Zaynab E.

Confessions from the College Front Line: Proud Graduate of the Class of COVID

Like everyone else, I am so sick of talking about the Coronavirus. This pandemic truly feels endless. And being a senior in high school on top of everything makes the future feel all the more insecure. The college process is a wild roller coaster with twists and turns, but a global pandemic was a drop I never could’ve expected. 

While in quarantine I received the bulk of my admissions outcomes and, like most of my friends and peers, had to make the strange and surreal decision of choosing my home for the next four years amidst a global pandemic. Many of my outcomes were waitlists – yet another layer of uncertainty. You may not know, but for those that get on a waitlist, there is a process of writing to tell the college why you love them, sending another teacher recommendation, and talking with the admission counselors. To woo a college is a whole different thing when you are stuck at home. Usually love letters share the exciting new things that you are up to, new achievements and opportunities, but when you are feeling lethargic and distracted by the reality of coronavirus, it is difficult to come up with ways to show how amazing and entrepreneurial you are, that is, unless you’ve been wildly ambitious and maybe read War and Peace or catalogued three generations of your family’s homesteading recipes.  I did neither.

Many colleges across the United States have chosen to extend their commitment deadlines to June 1 instead of the usual May 1 to accommodate those affected by the virus. This, however, is only helpful to an extent because not all colleges have chosen to do this. So many high school seniors won’t officially know where they are headed for another month. With waitlists, it could be much longer. I was hesitant to stay on waitlists for a few reasons: dreading a longer waiting period, wanting to go somewhere where I am wanted, looking for an overall fit, and calculating financials. 

On top of that, the actual decision criteria have completely changed for many. With the economy tanking, the cheapest college suddenly shoots up in appeal. Most of the colleges made their scholarship and financial aid decisions way before the scale of coronavirus had been detected.

I was counting on the chance to visit colleges to help me make my decision. Of course, all travel has been cancelled, and all colleges shut down or moved online. I know my peers are feeling that loss of face to face contact as well. Jamie G.’20, who will be attending University of Southern California next year, expressed that her travel plans being derailed definitely affected her decision making, “For a while I really struggled to make my decision. I didn’t have a chance to visit many schools before I got my decisions back, so I was super nervous about the prospect of attending a school I’d never visited. Coming to my decision was ultimately joyful, but the process of deciding was fraught with a lot of uncertainty, especially since the seniors still don’t know if we’ll get to be on campus in the fall. That’s the most discouraging part for me.” 

The question of whether or not we will be able to be on campus in the fall is another factor weighing on people’s decisions. Some colleges have already announced that their fall semester will take place online, while most sit just as uncertain as all of us. It is hard to imagine starting college in my childhood bedroom on my laptop. That simply is not an ideal situation for anyone. Because of this uncertainty, I seriously thought about what it might be like to take a gap year instead of starting this fall. Some of my peers have been talking about going to Pasadena City College or colleges in the area so that their first year of college will at least be in person. For many, this feels like the more economical, reliable, and responsible decision. 

I eventually decided not to take a gap year but to wait and see what happens. Fingers crossed, but no matter what, the start to college will definitely be altered for everyone. 

The end of my high school career is as different from what I imagined as it could be. Many Senior Spring events have been cancelled, but I am mostly heartbroken over the loss of the small moments of community with my fellow seniors and teachers. I so desperately wish that I could’ve had a proper goodbye for my time in high school. The quarantine has made every ending quite anticlimactic. 

Despite the chaos, uncertainty, and loss, I haven’t felt uncelebrated or unloved by Westridge and my community. In fact, because there is not much for people to be doing, I feel like I have received endless emails and texts from those checking in and celebrating me. It feels as though the community is almost just as sad for the seniors as we are for ourselves. Today is our virtual chalk day, and seniors will be sending in photos of their college logo chalked on their own driveways. There will be a Zoom Oh The Places You’ll Go Lunch, an annual Westridge tradition. May has been dubbed senior celebration month, and there are various social media posts and virtual meetings in lieu of celebrations that were supposed to be held at school. 

As I reflect on my year in the college process, there are some key takeaways for me. The process is flawed in so many ways. It is essential to be yourself and be as honest as you can. You can not dwell too much on any rejections or waitlists. And finally, the process feels excruciatingly long, but goes by way faster than you could expect. 

Reflecting on my strange ending to the college process, I believe that the problems with the process were exposed more drastically by the pandemic. My main conclusion is that higher education is not nearly as accessible as it needs to be. If the process is this difficult for a group of girls at a wealthy private school with phenomenal college counselors, it is supremely broken. Education should be ensured for all those who want it. Building resumes and preparing for standardized testing has changed dramatically simply because there is not access during this time. Grades for this semester will be pass/fail. The system in place now simply will not work come this fall. The criteria for college applications must change when the process begins again next year. 

Right now many are asking broad questions wondering if when we are released from quarantine – will we just go back to normal? I think this pandemic should create a shift in the future of college admissions. I think, collectively, we need to take this opportunity to see how we can alter the way we champion higher education for all. College should not cost this much. The process should not cost this much (application fees, SAT prep classes, AP tests, counselors, tutors, prep schools, etc.). The criteria should not only benefit the privileged. I think that we can use this pandemic as a chance to reform the existing system. 

When I head off to my college, whenever that may be, my fellow class of 2020 will always have something in common. We will be able to bond over the strange and jostling ending to our high school career. 

If you want to see where the Class of 2020 is headed to college, go to the instagram account @westridge2020 which is updated daily. 


To view previous articles from this column, click here!

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    Lynn O'GradyMay 15, 2020 at 4:34 pm

    Thank you for sharing yourself and your college process with the broader community. Thank you for caring not only about your “Westridge sisters,” but about ALL students having equal access to the college on a level playing field. I am so impressed with your writing as well as the entire Spyglass staff. We have learned a lot from ALL of you! Congratulations Caroline and the Class of 2020!