The Colorado freshmen who arrived on university campuses in fall 2020 encountered a very different environment than previous generations. With the COVID-19 class due to graduate next month, we asked four of them how the pandemic affected what were supposed to be the best years of their lives.

Here’s what they said.

Kyra Kauffman, Colorado State University

Photo courtesy of Kyra Kauffman

Looking back on freshman year, if I knew what I was about to go through, I wouldn’t have done it. The very first thing I did was take a COVID-19 test before I could move in. Everything was dark, quiet, and hot. There were bad wildfires that year. It was eerie. A lot of college students rely on their orientation groups to make friends, but my entire first week was sitting alone on Zoom calls. When I came back sophomore year, I was so happy to see silverware and furniture in the dining hall. Just sitting down with people and sharing a meal was the first time I felt like I was in college.

Annika Lewis, Fort Lewis College

Annika Lewis
Photo courtesy of Annika Lewis

I had been accepted to the Art Institute of Chicago, but tuition was more than $50,000 per year. I didn’t want to pay that much to take classes online. So I started remotely at San Juan College in Farmington, New Mexico, then after a year, I transferred to Fort Lewis College in Durango, where I majored in sociology and minored in studio art and gender and sexuality studies. Sometimes, I think about Chicago. It would have been a good experience, but I’m really happy with where I’m at. I’m only $5,000 in debt now, and I might be able to afford a master’s degree.

Ben Torres, CSU

Ben Torres
Photo courtesy of Ben Torres

If you got exposed, they quarantined you in a separate building for 14 days. I remember getting a text saying, essentially, “Your hall will have to submit a saliva test this week because COVID-19 was detected in wastewater.” My entire dorm is going to get tested? What? It was such a bizarre message to get. By spring 2022, things were pretty much back to normal. I’m not jealous of underclassmen who are going to get the true college experience, but I wonder what it would have been like if we did. We lost an opportunity to build community, because we only had 21 months of normal college. On the other hand, we now know how to adapt.

Stephanie Garcia, University of Colorado College of Nursing

Stephanie Garcia
Photo courtesy of Stephanie Garcia

I’m one of the first people in my family to go to college. My mom doesn’t speak much English. So when things shut down in spring 2020, it was very hard to figure out how to apply for everything—especially the FAFSA [financial aid form]—and I had to do it by myself. I was very social in high school, but once COVID-19 hit and I had spent all that time at home, I had a bunch of social anxiety when I returned to school in person. I did spend time [training] in hospitals, but it will still be nerve-wracking when I start working full time in a bigger setting.

This article was originally published in 5280 April 2024.
Jay Bouchard
Jay Bouchard
Jay Bouchard is a Denver-based writer and a former editor on 5280's digital team.