Lots out at student association: ‘Making contact difficult for first year students’

The academic year started for students a week ago with online introductions and online lectures. First year students who were looking forward to a good start to their student days all summer were looking for a friendly atmosphere and contact with student associations. They saw the number of applications rise to their own surprise this year.

But this popularity also means that an application did not automatically lead to a place in an association. There is only limited space at many associations.

“Unfortunately, we’ve had to disappoint a lot of people this year,” says Yorick van der Heiden, president of the National Chamber of Associations, which represents 48 student associations. “The phenomenon of drawing lots isn’t new, but it’s happening more this year than previous years.”

Large student associations told the CCeit that this year they had to exclude almost half of the students who wanted to become a member.

Difficult to find a foothold

For students who have been selected, it is especially difficult to find a foothold in a new city in corona time, says Jolien Dopmeijer of the Trimbos Institute. She researched loneliness among students. “Of course, selected students can also build up a social network without having to join an association, but making contacts for first-year students is extra difficult now”

Earlier we followed Renske, who joined a student association in Eindhoven. “Just make nice friends when all the lectures are online.

Dopmeijer is worried about the consequences for the freshmen who have just started. “A direct link has been demonstrated between students who feel lonely and experience burn-out complaints,” she explains. The study showed that older students who did take introductory and physical classes felt less lonely than first-year students who had to take online classes since the coronavirus broke out.

Nora Donders from Bussum is one of those freshmen who enrolled in a club. “My father used to be a member and now my brother and sister are too. I wanted to take that tradition with me.” Through the association she hoped to get to know new people and to find a room in a student house in Delft.

She enrolled in the Delft Student Corps, but was selected. There was room for 410 students and over 750 students enrolled. “I’ve been crying, all my girlfriends were raffled in. I had been looking forward to my student days, but this made me less motivated to be in Delft”

During the first week of her mechanical engineering studies, she noticed that making contact with fellow students is more difficult now that the lectures are given online. Twice a week she has physical classes, the rest of the classes are online. She is temporarily alone in an Airbnb in Delft. She doesn’t suffer from loneliness yet, but “a dorm would have been nicer,” she says.

Meanwhile, Donders has joined the student growth association, which she signed up for just to be sure.

Dopmeijer is not surprised that there are more registrations with student associations this year than previous years. “The first year students who now start studying have had a strange end of high school. Then it is understandable that they are looking for a source of relaxation and a place where they can make social contacts. That’s very important in that phase of life.”

Student associations play an important role in mental health. “A good start creates a social network and reduces the risk of mental problems and study failure”

The 876 students surveyed indicated in the study that when they experience mental problems, they are not quick to seek help. Dopmeijer: “And if they do, the university and the student association are places where they do that, but those places are now disappearing for many new students”