UC Berkeley freshmen reflect on virtual semester, consider withdrawing

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Many UC Berkeley freshmen have said the transition to college has lacked the anticipated sense of growth and change.

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As the semester comes to an end, freshmen who started at UC Berkeley virtually are reflecting on online learning, and as the spring semester approaches, some are considering withdrawing.

The challenges of online schooling have been widely felt, but for first-year undergraduate students, the lack of previous in-person college experiences has been especially challenging. Many said the transition to college has lacked the anticipated sense of growth and change.

“Something that didn’t really match expectation, I would say, is this feeling like I’m growing,” said campus freshman Jenny Pham. “As part of just being in my hometown for my first semester of college, I don’t feel completely like a college student.”

Several students said they joined campus clubs and tried to engage with the community but added that making friends has been a challenge. For many students, classes consist of large lectures where nearly everyone has their cameras turned off and their microphones muted.

Even in discussion sections and smaller classes, challenges persist, according to campus freshman Aleeza Adnan.

“In my discussion sections I have a study group, but it’s like acquaintances,” Adnan said. “We talk about classes and studying but we don’t really talk about things like friends, about personal lives or our interests as much.”

Campus freshman Melinda Zou and Adnan feel their education has suffered during this online semester. Even though Zou is in a language class with less than 15 students, she believes she is learning less than she would in regular times. Adnan added that it is hard to concentrate while learning from her room with cameras off.

Pham, however, said her professors have been very engaged, and she is learning more than she did in high school.

Zou, Adnan and Pham have all said they have, to some degree, considered withdrawing for the spring semester and seeking readmission when the pandemic subsides.

“College is such a precious time, and I don’t know if I want to go through the same thing for Spring,” Zou said in a Reddit post. “I joined clubs, made friends over zoom, went to office hours, and did pretty well in my classes, but I still feel like I’m wasting my parents’ money.”

To withdraw, campus students should meet with a college adviser. Students have to apply to be readmitted, which is not guaranteed, according to the UC Berkeley Office of the Registrar website.

Beyond these challenges, Zou said she is not sure what she would do with a free semester if she is not accepted into an internship. Adnan echoed this sentiment.

“I feel like if I did take a gap semester, I might just be wasting it and I might not be very productive, especially because there’s not that much that I can do,” Adnan said. “Even though the thought is nice, I feel like I would kind of regret it.”

Contact David Villani at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @davidvillani7.