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The COVID-19 pandemic forced the University of Georgia to adopt social distancing, virtual classes and club meetings, mask mandates and limited capacity in classrooms and stadiums. Now, as the university plans to resume normal operations in the fall, incoming freshmen are able to continue traditions and experience a normal year. 

However, rising sophomores like Evan Frey, a political science and economics double major, did not experience a normal first year. 

Once the university accepted Frey, he expected social interaction through clubs and living on campus, a normal learning experience and attending football games, but when the pandemic hit in March 2020, Frey knew he wasn’t going to have a normal year. Frey was dual enrolled at UGA in 2020 as a senior in high school, and his class went virtual. 

“When coming into the fall semester, I knew that it wouldn’t be a normal experience because I’ve already seen how much one class that I had [the] semester before was impacted by COVID-19,” Frey said. 

As a freshman, most of Frey’s classes were online, student organizations meetings were virtual and sporting events were limited. He said the experience affected his perception of college and affected his motivation in class. 

Frey is not alone in this feeling. According to a report by Melanie Hanson, an educator and research analyst, 42% of students indicated that staying motivated during online schooling was a major problem for them.

COVID-19 has also impacted college students' mental health. According to a study done by the National Center for Biotechnology Information, 44% of college students reported having increased depressive thoughts, and 71% indicated higher levels of stress and anxiety.

Now, the university plans to return to full in-person instruction, full capacity in residence and dining halls and regular operations for other campus services. 

Frey said he’s glad freshmen get the opportunity to have a normal experience. 

“In my opinion, the class below myself, they probably had it worse than we did ... most of the kids in the grade below us, they lost the last couple months of the junior year of high school, which is really important,” Frey said. 

The university also plans to make up for the traditions that rising sophomores and transfer students didn’t get to experience, according to a statement from Greg Trevor, the associate vice president for Marketing and Communications at UGA. 

UGA has planned programs aimed at UGA’s class of 2024 and transfers who started at UGA during the pandemic, including a Second-Year Welcome, UGA ‘24 events, Second-Year September and the Calling the Dawgs Cookout, according to Trevor. 

The Second-Year Welcome allows students to hear from administration, the Student Government Association president and athletic personnel and will allow them to form the “G” on Dooley Field at Sanford Stadium. 

According to Trevor, the UGA ‘24 events are a series of activities that include pre-events at traditional programs such as Dawgs After Dark to target sophomore students, as well as bus and campus tours. 

Second-Year September is a series of programs, events and workshops that will be organized to reinforce students’ understanding of support resources and opportunities, and Calling the Dawgs Cookout is an event which allows students to experience being at UGA before major athletic events.

The goal of the programs is to “reacclimate students to campus through a variety of events and programs,” Trevor said. 

Despite the opportunity for sophomores to experience tradition, Frey is nervous that sophomores may not want to participate in traditions made for freshmen. 

The main thing Frey feels he missed out on was getting involved with student organizations and meeting more students. 

“I'd love to go in-person [to] volunteer events and activities and social gatherings and stuff like that,” Frey said, “really just make up for what was probably then a less than ideal freshman year.”