Estefanie Velasquez, a rising senior at Oakland Charter High, always wanted to go away for college, perhaps all the way to the Ivy League.
But the coronavirus disrupted those aspirations: Without a computer for months, she had to run online school from her phone, brother’s laptop and cousin’s home. Science promotion programs were no longer an option. And the financial turmoil he witnessed around him intensified his concerns about college recordings.
Above all, she realized that she wanted to be closer to home.
“After a pandemic is, well, when your family needs you the most,” she said. “If something like this happens again, I want to be here instead of the whole country.”
Velasquez is one of many emerging Bay Area high school seniors for whom events of the past 16 months have changed — and in some cases — their plans for life after high school. They are choosing community college, living closer to home or avoiding school altogether.
According to a nationwide survey driven About 80% of high school students in the classes of 2021 and 2022 say the pandemic has affected their postgraduate plans, by the nonprofit group America’s Promise Alliance. The impact may be particularly pronounced, education experts have speculated, for Bay Area seniors who, unlike students in other parts of the country, have spent most or all of their junior years online.
The motivations for change of plans are manifold, but family finances top many students’ minds, whether it is parents who have low incomes or students who are led as family earners and caregivers. Had to play a role. Students also say that their mental health and academic achievement have been affected, making them less competitive or personally prepared for college.
“You have to be really realistic now,” said Lizet Chavez, a rising senior at Lincoln High School in San Jose. “Before, we could imagine different things, like ‘Oh, I want to go to Berkeley, or I want to go to Stanford.’ And now, we have matured.”
She is now aiming for UC Davis or maybe Riverside. She will be the first person in her family to go to college. And while no one directly told him not to dream, the message came when teachers told their classes they were falling behind.
According to academic advisors at Bay Area high schools, the biggest change in student plans is that states are choosing community colleges instead of universities. According to the Promise Alliance of America study, nearly a quarter of children said their plans had changed, now planning to attend year two instead of a four-year institution.
Such growth was already a trend before the pandemic, but it has been accelerated, according to Erica Luna, head counselor at James Logan High School in Union City, which works with about 100 seniors each year.
“It is the students who are socio-economically weak,” she said. “The lack of support and the great challenge of virtual learning certainly pushed that group of students down the community college route, rather than what they would be eligible for.”
Sitiya Akpavu, a recent graduate of Oakland Tech, is one of them. Before the pandemic, he considered the state university system and historically black colleges and universities, but eventually turning down two four-year options, he was admitted in favor of Lan College, a community college in Oakland.
He had his best year of online grades but struggled to find the motivation to make it through the day. He did not want to burden his family financially or the graduate with too much debt.
“A part of me knew that college, in general, would be tough, especially coming out of a pandemic,” he said. “Community college was especially apt for me. I don’t feel completely ready, but you just have to.”
But pandemic-driven decisions like Akpavu could have far-reaching consequences on student life, worry experts.
John Hyster, executive director of Breakthrough Silicon Valley, a nonprofit that helps low-income and first-generation students such as Chavez on their way to college, said he wants to support students and families in their choices. – and community colleges offer good value. But he worried that these institutions could also be difficult to navigate and that relocation plans don’t always go through.
“We have to see both sides of the coin,” he said.
The pandemic has also hit high achieving students. Irena Smith, a former Stanford admissions officer who now advises students applying to competitive colleges, said she’s seen an upheaval in the mental health of kids who had to put away those plans before the COVID lockdown. I had mapped my life before.
She has tried to tell kids that where they go doesn’t end everything: “One of my favorite examples of what the pandemic calls an opportunity is Dr. Anthony Fauci,” she said. “He went to the Holy Cross, and it turned out fine.”
If there’s one silver lining to the pandemic, Smith said, it’s that some of her students are taking the opportunity to redefine what’s important, such as kids who are becoming more present with their families that they play football. Can’t run or robotics for practice. “But when you’re 17 and more ambitious, it’s a very hard lesson to learn,” she said.
Nick Heyman, a rising senior at San Ramon Valley High School, is trying to push it all.
He is thinking of the University of Oregon or the University of Colorado, Boulder. Before the pandemic, he may have aimed high, but his grades during distance learning were “good, but not surprising,” and the type of kids who like to be friends with their teachers, struggled to make connections on Zoom. Heyman also missed out on the all-important junior year extracurricular, which included trying out for the basketball team, which was a disappointment to the avid sports fan.
But he is not bothered by the way things have turned out.
“Everyone is going through this, so I can’t really complain,” he said. “You have to power through the bus.”