Jessie Cheung, Staff Photographer

Historically, Yale’s first years have been required to live on campus — but now, due to Yale’s de-densified campus plan, the vast majority of them will remain home for the spring semester.

Over the summer, Yale announced that first-year students would be expected to complete their spring semesters remotely, while sophomores would do the same over the fall semester. Unless granted housing exemptions, first years do not have access to campus facilities or on-campus housing during the spring.

“Sharing access to campus between the first-year and sophomore classes makes it possible for all four classes to be on campus for at least part of the year and makes social distancing possible in campus housing,” Dean of Yale College Marvin Chun wrote in a message following the announcement.

The decision prompted a record number of over 300 students admitted to the Class of 2024 to take gap years. The over 1,200 students who chose to enroll this year are now scattered across the globe, pursuing a variety of different experiences for the spring semester. Some have chosen to take gap semesters, some are living in their childhood homes, some are living on campus with housing exemptions and others are renting apartments and living on their own.

Annie Sidransky ’25 is one of over 80 first years who have elected to take leaves of absence this spring, according to data from Yale Facebook. For Sidransky, the prospect of taking time off from college never crossed her mind until the COVID-19 pandemic struck.

After experiencing an on-campus semester last fall — one that helped define her interests, explore new career paths and make new friends — she realized how valuable her time at Yale was. 

“I just feel that being at Yale is so special, and it’s only an experience I’ll get to have right now for these next four years,” she explained. “I didn’t want to take one of my semesters and have to do it at home.”

Among her friends, Sidransky is alone in her decision to not enroll in the spring semester, but it is a decision about which she is completely confident. She sees several possibilities for her gap semester — she is looking forward to continuing her education outside of the classroom and potentially pursuing an internship in publishing.

Selin Goren ’24 spent her first semester studying remotely. As an international student from Turkey, she was not only worried about the uncertainties surrounding the pandemic, but also the hassle of traveling to the U.S. for a shortened semester. 

While Goren described the experience of being a remote student as “manageable,” she also explained that being eight hours ahead of New Haven presented many challenges for her. Her classes would not start until 4 p.m. and some would end as late as 10 p.m. As a cast member in the Yale University Dramatic Association’s production of “Dominion,” Goren would also wake up at 3 a.m. for performances.

Goren has worked hard to connect with the Yale community. She tried to make friends from her first-year seminar, FroCo group and the Dramat — but as many of these friends were on campus, it took extra effort on her end to sustain those friendships. 

After hearing about the positive experiences of friends from Turkey who lived on campus during the previous semester, Goren made the decision to live on campus in the spring. As an international student living in a far-off time zone, Goren was granted a housing exemption. 

“I’m really looking forward to meeting the [Timothy Dwight] community,” Goren said. “I’m excited to meet people face-to-face. And I’m also excited to discover the campus because it’s really beautiful. I’ve been following everything that was going on campus through Instagram, so I’m really excited to finally be here and experience it.”

When Yale first announced that first years would be remote for the spring semester, Ethan Dong ’24 had originally planned on staying home. Renting an off-campus apartment was something he envisioned doing as a junior or senior — not a second-semester first year still adjusting to college life.

Talking with friends and classmates, however, caused Dong to change his mind. 

“It seemed like just about everybody I asked was getting a place, if not in New Haven, then somewhere else,” he explained. 

Reluctant to be left behind and spend eight months isolated at home, Dong decided to move into a house with seven friends near the edge of campus.

For Dong, the lack of swipe access to campus facilities was not an issue. What he wanted most out of the spring semester was not the chance to live in his residential college or grab meals in his dining hall, but the opportunity to be around his peers. 

“Not being around people my age for eight months would be kind of brutal,” he explained.

While Dong acknowledged that the presence of off-campus first years could potentially place strain on the New Haven community during the ongoing pandemic, he maintained that he would be cautious about his actions. He and his housemates had already started a twice-weekly testing regimen, courtesy of Yale’s asymptomatic testing program, and are planning on limiting interactions with people outside of their house.

Like Dong, Matthew Meyers ’24 did not initially plan on living away from home during his remote semester until he heard other first years considering the idea. Unlike Dong, however, Meyers will not be living in New Haven, but in a small Pennsylvania town, along with three friends from his residential college. What drew them to the area was the abundance of space, lower living expenses and relative safety afforded by its somewhat remote location.

For Meyers, the decision represents a shift from the lonely, unproductive experience of finishing high school from home last year. Still, he wishes that there could be some way of bringing first years back to campus during the spring semester. 

“I’d rather be on campus than here, not that it’s the worst thing in the world,” Meyers said. “I think it’s really hard for my classmates and I to be introduced to the Yale community and then have it taken away for eight months before we can go back to it.”

Yale College’s spring semester for the 2020-2021 school year began on Feb. 1.

Alice Ao | alice.ao@yale.edu