Defining My Future During COVID


Natalie Isberg

With the existence of Covid-19, students face an unprecedented challenge when making plans for their future.

Long before COVID-19 forced colleges and universities across the nation to close their campuses, while the novel coronavirus was still a piece of news trivia for those in the United States, I had made plans to visit half a dozen colleges during spring break of my junior year. My father and I had carefully planned and scheduled a road trip that would allow me to visit a veritable smorgasbord of colleges: tiny liberal arts colleges in small towns and well-renowned universities in the center of New York City. I had a notebook full of questions and facts for each college.

I never made that trip.

Instead, I sat at home and clicked through virtual tours and college rankings trying to get a feel for the schools. The longer I stared at those abstract data points and arbitrary rankings, the more confused I became.

Trying to figure out where to apply for college is overwhelming, even in an average year. Students have to choose from thousands of colleges. We have to have at least a vague idea of what we want to pursue and make choices that could affect our entire lives based on that idea. It’s an insanely difficult decision. 

This year, high school seniors are faced with a global pandemic and its devastating economic impacts while simultaneously navigating the journey to college. Even beyond the pandemic, this summer was one of extremely volatile racial and political tensions and environmental disasters. Yet, the world lurches forward and we are expected to keep up.

But while the world’s foundations shift and crack, we are expected to bring our lives into focus. Like a telescope being meticulously focused by an astronomer while an earthquake shatters his lenses, my attempts to define my future are almost completely futile. 

It’s not just the mental difficulties of trying to figure it out either. COVID-19 has presented a significant logistical challenge for people to overcome. I was first scheduled to take the ACT in April, but it was canceled due to the pandemic. Luckily, there would be plenty of other opportunities for me to take the test, and it gave me a little bit more time to prepare. Three more testing dates came and went, and they were all canceled. Eventually I was able to take it, albeit wearing a mask and farther from home than I would have liked, but many students across the country face similar troubles and may be unable to take it. 

 Extending the already stressful and taxing process of preparing for standardized tests for months longer than originally expected was not good for my performance on the test or my mental health. As the months went on, my motivation to study became less intense and both the quantity and quality of my preparation declined as I got closer to when I would actually take the test. 

Visiting colleges also became something that disrupted my college search rather than aiding in my decision. Towards the end of summer, I visited my brother in Worcester, Massachusetts, and used the trip as an opportunity to visit some colleges on my list. 

Touring an empty campus without a knowledgeable guide was not as helpful as one might think. Locked buildings and empty quads don’t do much to inform a prospective student about the atmosphere or culture of a college. In fact, I left those campuses even more confused about my future than I was to begin with. 

My experience has been unfortunate but hardly unique this year. Almost every high school senior you talk to complains about the absurdly unusual difficulties of trying to navigate a clear path to their future. 

Maybe this crisis simply reveals an underlying fault in the system. Our society has made these decisions so important that little mistakes right now will have real impacts on our futures. But we’re kids. We’re 17- and 18-year-olds. We are still trying to determine who we really are; we don’t know what we really want. Yet, we’re supposed to have decided what we want and begun taking steps to get there. This situation was unstable during the best of times, but during a global pandemic, it’s simply untenable. 

For me, and for many others, our futures are murky. Thanks to COVID-19, and the host of challenges it presents, I no longer know what I want to do with my life despite that decision potentially being more important now than ever.