DeKalb, IL — This is the first installment of a two-part series on graduating high school seniors.
The senior year of high school is supposed to consist of prom and in-person graduation. Instead, most seniors are confined to their bedrooms doing school work for eight hours to turn around and work on college applications in hopes of a fresh start and a better school year.
The COVID-19 pandemic has shuttered many opportunities for high school seniors looking to apply for college including canceled college tours and standardized tests.
“You basically log off the computer after being on it for seven hours a day, and then it’s like I have to get the computer for three more hours to write an application essay or even research schools,” said Miranda Zanca, from Lincoln Park High School in Chicago.
Prior to the pandemic, Zanca had the chance to visit the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, one of the schools she ended up applying to.
Zanca said the rest of her college tours were done virtually, but what really helped was watching college tours posted on YouTube uploaded by current students which showed a more realistic view of the schools.
“It's hard to sort of make a decision based off of all of these factors when you don't actually know what the atmosphere of the school is like, and you can’t meet people and talk to them about it,” Zanca said.
John Bates, enrollment services counselor/recruiter at Rust College in Holly Springs, Mississippi, said it's unknown what the college campus will look like this fall, but recruiters are still encouraging students to fill out college applications and participate in virtual tours of the campus.
“We need to make sure our students come in and are ready to go to school in August because this is the most important decision they have to make right now in their lives, so they should find a school they feel comfortable with through doing virtual tours or on campus ones,” Bates said.
Other students such as Enija Carter, from Perspectives Leadership Academy in Chicago, said they are contemplating whether the college application process is worth it if the fall semester will be similar to 2020.
“I don't want to just go and be stuck in a dorm by a computer because that defeats the whole purpose,” Carter said. “It’s something I have to think about, but I do want to go to college after high school.”
Many high school seniors are stuck deciding whether they should take a gap year or take community college courses instead. Many colleges use the Common Application, which received 8% fewer applications through Nov. 2 compared to 2019, and 60% of its 921 colleges were reporting application declines.
Carter, who wants to study business in college, is thinking about spending a year at a community college then transferring to a university of her choice so she knows her money will be well spent.
The college application process for Zoe West, of Gary Comer College Prep in Chicago, hasn’t been as hard as she thought it would be due to the help of virtual tours of the campus.
“The college application process is going okay, I wish that there was more support that would have been given because the college process sometimes can be very stressful and overwhelming,” West said. “I wish that a lot more students had that support during this time.”
West said students need to choose a school where they'll be the most comfortable next year, with the pandemic in mind.
“Your mental health comes first, so pick whatever college makes you comfortable because I struggle with that and I think that's the most important thing to consider when applying,” she said.