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De Padova '24: The first-year plan could be a blessing in disguise

In early July, President Christina Paxson P'19 sent out the email announcing Brown’s 2020-21 calendar: A three-semester academic year in which first-years would be on campus only during the spring and summer semesters.

At first, the announcement was disappointing. We would be on campus with less than half of the student body during the summer and would have to miss the fall 2020 semester. I didn’t put a lot of thought into why these changes were bad, but my impatience to start school coupled with an unfamiliar schedule made Brown’s plan undesirable. 

About a month later though, in August, other colleges started announcing fully virtual school years, and I started to reconsider my disappointment. Not only did I cherish the fact that we were getting the opportunity to be on campus in person, but, as I took a second look at the logistics of the plan, I also realized that the new schedule was in many ways better for first-years than a normal academic year.

When I made this claim to a few friends of mine whose schools had gone completely virtual they thought I was deluding myself to cope with the new circumstances: What kind of first-year outspokenly brags about their school pushing the start of their school year back? While it's true that having an unexpected gap semester between high school and college poses unique challenges for new students, there are aspects of Brown’s plan for first-years that may put our class in the position to have the smoothest transition into college life of any class before us — even disregarding the pandemic.

The most challenging part of college is often said to be the transitional period at the beginning of freshman year, but with the opportunity to take one class this fall, first-years now have a slight advantage. We get to experience college-level work before ever stepping on campus and have been given time to connect with a small group of peers, advisors and faculty. Otherwise, being thrown into an ecosystem where everyone knows what's going on better than we do could be overwhelming and disorienting. During the summer semester, a majority of students will most likely be first-years, so it will also be much easier for Brown to address the needs of our class.

The timing of the summer semester has a number of benefits for first-years as well. Aside from simply being much warmer and more pleasant, campus in the summer will also be more conducive to social events. Since mask wearing and social distancing will likely continue into next year, the summer will give first-years more opportunities  to gather outside and meet people outside of their pods. 

The benefits of a summer semester aren’t only social. With most upperclassmen absent, there will likely be less student organization activity — which may allow us to have more open schedules, since we will not feel pressure to devote as much time to clubs. We could still be involved, of course, but a lower level of commitment might give us the chance to dedicate more time to academics as we continue to adjust to college. A quieter semester could be just what some students need in order to excel in classes outside their comfort zone. 

All that said, it is impossible to ignore the shortcomings of a summer semester. Many students may have been counting on the income of a full-time job or the opportunity to take on an internship. While there’s no perfect solution, I’m hopeful that the University will take measures to connect students with internship and research opportunities, in addition to doing everything they can to financially assist students who have been hit hardest financially by the pandemic. Not to mention that many students have probably never taken classes for four straight semesters and aren’t too keen to try. These are all downsides to the summer semester, but downsides that all first-years will have to navigate together. In fact, the unique benefits and challenges of the summer semester may be a great opportunity for the Brown class of 2024 to be more tight-knit than it would have been otherwise.  

While it’s certain that first-years will have a very different experience from what they expected, different doesn’t have to mean worse. Brown’s plan offers us opportunities that have never been available before and I’m confident that our class will take the unusual hand of cards we have been dealt and adapt to make these new circumstances work in our favor. 

Jordan De Padova ’24 can be reached at Please send responses to this opinion to and op-eds to


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