The struggle is real: applying to college in a pandemic is no joke

Seniors+Mary+Serrato+%28upper+left%29%2C+Ivette+Solorzano+%28upper+right%29%2C+Evelyn+Parra+%28lower+left%29+and+Marielena+Mendoza+%28lower+right%29+meet+on+Zoom+to+give+each+other+support+and+encouragement+as+they+complete+their+college+applications+online.

Ivette Solorzano

Seniors Mary Serrato (upper left), Ivette Solorzano (upper right), Evelyn Parra (lower left) and Marielena Mendoza (lower right) meet on Zoom to give each other support and encouragement as they complete their college applications online.

Ivette Solorzano, Design Assistant / Staff Writer

Senior year- the last and most exciting year for students: from college applications to spending the last few moments of your youth with friends and family before stepping into adulthood. Senior year is supposed to be the year students enjoy the time they have left with their friends before going on separate pathways; this year, however, finds seniors trapped away at home doing all their schooling alone and in isolation. Some problems have erupted from this isolation. Multiple seniors are scrambling to finish their college applications in time, and many find themselves procrastinating on even the most simplistic assignments. Online learning has drained the motivation out of most seniors. With no incentive to finish their work, many find themselves falling behind.

Pandemics happen once every hundred years, and it hit right as many seniors were beginning their college applications. Online school became the new normal as the hope of returning to school dimmed each month. Class of 2021 has prepared themselves for the likelihood of graduating in a virtual setting. Seniors this year must keep themselves accountable for finishing their college applications on time and combat procrastination.

This year will be the first time seniors have to complete their applications on their own without a teacher watching over their progress. Alumni Ana Gonzalez shared her experience applying to colleges: 

“As I was applying to colleges, I realized that AVID teachers do understand the population of students they are helping, which are mostly students like me who are first-gen. They are the ones to keep students on their feet in order to ensure we meet all the deadlines in the college admissions process. Receiving help from both Ms. Nguyen, who butchered but beautified my personal statements and Mrs. Storms, who reviewed my personal statements ensuring my deadlines were being met. Mrs. Espinosa also sat beside me as she reviewed my application and right as I submitted my UC application.”

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As I was applying to colleges, I realized that AVID teachers do understand the population of students they are helping, which are mostly students like me who are first-gen. They are the ones to keep students on their feet in order to ensure we meet all the deadlines in the college admissions process. Receiving help from both Ms. Nguyen, who butchered but beautified my personal statements and Mrs. Storms, who reviewed my personal statements ensuring my deadlines were being met. Mrs. Espinosa also sat beside me as she reviewed my application and right as I submitted my UC application.”

— Ana Gonzalez

Seniors this year are expected to complete their entire last year online and have lost part of their support system which includes friends, teachers, and counselors. As alumni Mendoza described with her experience, many students thrive off the energy provided by their peers, but isolation makes it difficult for them to complete their assignments without a form of motivation. 

Some people might find it awkward emailing teachers asking for help or for letters of recommendation. It was more personal face-to-face before the pandemic since we could get an immediate response; it was more comfortable for students to talk to teachers because it’s not as distant as an email is. Senior Evelyn Parra says, “One teacher did not respond [to my email]; I didn’t get an answer at all. Another one responded kinda late. It’s difficult because it depends on if the teacher checks their email or not.” Getting responses is something that some students may be struggling with. Application deadlines could be different depending on what school a student is applying to and what type of admission they are doing. Students doing Early Action or Early Decision have deadlines sooner than those with Regular Decision; a teacher responding late or not at all for their request may stress them out. Teachers are doing their best to help out, but it can be troubling to catch up on emails when they get sent many in a day.

Velina Espinosa, high school counselor, has noted that the amount of students asking for help is around the same as the previous years. Mrs. Espinosa, along with College Bound adviser Selena Perez, has held online application workshops after school to help out seniors with their FAFSA and college applications. It has been a challenge to figure out ways to help students.

