Fear of missing out: Incoming first-years worry about lack of social connections, falling behind

The current pandemic has disrupted life at UBC, with classes set to be online in most faculties until 2021.

But prospective students already managing the transition to university have been forced to grapple with a new landscape of online classes in deciding whether or not to maintain plans to attend UBC this fall.

The Ubyssey spoke with three students about their finances, hopes and unanswered questions for their university experience and whether they’re still coming to campus.

Forming connections

Many still plan to start at UBC in September regardless. For two local incoming first years, Annie Lai from Richmond and Emily Chan from Vancouver, the pandemic didn’t have much of an impact on their choice of university and neither has the move to online classes.

“My educational plans have not changed — I plan to take the semester online or in person, but I expect the online class to be harder than the in-person one,” Chan said.

They both expressed worry about forming connections and friendships with classmates and missing out on the social aspect of first year.

“First year is used to make connections … and without that aspect, finding the incentive or internal motivation to sit inside my room by myself on a laptop for … hours a day is going to be a struggle,” Chan said.

Lai said her plans have stayed the same throughout the pandemic and amidst the move to online classes.

“I don’t think [the pandemic] made a big impact on my decisions … I grew up at UBC so it was a choice that I wanted [to make] the entire time,” Lai said.

Chan is in the bachelor’s of international economics program which, she said, is “very small” and “socially oriented.”

“There are only 100 students, 50 domestic and 50 international — some of whom are strongly considering deferring — and since it will be online, the social aspect, being able to work closely with other students in my classes isn’t going to be the same compared to other years.”

The lack of in-person social events is also a concern for Lai, who was accepted to the Sauder School of Business.

“For business, we need a lot of networking events and conferences, as well as engagement in clubs so I am worried about that aspect,” she said.

Gap-year considerations

Many prospective students have considered taking a gap year. But taking a year off poses other problems — Lai said she doesn’t want to take one for fear of falling behind.

“I don't want to take a gap year so there aren't really any other options for me,” Lai said.

Gayathri Sudeer, an international student from India, has also decided against taking a gap year.

She initially planned to live on campus, but due to the announcement of online classes, she said she’s planning to stay at home.

“A lot of my friends are considering a gap year, for me personally I would not like to waste a year, even if all classes go online,” Sudeer said.

The data doesn’t yet show a difference in the number of first-years planning to attend UBC — Matthew Ramsey, director of university affairs, said that so far, the number of acceptances “remain strong” and the number of applications was “similar to years past.”

“Registration for new first-year students starts on June 30. As students who are offered admission may find through the summer that they cannot attend for a variety of reasons, we will not have a full understanding of the impact of COVID-19 on enrolment until September,” Ramsey said.

Lack of information

All of the students said they were frustrated with the lack of program-specific information.

Sudeer is enrolled in the Faculty of Land and Food Systems (LFS), which at the time she was interviewed, had yet to announce their plan for the fall term.

“While most degrees have given out clear plans on how classes are going to be affected, the LFS faculty has not yet given its students an idea of how the classes will be affected,” she said. “If classes are going online, then I think it will be difficult to complete lab work, which is very important for science-based degrees.”

Since Sudeer was interviewed, the LFS faculty has announced that classes will be online for the fall term.

Lai and Sudeer are doubtful that the quality of online courses could be the same as in-person, and Sudeer expressed still having many questions.

“Questions like ‘Will the residence be open for incoming international students?’ and ‘How will the time be adjusted for international students?’ are still poorly answered.”

— With files from Charlotte Alden

This article has been updated to include the LFS faculty plan for the fall term.