Seniors Seek Certainty Amidst Pandemic as College Plans Change

This op-ed article was written for the student newspaper at my high school. Published June 2020.

Some personal information and information about interviewed subjects have been omitted for our privacy. Omitted information will be indicated with brackets.

Senior year for the Class of 2020 is all a little anticlimactic. As you have already noticed, this issue of the newspaper is a bit different than normal, just as everything else has been in the last few months. Because of the switch to remote learning and the closure of in-person schooling, there has been less intensity and volume in school that’s not typical of the end of the year, where finals loom over and the workload increases to prepare for testing.

As a high school student, there is always going to be something wrong or inconvenient in this situation because of how different it is from a normal week at school. As a senior, we have missed the opportunities to do the traditional senior activities that some of us have been looking forward to since freshman year.  Some of us are going to the same colleges and will see each other again while others go to colleges, jobs, and apprenticeships that are miles away from Lacey. While there is some privilege in wanting the little activities like these, we were just looking forward to that last pomp and circumstance to end the year.

In the beginning of self-isolation, I was feeling more optimistic and less aware of the scale of this pandemic. I thought virtual learning wasn’t going to be that bad for a couple weeks. Then, once the year was called off and online learning was to be the new norm, the biggest question I had in my head and a lot of senior’s heads was: what happens after graduation?

For those of us going to college in the fall, it was supposed to be the time we took our first step into higher education on a campus that we loved. Though, it looks like continuing remote learning is inevitable, and it might hurt freshmen the most.

The opportunity to learn the campus, join clubs and athletics, connect with professors, and network are lost when you aren’t on campus. “These social engagements can add to one’s experience at a school and without these opportunities students may feel disconnected to the school they attend.” said [staff member]. Freshmen and transfer students will most likely have a difficult time making those connections if they are confined to a Zoom call. Thus, the worry continues.

At home, I’ve still busied myself with remote learning, studying for the AP exams, and working to finish out high school, but the back of my head is still always asking, what’s next? Will we get to move into a dorm in the fall, or will we continue remote learning?

Senior [student name] shares some of that worry about the fall. “[W]hile I’ll likely be taking the same classes as I would be without COVID-19, it’s pretty uncertain whether we’ll be able to take classes in person or if we’ll have to maintain remote learning.” [omitted information]

Another senior, [student name], added, “I hope that our country becomes ready to live in dorms and be released from quarantine, but I have a feeling we will likely have to stay at home doing online classes again.” [omitted information]

Of course, every college is different and is going to have different ways of approaching the situation. Recently, the entirety of the California State University system, a large public university system in the country with 22 campuses, announced that their fall quarter will be online. It’s still a little early, but they are being realistic, and I guess that’s the better way to approach the situation without being overly optimistic.

Senior [student name] is keeping her fingers crossed that college will be in-person come the fall. “I’m not sure what I’d do if it doesn’t.” She added that a gap year is under consideration. [omitted information]

This option of taking a gap year or leave of absence has popped up for high school seniors that are college-bound all over the country because some believe online college is not worth the tuition money.

“It really does worry me knowing we have to pay so much money to do online classes, I can see why people wouldn’t want to go to college now.” [student name] said.

Taking a gap year would most likely mean getting a job to alleviate the financial stress that this pandemic has put on their families. “Obviously, there is concern that if students take a year off [it could affect] whether they will return to school the following year or not.” [staff member] adds.

This is not the option that I, personally, will be taking, but it was worth considering as I will be attending a private school on the east coast. There’s the issue of when to purchase plane tickets, the higher tuition cost, and adjusting to an east coast time for classes. I’m afraid the quality of education for the same price tag might not be worth the cost, but continuing school without pause is one of the larger advantages.

[Student name] said she is not considering a gap year either. “Continuing into college while what I’ve learned in high school is fresh is the best way for me to maintain my motivation and ability….Additionally, any scholarships I received would be void if I wasn’t attending school in the fall.”

If this pandemic has taught me anything, it’s that accepting uncertainty is important to stay sane. Moving forward is the best option to alleviate the stress.

“No one is going to take better care of you than you!…Even in the face of COVID-19, keep your goals in mind and keep working toward them–maybe more slowly, maybe differently, but keep working toward your goals…Continue to be flexible on your journey.” said [staff member].

In the end, there are still so many unknowns about college for high school seniors. While the National Decision Day has passed and many seniors have already solidified their plans, this pandemic continues to put stress on families of incoming college freshmen in a way that means the potential for another year of remote learning.

[Staff member] leaves this bit of advice, “When people have no control over situations as big as what college will look like in the fall, it can help to remember that the fall is just a point in time. Likewise, the start of college is a point in time; whether college starts this September or next January, students who are determined to get a college education will get it. Stick to the plans over which people do have control, and the worry of this point in time will lose its power.”