A leap of faith: choosing a college during a global pandemic

Normally, April is a time when Colorado Academy Seniors return from Spring Break and bounce into our office to share decisions that they’ve finally received from colleges. While many CA students have wrapped up their college search earlier in the year, a number of students wait to choose a school until closer to May 1, National Decision Day.

April is a time when Seniors and their parents trek out across the country to make one final (or first!) visit to experience the schools that have said…“Yes!” On their end, colleges roll out the red carpet with welcome folders, gifts, tours, panels, class visit opportunities, and family BBQ lunches on their sprawling springtime quads. Eager Admissions Officers scan nametags, hoping to meet students they’ve read about or to see familiar faces.

The goal of all this is the Aha!—the moment when something clicks for the student: these are my people, this is my place, I have a plan!

For the Class of 2020, nearly all of this has been lost now, more salt in the wound as they mourn many culminating high school experiences that won’t quite look the same. We now find ourselves celebrating their college decisions from afar. One student wrote to his college counselor with a subject line that made us laugh and cry: “HOLY BANANAS!!!” This is all bananas!

College decisions in unchartered waters

Here are some quick tips to help Seniors see through the fog as they make final college decisions.

You are not alone: Remember that there are thousands of students in the Class of 2020 who are making decisions about college under less-than-ideal circumstances. Even close to home, you’ll find peers who have not seen some or any of their colleges.

Have courage: This will be an adventure like no other, so be gentle with yourself, and muster as much courage as you can to make the most of this situation. Who are you, and who do you want to be? That is a hard question to ponder! Do you have adults or peers in your life who know you well and can weigh in, as you make a decision? (You can always Zoom with your college counselor!) What about a friend, cousin, mentor, or teacher?

Take your time: May 1 is still weeks away. Some of your colleges have even shifted to June 1 deposit deadlines. There is time. Give yourself space to approach this decision slowly and thoughtfully.

Sit with the discomfort: That Aha! moment? It might not happen for you. We work with many students who don’t ever feel that Aha! in their gut. Sure enough, the Aha! will come when you least expect it, perhaps when you return to campus for your second semester (or even second year), or maybe when you wear your school’s colors and cheer at a game, solve that tough math problem with your classmates, or sing along at a coffeehouse concert….Aha! Your heart will be at peace.

Weigh your priorities: This is a good moment for you to soak up the information your school provides and make sure that, objectively, your colleges are the right academic, personal, and financial fit. Make that spreadsheet you always imagined using, the one where you identify your priorities and interests, choose a scale, and evaluate each of your colleges based on your criteria.

Remember that no college is perfect: As you’ve now heard many times, college is what you make of it. Inevitably, aspects of your dream college will let you down. But how you think through these imperfections and find your way forward (or out, if necessary) will deepen your powers of acceptance, joy, strength, and empathy. I recently caught up with an alumna who had second thoughts last Spring when she learned that first-year students were placed in triples (meaning she would have two, not one roommate). But it turned out the combination of personalities and space ended up being just right in her slightly-cramped dorm. She is happy.

Take that leap

I ask Seniors to consider this a leap of faith. Even when everything is ostensibly known—the Quidditch team remains undefeated, the dining hall makes killer pancakes, you felt alive when you toured campus on that chilly winter’s day—so much remains unknown. Your story has yet to be written: you don’t know what your major will be, which professors will change your life, what languages you’ll learn, how you will be challenged and prevail.

When I graduated from Colorado Academy and headed to Sarah Lawrence College in 2001 (seeing the campus for the first time on a muggy September afternoon at orientation), I had no reason to imagine the unimaginable events of 9/11 and how they would shape my experience. I didn’t know that I would call New York City home long after college. And I definitely wouldn’t have guessed that I would find my way around the sun and home to Colorado Academy nearly two decades later. Aha!

Seniors, you’ve got this!