressful as far as trying to plan and how to delegate time,” Jumper said.

Bricker said he does not learn much from the online lectures, which makes it difficult to hold himself accountable. To keep up with his classes, Bricker said he watches Khan Academy videos on what his lectures cover.

He also said he thinks first-year students are not prepared for a full slate of in-person classes when the time comes. He knows many first-year students who do not wake up until late morning and end up watching all of their lectures after the time they were actually scheduled. 

“I feel like getting up and actually walking around the classroom is going to be a shock for most of us next year,” Bricker said.

Last semester, Allison Van Haren, a freshman inclusive early childhood education major, said she was supposed to gain experience through a pre-student teaching field experience. Though she earned credit for it, she only went to the school twice because Lincoln Public Schools had concerns about COVID-19 transmissions.

“I didn’t really do any in-school work for the rest of that semester, and I only had two practicum Zooms at the end of this semester,” Van Haren said. “It was really sad, and it was really disheartening.”

Past freshmen were able to have more of a traditional college experience, like getting to know more people on campus, meeting their professors and walking around campus, Bricker said.

Though Taylor is in college, he said he doesn't know how college is supposed to feel since the pandemic changed how classes operate and made socializing difficult.

Van Haren said meeting people has been challenging since most people just stay in their rooms. Despite this being Van Haren’s first year, she has enough credits to be in sophomore and junior-level classes, and she said many of the older students in her classes do not care as much to socialize as freshmen do.

“I am quite introverted, but I really wanted to make friends,” Van Haren said. “I have not done a horrible job making friends, but I think it would have been better.”

Jumper said she believes UNL administration has been helpful as they can be for first-year students this year, but conducting more COVID-19 testing during the fall semester and having a support group for students to discuss struggles with the pandemic would have been beneficial. 

Bricker said no one from UNL reached out to him to help him out with his first year during the pandemic. However, he said he understands it is difficult to check in with all first-year students at a school of this size.

“I feel like they did the best that they could, but it just really wasn’t that much,” he said.

Jumper said she hopes her sophomore year at UNL will be a better reflection of what the college experience is supposed to be like.

“I definitely wasn’t expecting it to be as hard as it was,” she said. “My sister would talk about going places all the time and being able to hang out with friends, but I feel like I spend all my time in my dorm. I think it was really hard because I felt really isolated while also trying to stay healthy. I’m hopeful next year will be better.”