‘What college is supposed to look like.’ Sophomores adjust to new college experience


New students form the shape of the state of Kentucky during the Wildcat Welcome Ceremony on Friday, Aug. 20, 2021, at Kroger Field in Lexington, Kentucky. Photo by Jack Weaver | Staff

As in-person classes, full-capacity stadiums and other college traditions return to UK, the class of 2024 finds itself in the strange position of having what feels like a second freshman year. On Sept. 6, sophomores will have the opportunity to partake in one of the university’s trademark events they missed last year: their class photo on Kroger Field.

Although they have two semesters of college under their belt, sophomores at UK face a new type of college experience, one without online and hybrid classes. They are having to learn how to navigate the world of in-person courses and full-capacity events; this creates a unique phenomenon: a class with two “freshman years.”

“I was so surprised the first day I walked into in-person classes. This is what college is supposed to look like,” sophomore Hannah Cunningham said. “The amount of new people I have met so far since the [COVID-19] restrictions have lifted is amazing. Even though life still isn’t completely normal, I am so happy to not be online anymore.”

The class of 2024’s freshman college experiences have been greatly altered from those in a normal year, as classes were at least partially online and trademark K Week events were cancelled. Sophomore Tyler Conn, who transferred to UK from Centre College for the Spring 2021 semester, said he “struggled” with online learning and is excited about the gradual return to normalcy.

“I was thrilled to experience college how it is supposed to be this semester. I have met amazing teachers, and I’m excited to learn again,” Conn said.

Dr. Sarah Ballard, executive director of UK’s First Year Experience department, said the university is doing what it can to give sophomores the experiences they may have missed during their freshman year. She said UK engaged in “formal and informal” discussions with students to better understand sophomores’ experiences.

“Our class of 2024 did not have the typical transition into the Big Blue Nation last fall, and as a result, some of our favorite traditions had to look different,” Ballard said. “Over the past year, we’ve listened to students share the challenges and opportunities COVID presented during their time at UK.”

On Monday, sophomores will have the opportunity to partake in one such tradition: the annual class photo on Kroger Field. The university sent an email to the class of 2024 on Thursday, inviting them to be a part of the K Week event that was cancelled last year on Monday, Sept. 6, at 7:30 p.m. In addition to being in the photo, sophomores can pick up a “collector’s edition K Week 2020 T-shirt,” according to the email.

“The pandemic has altered all of our lives in so many ways, and we are mindful of these changes on the experiences for students,” Ballard said. “We’ve heard from students how important this tradition is to them, so we wanted to do this for them to demonstrate how proud we are of them and how important they are to the Wildcat community.”