Schools & Education

On the road to college during the pandemic

High school seniors face new challenges when it comes to applying to universities.

This article was written by BenitoLink reporter intern Olivia Madera.

As 2021 unfolds, some high school seniors are preparing to become college students. But the road to college isn’t always easy, especially during a pandemic.

Since the early weeks of March 2020, colleges have shut their doors in fear of exposing students and staff to COVID-19. With the pandemic ongoing, some high school seniors struggle with not being able to afford college, limited campus tours, and a lack of motivation for all things related to school. Some students haven’t decided on a college yet.

SBHS senior Cathy Nguyen. Photo by Olivia Madera.
SBHS senior Cathy Nguyen. Photo by Olivia Madera.

“I’m still waiting for UC decisions, but because of finances I might have to attend a CSU,” said Cathy Nguyen, a senior at San Benito High School.

Students have also faced financial hardships due to the pandemic, and college costs on top of that don’t help. Nguyen’s housing plan may involve living with her sister while she attends San Jose State University. 

“San Jose isn’t my first choice, but if I do go there and live with my sister, then that would take a lot of financial burden off of myself,” she said.

Because of the pandemic, there has been an increase in seniors applying for financial aid and scholarships to help pay for tuition. Nguyen said that she didn’t know how to apply for financial aid or scholarships, yet she managed to do so on her own, as it was hard for the school to communicate with seniors about college counseling and support. This resulted in added stress and responsibilities for Nguyen and other seniors.

Nguyen’s “library,” as she put it, was her bedroom. She said she was burdened with balancing schoolwork and family life, and that she even started using her bed as her desk, as other students do when attending Zoom classes and studying for online exams. 

If she were in school, Nguyen said, “I would have been better organized and motivated in my school work and college journey.”

While the pandemic has affected student mental health, colleges stepped up their communications and now rely on social media, emails, and text messages to connect with students and share the latest information. 

Nguyen and other seniors said they found the increased number of emails annoying or discouraging.

San Benito High School senior Eddie Schmidt. Photo by Olivia Madera.
San Benito High School senior Eddie Schmidt. Photo by Olivia Madera.

Among the emails students received about virtual college tours, San Benito High School senior Eddie Schmidt actually got to visit some campuses with his family. 

“Location was an easy way to root out colleges I didn’t care for,” Schmidt said.

He said he wanted to be fairly close to home, not too far away, so he would have a sense of what it’s like to be on his own.

The pandemic took away the experience seniors would have gotten with in-person college tours, and replaced it with virtual campus tours. So Schmidt and his family created self-guided college tours by going to campuses such as UC-Berkeley and Saint Mary’s College of California in Moraga. He said a lot of the online tours didn’t provide the impact of being on a college campus and seeing it with his own eyes. 

“The online tours were more limited to areas you could see, and you weren’t able to take in what a real college experience was like,” Schmidt said.

With several campus environments to explore, Schmidt said he is excited about college, even though he is not set on a specific career yet. 

“In pursuing a degree in history, I want my career to be meaningful to both myself and others while also making the world a better place,” he said.

Kiani McKeon, a SBHS senior who wants to practice environmental law, takes Schmidt’s goal of improving the world to heart. 

“It is something I am very passionate about,” she said of her planned major.

San Benito High School senior Kiani McKeon. Photo by Olivia Madera.
San Benito High School senior Kiani McKeon. Photo by Olivia Madera.

McKeon wants to teach others that people have to start fixing the negative environmental impacts the world is facing now, because they might not be so easy to fix later on.

Because of the pandemic, a lot of college majors were impacted at CSU and UC schools. McKeon explained that though her major wasn’t always known to be competitive, environmental science degrees have become more in demand since the pandemic took hold. 

“It just depends on where you are in the United States,” McKeon said. “It is more difficult to pursue an environmental studies career in California.”

McKeon has committed to attending UC-Davis. She said that if she gets to go to college in person, “the transition from online to in-person learning implemented in a college setting would be an incredibly difficult impact to adjust to,” adding that it will be hard to remember what life and school were like before the pandemic.  

McKeon and others committed to attending UC-Davis don’t yet know if classes will be in-person or online next fall. Housing arrangements are still undecided for most colleges, and seniors like McKeon hope to live on campus for their first year of college.

“I’m ready to have my independence and experience adulthood,” she said.

The pandemic has taken a lot away from current high school seniors—they can’t have a prom, graduation, college tours, or any large high school traditions. But Nguyen, Schmidt, and McKeon are hopeful for the future. The eagerness, drive, and passion for independence these seniors possess will help them through their college journey.



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Olivia Madera