When my high school went to virtual learning in early March, I, like many of you, thought this extra time at home was nothing more than a bonus Spring Break.
Back then, I did not know that my last few months of senior year would be spent without afternoon dance rehearsals, prom, or my daily drives to school sprinkled with stops to Starbucks and my favorite Mexican restaurants. At a time when my whole world felt like it was on pause, so much was still happening. I still had to go to class, I still had AP exams, and I still had to choose where to go to college.
Two weeks after my school went virtual, I was scheduled to fly out to interview for a competitive college scholarship, attend a diversity programming weekend for one of the colleges to which I had been accepted, and visit a couple of other colleges for admitted students’ weekends. All of these in-person events became virtual. It was hard to process that during my senior spring – the time I was supposed to spend doing my final round of college visits – I was locked down with my family.
On Ivy Day, I left my room from Zoom classes, went to the kitchen to distract myself by making a smoothie, and then sat down with my laptop to await application decisions. I checked Harvard last. I had gotten in to Harvard and, instead of being able to hug my friends and teachers as I told them the anxiously awaited news, we smiled at each other over FaceTime calls. My senior class did not get our long-awaited end of school party to celebrate College Decision Day, but we did get an awesome drive-through parade put on by our amazing teachers. While our socially distanced and outdoor graduation was postponed not one but two months, there was a sense of solidarity knowing that all the students of the Class of 2020 were going through the same thing worldwide.
In many ways, I feel like choosing a college during a pandemic made me more intentional about attending admissions events and accessing information. While I missed the hurried coffee shop homework sessions with my friends before going to a college fair to stand in long lines to talk to college representatives as I held a stack of college stickers, pamphlets, and contact cards, there was something amazing and beautifully present about being able to sit down and tune in to a college informational webinar over dinner with my family, join a Harvard dance class after a long day of Zoom school, and yes, attend meetings wearing pajama pants :). I made a spreadsheet with categories important to me when considering a college (extracurriculars, distance from home, academics, accessibility, cost, and what my gut was telling me) and rated each college on a scale of 1-10 as I learned more information. This allowed me to compare colleges with a holistic viewpoint and to see if my opinions had evolved. During this time, I genuinely learned about the colleges and myself in ways I do not believe I would have had time for if I had been doing everything in the typical hustle and bustle of a last month of senior year, and I used this to my advantage.
I reached out to connect with current college students like never before – they were my eyes and ears for colleges I had not visited in almost a year or never at all. Every day, I was going to either an information session, student panel, club meeting, webinar, or combination of all four for multiple colleges. Sometimes, the professors and the students on those panels can seem distant (especially when they are on a screen), but I can assure you they have valuable information to share. Who knows - one of those professors you are watching on a panel may turn out to be your professor for one of your classes (as is my case right now!). My parents and I attended numerous virtual tours on Saturday mornings. I got into watching YouTube college blogs (they can be so helpful), and I emailed the colleges when I had questions. I realized that, just as much as a college had chosen me, it was now my turn to choose the college, so I paid a lot of attention to how the colleges were treating their current students and making sure the needs of their students were met in response to the pandemic. Most of all, I talked to current students and alumni on the phone and via email. Harvard and many other colleges have a vast array of programs which allow you to reach out and connect with other students about classes, campus life, and how they chose their college.
I also was very engaged in virtual admitted student weekends and programming. Instead of lasting the usual few days, Harvard’s (Virtual) Visitas spanned the whole month of April, and it was amazing. During this month, I took cooking classes with Harvard dining hall chefs, attended Harvard dance classes, joined a Harvard faith organization's Bible Study series, attended an Association of Black Harvard Women meet-and-greet, participated in a Harvard diversity panel, and was added to a GroupMe with other black prospective students and the class above us to share advice and foster community. Every day, there was a rich assortment of events to attend to learn more about the Harvard community, and my family and I were very impressed. When I reflect on the activities that I am currently involved in at Harvard – the Harvard Radcliffe Modern Dance Company (HRMDC), Harvard College Faith and Action (HCFA), the Association of Black Harvard Women (ABHW), and the Black Students Association (BSA) – I realize I made these connections in March and April, long before I even chose to attend Harvard. In a virtual format, there are so many ways to connect with others, and I highly recommend taking advantage of as many as you can.
In the end, I took a leap and chose Harvard, and I am so happy I did. After having so much time to reach out to other students and learn about Harvard, I felt less nervous when I started college this fall. Because I had so much time to do research and make a calculated college decision, I never questioned it, and I know I made the right choice!