Hailing from 238 cities, 41 states and several continents, theirs is the class of canceled high school graduations, virtual proms and changed summer plans. Yet they all chose– virtually or in the flesh– to come to the University of Dallas in the midst of a global pandemic.
The class of 2024 is bright, averaging a 3.84 high school GPA and a 27 on the ACT. Like the class of 2023, the incoming freshmen are most interested in business and biology, with 60 business majors and 47 biology majors. Psychology and politics are also popular areas of study, with 38 and 20 majors respectively.
The incoming class also represents an increase in first-generation and multilingual students. Twenty percent of the class is made up of first-generation students, up from 18% of last year’s class. Some 19% can speak multiple languages, an increase from 17% of the class of 2023.
After a virtual end to their senior year and a summer spent in isolation, many freshmen said that they value the in-person experience at UD.
Sean Aberle, a freshman economics major from North Carolina, said that he chose UD because of the community he found here.
“I met these students who were smart, kind people who really cared about what they were talking about,” Aberle said of his first visit to UD. “I wanted to be part of that community. I wanted to have those lifelong friendships that I saw there.”
Aberle said that the sense of community at UD could not be simulated on a virtual platform.
“If [school] was online, I wouldn’t be able to walk into my Italian class and have a conversation with my professor, or go grab a drink at the Cap Bar and meet my professor and talk for 45 minutes, face-to-face about opera and Italian and all this stuff,” said Aberle. “You miss those interactions of just random interactions where you meet people or do things, and that is just a key element to the UD experience.”
Angela Bawardi, an international student from Jordan, was drawn to UD by its academics and diverse clubs. Although she has family in the area that she could stay with in the case of closure, Bawardi said that she values the in-person experience.
“I am quite worried we’ll be sent home because I’d really love to have the full experience of going to class and hanging out with people from the University for freshman year,” Bawardi said.
Freshman Lilly Williams was planning to take a gap year before college. but after a summer quarantined at home, Williams decided to pursue her degree at UD because she heard that it was going to offer in-person classes.
“After I went through quarantine,” Williams said, “I was like, I have to get out. I need to go to college, mature and actually be away from my parents.”
Freshman Meagan Scott decided to transfer from the Coast Guard Academy after being drawn to UD by its classical education. She also expressed the importance of an in-person experience for her decision.
“I think as young people this is the time in our lives where being stuck at home is a very bad idea because you are supposed to be learning things and growing and interacting, and that social interaction is an important part of growing,” Scott said. “I don’t think online will ever be a substitute.”
Freshman Erin Kelly was also attracted to UD’s classical education but made the decision to join UD as a virtual student because several of her family members are immunocompromised.
“My mom actually very recently had a kidney transplant, and my brother has heart disease, so I didn’t want to come to school and catch COVID without realizing it and then come back at Thanksgiving and give them COVID, so I ended up deciding that going online would be easier,” Kelly said.
Kelly was initially disappointed by orientation, for which she was charged $150 despite the limited programming, but she has since discovered a robust online UD community.
“I definitely think it’s been worth it,” said Kelly. “I think that while orientation was a little disappointing, they’ve done a really good job trying to include everybody and making it clear that we’re still real students even though we’re not on campus.”
Abbie Patrello similarly decided to attend her first semester virtually over concerns about COVID-19. She was, however, diagnosed with the virus last week, after most likely having been exposed at the restaurant where she works. Even though she contracted the virus, Patrello said that online school was the best option for her.
“It is just nerve-racking not knowing where our country and our city is going to end up. I felt like the first semester online would be kind of a good introduction and wait-and-see with what is going to happen with the world, and with my family, and with me,” Patrello said.
Patrello said that UD has been exceedingly interactive with its online students, especially compared to online schools in which her friends are enrolled.
“It’s pretty scary being online when you attend a school that is not primarily online. You’re worried that you’re going to be left behind or something,” said Patrello. “But UD hasn’t done that.”
Noah Schroeder, a freshman business major from San Diego, said that despite the changes to the semester due to COVID-19, the experience has been worth it.
“I’m still meeting a lot of people, and I feel like that is the biggest part of the first few weeks of college– just meeting people and having these different experiences– and I feel like I’m still doing that,” said Schroeder. “It’s different than most people’s college experiences but I don’t think that it’s worse.”
Freshman Lucy Reinart of St. Paul, Minn., said that the education at UD was worth the risk of being sent home this semester.
“Even if we’re sent home, I wanted to come here just because it’s a really great school,” Reinart said. “I wanted to learn at a place that also combines Catholicism within the classroom.”
Freshman computer science major Johnathan Cantu came to UD after being recruited for the cross country and track program. Despite his freshman fall season being canceled, Cantu said that “UD is worth it.”
“I believe that UD is where I am supposed to be right now, where I will strive to better myself as an individual, family member, friend and a member of this beautiful community,” Cantu said.
Many freshmen expressed that studying the same texts in core classes has unified the class at a time of social distancing.
“I can go up to any other freshman and know that they’re taking Lit Trad I,” said Reinart. “It’s been a conversation starter.”
Aberle described a spontaneous late-night conversation with a group of students about Hector from the “Iliad.” He said that in the midst of the conversation he paused– realizing that only at UD such a thing is possible.
“All of us were tasked to read that, but in having to read it, it brings us closer together as a group, and we’ll have that as a struggle or a challenge that we all overcame together.”