“This year, helping students has been challenging. I have been in Senior AVID working alongside Ms. Nguyen for many weeks. I have been walking students through the various applications, answering questions, troubleshooting issues. It is challenging because as I present information, I’m never quite sure where students are in the process. I cannot see their applications like I did in-person walking around the AVID classroom. I plan to create a video reviewing the questions/mistakes that students are making on their UC and CSU applications. I hope to be able to reach more students with the video.”

The pandemic has also affected some students’ choices in school. Some are choosing to stay close to home because of financial worries or fear of a loved one getting sick. When asked about her choice in schools, Parra responded: “I feel like it’s affecting me based on money because I want to stay closer to home and help my parents because the pandemic has affected us financially and not dorming, although I really want to dorm, for the sake of money is the main priority for me.” Other students are choosing to go farther because they seek independence and a place away from home. Senior Mary Serrato says, “[the pandemic] makes me want to live on campus more than anything rather than just commute, only because I want to have the full college experience.” Serrato expressed how her unhappiness at missing out this year with online classes has fueled her desire to not miss out on any more important events.

One of the more significant barriers to overcome this year is procrastination. Many students find themselves falling behind on their work due to being unmotivated or worn out. Senioritis is a term that many people have heard; it means the lack of motivation felt by students in their last year of high school. Some people may feel it more than others, while some may not feel it at all.

Online learning is not for everyone, and many people find themselves procrastinating more with online classes. Senior Marielena Mendoza talked about her experience with procrastinating on her college applications.

“I feel like we have more accountability cause you see the teachers every day, but here it’s kinda easy to slide under the radar and procrastinate more. So I’ve been procrastinating, and I would say I’m behind compared to other people but not so behind where I should be worrying yet. I would say [I feel] a little overwhelmed because even though they try to give us resources and all that stuff, it still feels like we’re trying to navigate it by ourselves.”

She continued by saying she tries to combat procrastination by writing her assignments down on her planner to remind herself that she has work to do.

Parra also mentioned how she has had difficulty with online school saying, “I learn better face-to-face, but now that it’s through Zoom, I feel like I’m not learning anything. It’s just busywork at this point. I’m doing whatever now.”

Other people, however, find themselves doing better with online classes. Serrato mentioned that she feels online school has been easier than in-person instruction because “it’s more flexible, and I can take my time more to understand [the lessons] better [compared] to when we were in person and I had to do everything in a rush.” She has been on top of her work this year and finished her college applications before the deadlines. She uses a planner to keep herself organized and said that quarantine has made her more productive because it’s “really boring and I don’t have a lot of things to do so it’s something I can do and get my mind off [of things] instead of just being in my room all day and doing nothing.”

The most common emotion felt by seniors this year was the disappointment in not being able to return to school or see their friends. Seniors will be missing out on their senior activities and have already had Grad Nite canceled. Ana Mendoza mentioned that senior year was a nice way to say goodbye to everybody.

“I don’t know how people feel about high school, but I personally loved it. Senior week was a nice way to reminisce about the past and say goodbye to four years of your life. I think it’s sad that seniors might miss the opportunity because even if they did not like high school, it is still a fun time to just hang out with your friends before they go on their way; it’s harder to connect after high school.”

Many students have prepared themselves for the possibility of spending the entire year online. Many expressed their disappointment. Below are some quotes by seniors when asked about possibly not returning to school.

Marielena Mendoza stated, “Over the summer, I was being realistic- we’re probably not gonna have our senior year- like I wasn’t very hopeful so I feel like I’ve prepared myself for that reality. I don’t think it’s a possibility anymore.” 

Parra said, “I really wanted us to go back in person. I know it’s for the sake of our health, but I really wanted the pandemic to hopefully go away so that we can at least learn in person and be able to do stuff in person. It kinda sucks because after class it’s just me alone and you don’t really socialize with anybody. Some of us are social humans and we need interactions; that’s how I am. Online learning doesn’t feel the same; it’s not like we’re in school.”

Serrato said, “I would say that it would suck [not coming back]. I’d definitely be bummed about it. But at the end of the day, I’d rather be safe than risk my whole family and others.”

Online learning has become a challenge for everyone; students and teachers must work together to overcome the difficulties presented by this new system of learning.