This is a special one. At a time of uncertainty for all of us, five former Insight graduates have taken the time to share the details of their experiences in college during the pandemic. There have been highs and lows and their experiences range from adjusting to the challenges of returning home again unexpectedly during freshman year to dealing with the uncertainty that surrounds college graduation and finding a job in an evolving climate.
Thank you to everyone for your contributions and for sharing this invaluable information, which will be especially impactful to current high school students and to those heading to college for the first time next fall.
High School Class of 2019
University of Michigan
Major: Computer Science (declaring in Fall 2021)
I recently concluded my freshman year at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. I returned home to the Bay Area this spring after all in-person classes were moved to remote instruction. Michigan’s administration aimed to take a proactive rather than reactive approach to the COVID-19 pandemic and began discussing online class formats before there were any confirmed cases in the state or on campus. On Wednesday after we returned from Spring Break (March 11), all students and faculty received an email that classes for the remainder of the week would be canceled, and that remote instruction would begin the following week and continue through the end of the semester. This kicked off a whirlwind of events as thousands of students and staff members on campus had to immediately adapt to the new situation. Our Housing Department kept the dorms and dining halls open for students but strongly urged that we leave campus. My friends and I all moved out of our dorm within the next 4 days and returned to our homes before online classes started that Monday.
It was definitely difficult to cut my traditional freshman year experience short and balance saying goodbye to all of my friends while also juggling packing and storing my items in a matter of hours.
Thankfully, all of my professors were very understanding in the midst of this unprecedented transition and supported me with homework extensions, updated exam formats, and truncating course syllabi. The University also offered a partial refund on housing to students who moved out of the dorms by the end of March. The biggest stress reliever for me was the introduction of a new Pass/Fail grading system that the University implemented to avoid negative penalties for students whose grades might have been affected throughout this time. Those in charge of my extracurricular activities also tried to remain active as we navigated the transition to students being off-campus. I am a part of the student government, and we began to conduct all of our meetings virtually. Similarly, I am on the Web Team of the school newspaper, and fortunately, we have been able to continue to work on individual projects remotely.
Obviously this rapid change has been confusing, scary, and unexpected, but I also feel very well supported by Michigan’s administration and faculty.
Stay healthy, and Go Blue!
High School Class of 2018
Case Western Reserve University
Major: Nutritional Biochemistry & Metabolism
Hello all! My name is Adam and I attend Case Western Reserve University, where I major in Nutritional Biochemistry and Metabolism with a minor in Business Management. I recently finished my sophomore year and had concluded my wrestling season right before the COVID-19 outbreak.
All of my classes from that point on were online, and I was given the option of Pass/Fail or to receive grades.
This has been a challenging time as I had to adjust to working at home; typically I study in the library on campus. All of my classes resumed via Zoom meetings, which required an adjustment but ultimately was pretty laid back. One of my professors even hosted a cooking session after class, which was fun. Ultimately, everyone is in the same position right now, and I feel that my professors were very understanding.
Rather than counting down the day for things to return to normal, I used my time to be productive myself.
I have kept busy by studying for the DAT (dental admissions test), exercising, and organizing my materials and room to study. There are various ways that students can be productive during this time, including virtual volunteering, learning something new online, and exploring a hobby like art, cooking, or exercise.
For any personal tips or advice, feel free to reach out!
High School Class of 2018
Major: Computer Science
On the last Friday of winter quarter in early March, all students at UCLA received an email informing us that the administration had decided to give remote instruction through the entire spring quarter. I was eating dinner with my friends at the time, and while in the back of our minds we knew that this was inevitable given the circumstances, it didn’t hit us until then that we would not be seeing each other for half a year until the next school year in late September, at the earliest.
The next week was finals week, and while finals week already is almost unbearably stressful, I also had to worry about moving out on short notice and making sure that all my business was in order before leaving my dorm for the last time.
It wasn’t until I had arrived home, had taken my online finals, and had spent a few days relaxing that I could reflect and think about the impact that the Coronavirus outbreak would have on my college life. Like most students, I will be moving into an apartment during my third year. This reality meant that I would be missing the last quarter of my opportunity to live on campus in the dorms.
