The College Process Amidst a Global Pandemic

By: Allison Foley (Reporter ‘21)

Each year, seniors begin the infamous college process. It can be daunting and nerve-racking, but also exciting, as we prepare ourselves for the next chapter of our lives. This year, things are obviously a little bit different. As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the college process has taken a different form for the class of 2021. I talked to seniors Lily Forbes, Harper Will and Charlie Schwartz about how the process has been for them amidst the current global pandemic.

Because of the shift to online learning as well as the impossibility for and danger surrounding most travel, some challenges have arisen during the application process. Lily Forbes mentioned that one thing that has been difficult is envisioning herself at different schools: “I was supposed to do my college visits over spring break, but that was when everything shut down; so I haven’t been able to visit most of the colleges I’m applying to. While I’ve taken virtual tours, this makes it very hard for me to know what it would be like to walk on campus.” Many students who had plans to see schools still have yet to set foot on the campus. Without knowing what it feels like to be physically present at a school, current seniors do not have the sense of certainty that is usually felt once people have seen a school.

The process has also become a lot more independent for seniors this year. Since we are not having in-person school, it is a little bit harder to connect with teachers and counselors. A student can’t just walk down the hall to ask a quick question as they usually would. Although email and Zoom meetings have been helpful, it is not the same as it was. Charlie Szwartz says, “When I have a question I don’t always want to send an email or set up a meeting. I’ve been trying to take a lot of stuff on my own.”

The pandemic has changed a lot of people’s perspectives on college. When I spoke to Harper Will, she pointed out how much of a lifestyle change college will be for most of us who have been at home, without great amounts of interaction most of this year. “I’ve been at home so much--I’ve been at home for eight or nine straight months--and it’s really made me consider what it’s going to be like to not be stuck within my house and to live somewhere else. I think it’s going to be a harsher transition because we have all been with our families for so long, and we haven’t been going to school on a daily basis.” It will be interesting to see how the shift into college life will feel for us, given the lack of face-to-face school and social activities that this year has provided for us.

As we watch how different this year has been for current college students, many seniors are probably wondering what their own academic and social lives will be like during college if the pandemic still has a prominent presence. Lily says, “A huge part of college is the experience and being with the people there, so I’m curious as to how the pandemic would affect that for me.” Charlie Szwartz, however, says that his perspective on college hasn’t changed too much: “I think I will have some time for the typical college experience, whether it starts in freshman year or in senior year. My mindset is that I’ll get there, I’ll see what happens, and I’ll come out more educated no matter what.”

Although this process has been challenging in midst of the pandemic, there have been some silver linings. With the shift to virtual information sessions and campus tours, colleges far away from Philadelphia are more accessible. A student interested in a school in California, for example, can talk to admissions officers and get a decent sense of the campus without needing to book a flight across the country. Harper says, “I can do information sessions, virtual tours, and interviews from home. I think that’s been really beneficial because I don’t have to worry about missing any school or how I’m going to get there; so that has been really convenient.”

As decisions start to return to the seniors, there is a general nervousness. But, if 2020 has taught us anything, it is that things don’t always go as expected. Regardless of where students get in or don’t get in, I think it is important to recognize how well we have handled this difficult and confusing situation that none of us would have seen coming. I wish everyone good luck with their decisions, and I can’t wait to see what everyone plans on doing as they embark on the next phase of their lives.