It’s undeniable that this year’s intake of university freshers face an experience very different from those before them. Already the usual sense of excitement about heading off to university has been somewhat overshadowed by the uncertainty of what this experience will now entail. Gone are the hopes of an ordinary freshers’ week, replaced by the prospect of meeting new friends and coursemates via zoom, and attending the freshers’ fair from the confines of your room.
For prospective students like myself, this will be a particularly strange time as the usual concerns of heading off to university (leaving home, making friends, even learning to cook) have been replaced by the even more pressing concern of: Can I even go? Coming to the (somewhat underwhelming) end of my gap year, I find myself having a unique insight into the concerns of current A-Level students through various group chats and social media pages for university offer holders. While many may feel A-Level students have been let off easy this year by not having to take any exams and enjoying a prolonged summer, I would argue this is not the case. It’s clear to see that the usual concerns about results day have not disappeared, as students this year face the equally frightening prospect of a set of results based not upon their hard work and revision, but awarded by their teachers, presumably leaving many feeling frustrated with what they feel they could have achieved. Furthermore, it seems as though many offer holders are already resigned to the idea of meeting many of their classmates online, with weekly zoom calls already in progress as a way of ‘getting to know each other’. While there is a sense of unity in this strange approach to socialising, it’s hard not to feel robbed of a time that many would consider the best of their lives. Add this to the pitying looks from adults when informed of the gloomy prospect of a freshers’ week online, it makes for a somewhat depressing inevitability.
The proposed idea of ‘academic bubbles’ put forward by some universities, in which students would live and study within a small group, also alters the ordinary university experience hugely. It would transform what should be a chance to branch out and meet an array of new people into a restricted and possibly lonely venture into the adult world. The idea of living and learning with a group possibly as small as eight, and indeed being restricted to this group feels rather isolating, even more so were you to arrive and discover little in common with your so-called ‘bubble’. Similarly, the announcement from numerous universities that lectures will begin online in September, and possibly continue in this way for the full academic year, understandably fills prospective students with concern. It presents a whole new way of learning, one many would feel could be carried out from home. To me, the anger felt by many university students at the prospect of paying over 9 grand for a year of online teaching feels wholly justified, as it’s undeniable that no matter what provisions universities put in place, the standard of teaching will not be up to par.
Despite these gloomy prospects, throughout the nationwide lockdown, I’ve largely come to terms with the idea of a freshers’ and perhaps an entire first year, unlike the one I had anticipated. The’ blended learning’ approach many universities hope to pursue, in which a mixture of online and in-person teaching is carried out, will hopefully combat the large detrimental effects of social distancing measures. While it’s true that my first week at university won’t include any nights out clubbing, or perhaps even congregating in groups larger than eight or ten, it’s also true that such experiences aren’t gone forever, merely displaced. I’m sure that while my freshers’ experience will be by no means ordinary, the aspects of it that seem so important, namely drinking copious amounts with individuals you’ve only just met, will come at a later date, with the added benefit of doing so with friends rather than strangers.
By Aoife Dickinson
Illustration: by Alyah Albader