LOS ANGELES — Ramiro Barba is started his sophomore year at the University of Southern California this week.

Besides moving into his new apartment, Barba — like many other students — will also take on welcome week as a first-year student. While it may be his first taste of true college experience, it is also feels surreal.

What You Need To Know

  • This week millions of students across the United States returned to their college campuses for in person learning

  • USC will welcome over 8,000 first-year students who are adjusting to campus life for the very first time.

  • The pandemic altered many students' pathways, forcing them into online learning schemes over the last two years

  • At USC, the priority was to create an inclusive six-week Welcome Experience to make sure that every student, regardless of age, can adapt

“It’s going to be a new thing," Barba said. "I’m a little bit nervous, being away from my parents for the first time in more than 18 years. I have to be ready for this new reality.”

Barba, though, is not alone in this feeling.

It is the new reality for millions across the United States who are also going back to school. In many cases, it will be their first in-person school experience since the pandemic rocked their senior years of high school.

“Many of us are lost. I know I’m lost and there’s a lot of stuff thrown at us," Barba said. "There’s this huge thing that the graduating class of 2020 is going to have to do to get used to college.”

It is a learning curve that has also been on the mind of Emily Sandoval, who is the associate vice provost for the student affairs office. She made it her goal to help all first year students find their footing.

It will begin with a six-week welcome experience featuring open events like Light Up SC, a welcome back concert and convocation.

“This is from convocation which is normally designed for all freshman and their families, but this year it was for sophomores as well," Sandoval said in reference to the sea of white chairs in the quad. "Probably the largest one we’ve ever seen.”

From convocation, to introductory seminars, to ongoing campus tours and an online portal, each aspect of the experience was designed to make college life a more tangible reality for students of all ages. 

“Thinking that we’re welcoming 8,000 students who’ve never been on campus, it’s so important we welcome them and help them make those connections to feel like this is their home," Sandoval said. "It has been so important to make sure that happens.”

Although Barba may be an incoming sophomore, he still wants to take in everything. It is a big step in his adult life, and this year it is one not just reserved for freshmen students.

“I’ll be taking advantage of everything, because if I don’t do it, someone else will," he said. "I'm just excited to get going."

While he may not be getting the full four years on campus, Barba is certain he is ready for whatever is next.