The Challenges of First-Year Students at Montgomery College


Student life Rockville Campus handing goods for students in the first day of class. Photo courtesy from Montgomery College.

Karen Flores-Celestino

During the start of the pandemic, students struggled to adjust from traditional in-person classes to Zoom classrooms. As we dive into the third year of the COVID-19 pandemic and transition back to in-person courses, it seems like most have grown accustomed to the virtual learning environment. However, the struggle has remained for every new group of incoming college students.

For many first-year students, the pandemic merely heightened the already challenging transition from high school to college. Before they could even adjust to the learning structure and workload of college courses, they first had to learn how to navigate the entire college process, which was trickier to do in a virtual environment. First-year student Bella Lourenco, who graduated from high school in 2020 and is majoring in Elementary Education, described her initial experience at Montgomery College as a “puzzle piece, and you have to find where everything is.”

One of the primary issues first-year students struggled with was registering for classes. Bella stated that although meeting with an advisor is helpful to figure out which classes to take, “they don’t necessarily show us how to register for classes, we have to figure that out on our own.” It’s a process new students aren’t necessarily taught how to do and, if done incorrectly, could affect their long-term academic plan and journey.

However, every student has a different experience. Payton Steele, a General Studies: STEM major who also graduated from high school in 2020 and transferred to Montgomery College from the University of Minnesota, said that navigating MC wasn’t too difficult since she was familiar with the ins and outs of college from her previous institution.

Other issues first-year students experienced were understanding how to use Blackboard and learning how to engage academically through Zoom. While Bella says her professors taught her how to operate Blackboard and access the MC library, she said learning to access everything was still “a lot to take in.” Payton stated that transitioning to college under a virtual environment was a “learning curve” that required reprioritizing and learning to “focus in a space that didn’t necessarily require focus before.”

While there were numerous challenges first-year students encountered through virtual learning, the quick and easy access to Zoom allowed students to join club meetings, attend college events like Raptor Slam, and be a part of leadership programs like MC LEADS with the click of a link. Extracurricular activities were an essential element that allowed many first-year students to meet other students and make friends. Extracurricular activities were “something to look forward to,” said Bella.

As students and faculty members continue returning to campus, there’s the hope of providing better assistance to first-year students at MC through programs like First-Year Experience (FYE), which host new student orientations, First-Year Seminars, and a Summer Bridge Program to ease the transition from high school to college. Raptor Central (previously known as the Welcome Center) is also a valuable resource for first-year students seeking help with admissions, enrollment, class registration, financial aid, and much more. For new students looking to be more involved on campus, be sure to check out student life.

Check out the First-Year ExperienceRaptor Central, or Student Life here!