Freshman students continue to move into their dorms at the University of Georgia, in Athens, Georgia amid the COVID-19 pandemic in Athens, Georgia, on Saturday, August 15, 2020. (Photo/Sophie Yaeger/syaeger@randb.com)

Freshman year of college can be one of the most exciting yet terrifying times of a young adult’s life. With factors such as moving far away from family, living in a shoebox with a complete stranger and taking on a course load much larger than that of high school standards, college freshmen can face a lot of stress and worry when starting their first year.

For freshman Anannya Das, an intense course load was one of the most daunting and anxiety-inducing factors of starting her first year. Das, a genetics major and member of the University of Georgia Honors program, said she had a bad experience while learning virtually during her last few weeks of high school and didn’t want this to be the case for her first semester at UGA.

“I was really excited to take some more advanced science and math classes this semester,” Das said. “However, I don’t do well with online learning as it makes it difficult for me to be engaged and excited about the topics I’m studying.”

Das said she is grateful many of her professors have opted for a hybrid-style learning format for their fall instruction. With this structure, students can experience both face-to-face instruction and remote learning at a rotating basis, according to UGA’s Center for Teaching and Learning Fall 2020 Instruction Options.

In addition to changes in course loads, the first year of college also comes with the stress of making friends and adapting to a new environment. Freshman mechanical engineering major Garrett Stigall was especially excited to form new friendships during his first few weeks, as he didn’t want to end up only socializing with other students coming from his high school.

“Since I don’t have any older siblings, my expectations were all based off of what I saw in TV shows and movies,” Stigall said. “I was looking forward to sitting down in dining halls with friends, going to club fairs and joining intramural sports teams.”

Over the course of his few days on campus, Stigall said he experienced some fear about how he would handle the transition. While still abiding by university safety protocols, Stigall plans to put himself out there to the best of his ability and adjust his social habits to fit the new normal.

UGA psychology professor Richard Slatcher recommends students get “socially creative” when forming new friendships. With a research background in the effect of peoples’ close relationships on their psychological health and well-being, Slatcher emphasizes the importance of students finding safe social outlets during this time.

“We are evolutionarily hardwired for human connection,” Slatcher said. “And in adolescence and young adulthood, peer relationships are especially crucial.”

To avoid feeling lonely and mentally lost, Slatcher said students need to be proactive when it comes to reaching out to others and adapting to their new environment. He emphasized the importance of utilizing the outdoors during this time as a way to make social connections in the safest way possible.

“Being outside is so important for taking that next step for social relationships,” Slatcher said. “Students can organize a group of friends and go hang out on one of our quads while social distancing. They could also go grab to-go food from a dining hall and go eat it outside at a distance.”

Freshman biochemistry and molecular biology major Courtney Honoré said she was confident she and her fellow classmates can make the most of their first year, regardless of safety protocols limiting normal ways of socialization.

“None of us have done this before. We’re all in the same boat,” Honoré said. “It’s not like all social interaction is gone forever. I think we’re going to be OK.”

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