The break between high school and college is an awkward time. For me, it’s lasted a year
I’ll admit it: I’m a planner — not in the sense that I have to have a schedule for every day, but on a much larger scale. I like to plan years ahead; I set goals for certain things I’ll achieve, I make plans to attain certain positions and I visualize what my life will look like.
In seventh grade, I decided I was going to be class president in high school and give a speech at graduation senior year. Then, in my freshman year, I told myself I would take a heavy course load so I could take fewer classes my senior year. I spent most of my time in high school visualizing what my senior year would look like and laying the groundwork to achieve my goals.
None of my plans reached beyond graduation though. It was like I was living in a bubble and I could only see up to the walls of it. Life past that glossy film was there, but it was blurry and unknown.
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, it felt as though that bubble popped. Suddenly my time in high school was over. All my expectations for senior year went down the drain, and instead, they were replaced by months on end of quarantining at home.
As a planner, this was my worst nightmare. I had no grasp of what my future might look like and no control of my path. Time kept moving, but I felt stagnant. The world was put on hold, and I had to wait with it, wasting time I won’t get back.
Those first few months were especially tough, going from seeing friends at school every day to trying to muster up the motivation to attend Zoom classes. The days crept by and events I had looked forward to were canceled by the handful: senior ball, our senior trip and a normal graduation ceremony.
Thankfully, my school allowed us to plan a socially-distanced graduation ceremony that took place over two days. I was able to graduate at the same time as a handful of friends, but I didn’t get to walk with my whole class. I was still able to give a commencement speech as class president, but I filmed it a month in advance in a studio, my only audience being a teleprompter.
With high school behind me, I decided to focus on the future instead of dwelling on the disappointments of my senior year. I had just recently committed to Azusa Pacific University as a journalism major, and I was excited to start a new chapter of my life.
This transition period from high school to college is a significant milestone in many teenagers’ lives. So many changes occur at this point: transitioning to a new city, transitioning friend groups and transitioning to a more independent lifestyle.
I spent that summer planning again. I was dreaming of what life would be like on campus, the friends I would meet and what it would be like to finally be independent. But then, a month before I was scheduled to move in, I got an email from the university announcing that the fall semester would be remote.
By early September, most of my friends from home left for college while I started my first semester from my childhood bedroom. Pretty soon, I was fully engaged in my courses and spent my days attending classes, doing homework, scrolling through TikTok and sitting in the same spot all day.
It felt as though someone had pressed pause on my life. Here I was, living at home yet not in high school and doing work for college, but not feeling like I was in college. To put it simply, I was stuck in the middle.
This situation has continued into the present; spring semester came and nothing changed. Living in this in-between stage has presented several challenges and some long-term concerns.
Isolation is a major challenge for freshmen stuck in the same phase as me. It’s a phenomenon that has come about as hometown friends move away and freshmen left at home struggle to make new connections at college.
Tyler Jones, a first-year communication major at APU, is currently living at home with his family. He said that one of the toughest parts about remote learning has been making new friends and interacting with classmates.
Older students had the opportunity to establish a community on campus before the shift to remote learning. However, freshmen don’t have a pre-established community and lack opportunities to make new friends from school in a virtual environment.
APU organizes alpha groups as a way for freshmen to build community, but, especially in a virtual setting, it’s difficult to make connections in this way. Over Zoom, it’s harder to have natural conversations and fully connect with a group of students the school assigned.
In this transition stage, it’s also challenging to maintain motivation to get schoolwork done. Of course, academics are an integral part of college, but some of the most enjoyable parts are campus life and the experiences that come with being in person.
“As a first generation student, going straight to college without a proper physical introduction felt like I was never able to fully transition,” said Claudia Christensen, a first-year journalism student at APU. “When I’m stuck at home and can’t leave, I lose motivation and become depressed, and with school being online, it’s really taken a toll of my motivation and mental health.”
It’s tough to find the motivation to do work when it doesn’t feel like it’s paying off. Classes, studying and free time all occur in the same place and sometimes even on the same screen, making it challenging to separate each.
If I’m being honest, I’m worried about how this prolonged transition period will affect my future. Will it be as easy to make friends now that I’ve missed my first year? Will I feel like I had the whole college experience when I graduate? However, as challenging as this time has been, I know that it’s still been a period of learning and growth.
Yes, I’m still a planner, but I’ve learned that it’s important to find value in the present, even if it doesn’t look how I thought it would. Times of transition are challenging but they are far from insignificant.