In a final year of high school spent largely online, seniors are putting the finishing touches on college applications due in the coming days.
University of California extended its Nov. 30 deadline to Friday due to technical difficulties, while California State University has extended to Dec. 15. Private schools have various deadlines; the University of San Francisco is taking applications until Jan. 15.
Nine months into a grueling pandemic spent learning online in different home environments, students are struggling as they apply for colleges and look forward to their next chapter. Some are able to focus at home while others with crowded living conditions or parents who are unemployed may have a harder time.
“They seem more overwhelmed than last semester,” said Diane Gray, executive director of a program in the Bayview-Hunters Point for low-income youth called 100% College Prep. “‘’We have more work to do on top of the fact that we’re trying to apply for colleges and we’re trying to do scholarships’ — that’s what we’re hearing from many of our high school seniors.”
Students have received at least some of the extra support they’ve needed through 100% Percent College Prep, which also runs a city community learning hub. This year’s senior class of about 21 students has actually nabbed more than $640,000 in scholarship awards, nearly double the roughly $325,000 secured the previous year, according to Gray.
Shavonne Hines-Foster, a senior at Lowell High School and a school board student delegate, recently nabbed a $10,000 scholarship and is waiting to hear back on more to avoid taking out loans. She began applying to some 25 schools — CSUs, UCs and some historically Black colleges and universities (known as HBCUs) — in the summer as part of the program.
“I’ve been able to manage it but it does get hard sometimes,” Hines-Foster said of juggling applications, distance learning and being a student delegate. “I think there’s definitely a lot of issues around mental health that needed to be addressed.”
While much energy is spent in bringing younger and needier students to in-person learning, teens who have been more independent during distance learning still need support. Hines-Foster suggested better access to counselors and wellness centers, like an on-call therapist or guidance counselor.
St. Ignatius College Preparatory senior Erika Morris said she has to teach herself a lot and that reaching teachers is harder when distance learning is prone to miscommunication and bad connection.
“This has really tested me to know where my limits are,” Morris said. “This is a very stressful time in general of just applying to colleges, then you add being on Zoom all day, then you add extracurricular being on Zoom all day, then you add homework. I had a week of school where I just didn’t go because I had a bad migraine.”
Morris, who also began working on applications in the summer with help from 100% College Prep, is applying to 19 schools. She is mostly focused on attending HBCUs and noted she has never had a Black teacher outside of a physical education instructor during her Catholic school education.
While some college applications have moved away from requiring standardized testing for admissions, the lack of test scores can reduce scholarship opportunities. Morris is unable to take a standardized test due to coronavirus and doesn’t feel like the tests reflect her grades anyway; she is waiting to hear back from scholarships and has received $100 so far.
“Every penny counts at this point,” Morris said. “Scholarships are what my family needs right now.”
On the other hand, DeeJohn Thompson, a senior at charter Gateway High School, said he’s had some time to get used to online learning and it has made college applications manageable. He’s applying to some 21 colleges and appreciates help from 100% College Prep in finding scholarships.
Thompson feels his teachers have been accessible and he has had an easy time asking for help while learning online, and it also has freed up time.
In managing their own schedules and working on their own, high schoolers now have a taste of being an independent college student.
“I’ve figured out a lot about myself. I’m actually really thankful for that,” Thompson said. “Online has really opened my eyes. It’s more flexible.”
But the Western Addition native recognizes that some of his peers have given up and teachers may have a hard time detecting that. Thompson also misses social interactions and hopes other senior rites of passage like prom and graduation will be able to be in-person.
“I just want to go back and talk to everyone,” Thompson said. “At school, it’s a different thing every day, you talk to different people. Being online kind of suppresses that.”