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Surviving the College Process in 2020

by Felicity Acevedo and Lavon Sykes

For the Class of 2021, our future for the next four years lies in the hands of social media and the internet. Due to COVID-19, college campus visits aren’t permitted, leading us to resort to informational Zoom sessions to get a sense of what attending the host university will entail.

Annabel Sexton-Daldry, a senior at East Side Community High School explained how the pandemic has affected her college list: “Virtual tours have definitely changed my list and I’m a little scared that I’m going to regret the list I made once I see the schools in person.” It is hard for students to get a sense of what they’re getting themselves into without visiting the campus and that is leading to doubt about whether or not they would like to attend that institution.

COVID-19 has also affected students' decisions on how far they’d like to move to, Daldry goes on to say: “I thought I wanted to be in a completely different country before all of this, but with everything going on now I want to be closer to NYC.” In other words, because of the uncertainty of everything as of now, and the inability to visit far colleges, students are making sure they’re closer to the city.

Although the college process was a difficult time before, it has now become heightened. In past years, seniors had the privilege of traveling to schools they were interested in. Now, we are encouraged to avoid visiting campus and join live Zoom calls with the school instead.

On top of college essays, keeping up with assignments, and staying safe during the pandemic, students are becoming overwhelmed by the workload. Lee Ann Perez, a senior at East Side, said, “I personally find that COVID has made school much much harder to succeed in. Before COVID I had my workload under control, but once quarantine and remote learning started, it became really hard to keep the flow of work under control. I partly attribute this to me not being in the space where I'm used to focusing, my normal work environment.” Being at home can impact students psychologically. For many students, home is synonymous with sleep and relaxation. With many students joining Zoom sessions from their beds or couches, it’s not hard to believe that students may struggle to put forth their best work in environments not at all conducive to it.

America is in the midst of the college application scramble. In addition to writing supplemental essays and answering Common Application questions, seniors also have to find time to sit with their families and work through financial aid applications. In many cases, parents are not able to recall how they did their financial aid applications, and the task of filling out delicate information correctly falls on the student.

At smaller schools like East Side, we are blessed with an amazing college counseling team, with three counselors for about eighty students, plus advisors who provide extra help. Our college counselor Jerome teaches an hour class for us each week, where he uses the time to talk about FAFSA, CSS, TAP, scholarships, and how to do supplemental essays. Usually, we’d be able to go to the college office right next to the principal’s office.

Even though COVID has stopped any of us from being in school, email and Zoom communication is a jewel of a resource. The team is unbelievably quick to respond to emails about scholarships, how to complete parts of an application, and financial aid difficulties. Unfortunately, at many other schools the counselor ratio may be 1 for every 80 students, posing a slew of difficulties for many students.

Marcus Sutton, a senior at Edward R. Murrow High School, acknowledges the added difficulties of online school. He speaks about blended learning, the other format of school, where students are able to go into school for classes on a limited amount of days. “On the topic of problems, it is an additional stressor working in a blended model because it is very hard to get in contact with people (teachers, advisors, program organizers, etc.) and when you need them most, you struggle to get a hold of them,” Sutton said.

Due to school not being full-time anymore, students have gained more independence when it comes to completing assignments on their own. This can be relieving for students, but challenging at the same time because students don’t have a support system anymore as they would at school. Luna Azcurrain, a senior at East Side, says, “Being home alone gives me a lot of freedom, one of the challenging parts of that freedom is not being able to time manage and stay focused. I’m not 100% focused when I’m doing my work because I know I'll have more time to do it later but then time goes by really fast and I end up having more work to do in a small amount of time.”

Moreover, procrastination has become more common upon students since they’re given extra time to complete assignments and nobody to keep them on task. Therefore, the new leeway students are given because of remote learning has been very difficult to keep in check nowadays especially concerning the college process.

Even for students who don’t face many issues from procrastination, the work can be hard to complete if you’re a first generation student, or have little support from adults at home. Our college counselor, Jerome, weighs in on this issue: “In addition to the disparities regarding access to technology, a safe, quiet place for students to work, internet access, and the ever so crucial human interaction - it has been a struggle for many students to get started in a process that is foreign to many that are considered ‘the first generation.” From my perspective, I understand that I have to be more open and flexible, but the message students need to let sink in is that I am not a mind reader. Asking for help does not only come in asking a question - if you are confused, anxious, depressed, or indecisive, that also qualifies as a reason for students to reach out!” There is never a time where you have to sit down in front of your laptop and complete anything alone. Jerome, Sayra, and Anjie are all great resources. It’s only a matter of reaching out.

With college applications due right around the corner, it seems like scram time for seniors. Fortunately they’re not alone in their struggle.

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