I would be missing my last quarter of enjoying the renowned UCLA dining hall food, living next to all my friends, the late-night work sessions in the common rooms, the conversations in the bathrooms; in essence, I would be missing part of the quintessential college experience. I wouldn’t get to finish any of the year-long projects I had worked on for my clubs, or even have a proper send-off for the graduating seniors, who have probably had the toughest experience out of all the students.
Taking a moment to think about how I’m only in college for a few short years, this realization was honestly pretty depressing. Being locked up at home during spring break instead of seeing all my high school friends as I expected did not help either. However, I am hopeful that good results will come from this experience. I know that I have invaluable time in college still to come, and I hope that I can make the most of it after learning the hard way how precious time is. As I continue to think about what has transpired, I have learned a lot about myself.
High School Class of 2016
University of Southern California
As a senior in college, Covid-19 significantly changed the reality of my last few months in school. Leaving USC to live at home has regrettably taken away the chance to say goodbye to my friends, roommates, and professors. It also altered a number of milestone experiences that I was looking forward to. Although USC postponed in-person commencement activities in favor of a virtual celebration, it didn’t feel the same. Zoom classes during the spring were at times tricky due to connectivity issues, but what I missed most were the classroom and school spirit.
That being said, I’ve noticed that I and many other seniors have learned to adjust to our new reality. And while I understand that this was not ideal for us, it had to be done.
We’ve learned to use other means of staying in touch with our loved ones and continued to adapt throughout the spring, and now into the summer. These circumstances have brought teachers and students closer together in a way, as we all mutually shared the frustrations that came with online classes.
Although this season was rough at times and not what I anticipated, the communal effort of everyone coming together made it easier.
High School Class of 2015
Major: Economics/Administrative Studies
I graduated in March 2020, just as COVID had started to affect schools and the workforce. I count myself incredibly lucky to have graduated when I did, though this timing definitely presented its own challenges.
UC Riverside pivoted to online instruction during finals, and hiring was slowing as I was interviewing for full-time jobs at the time. I also had to figure out how to pack up an entire apartment alone and move home for good in the matter of a few days.
During this time, I realized the importance of a support system. Isolating alone, across the state from my family, and during such a critical and anxiety-inducing time in my academic career, would not have been possible if I hadn’t reached out and asked for help when I needed it. It also showed me the value of all of the preparation that I had done throughout my college career.
I would have had a much harder time finding a job during these conditions if not for the steps I had taken months and even years in advance.
Here are a few things that I did that I believe helped me to get a job during uncertain times:
1. Apply for jobs before the recruiting season begins, and apply aggressively.
I started my job applications the August before I graduated, which put me in the job applicant pool before many of my peers. When you apply for your first job out of college, only a small fraction of applications will lead to interviews. For perspective, I applied to more than 500 jobs and got around 10 interviews. During the months leading up to graduation, I had a goal to apply to at least 20 new jobs a day. This helped me hold on to my head start when COVID started to affect job prospects.
2. Don’t underestimate the power of informational interviews.
The most valuable advice I have received at the beginning of my career has come from asking people in my industry about what they would recommend I do to set myself up to succeed.
3. Don’t be shy at your internship!
Introduce yourself to everyone you can at your company. Ask a million questions. Set up coffee chats with people who have the kind of role you hope to have in the future. Take on challenging projects that you’re not sure you can handle – then work hard, learn lots, and meet the challenge! Your internship can be one of the most important places to grow, put your skills to work, and figure out what you want your future to look like. Take advantage of it.
Thank you so much to our wonderful former students who took the time to contribute their thoughts, feelings, and experiences, both positive and negative. This has been an unprecedented time for everyone, young and old, and your advice to younger students and to your peers is invaluable. Remember, we all have to make choices every day that impact our lives and the lives of those around us. This has been a time of growth and a time you will likely remember for the rest of your lives. Think about your choices, reflect on what has worked and what has not, and know that the team at Insight is always heard to support you.
These interviews were conducted by Insight Senior Counselor Zach Pava.
Zach has guided hundreds of students throughout the college admissions process. His extensive writing background includes essay contributions online and in print, sports blog work, and film reviews. He heads up our Boston Insight Office. Contact us to schedule an initial consultation with Zach today.