The COVID-19 pandemic and the consequent move of higher education to online courses has disrupted the learning paths of many students. Social network data were collected from two cohorts of students, those starting their higher education in normal conditions in 2017 and those starting in 2020 during the pandemic. The findings showed that students in the 2020 cohort reported making fewer connections at the beginning of the first semester and developed significantly fewer connections during the first semester. Female students lost the relative advantage they had compared with male students in developing new connections. Based on our findings, and because of the importance of social connections made during the first year of study, the 2020 cohort will need considerable support in catching up with previous cohorts. The findings provide strong support for the assumption that online studies offer limited possibilities in building social connections compared with on-campus education.