• Joey Goodsir

Rerouting: What Will the Future Look Like?

This is the fourth story in a series about how Lake Forest High School’s Class of 2020 is navigating their first year of college in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic. Story No. 1 looks at students who moved into their dorms to study on campus. Story No. 2 examines the students who stayed at home and are attending college online -- whether by choice or not. The third piece explores those who are taking a gap year.

For college freshmen, nearing the end of this tumultuous first semester may seem like an end to the big, complex and unexpected decisions that have defined its beginning, as students settle into the paths they’ve chosen. Unfortunately, this is not the case, as students will have to continue bending their long-term academic plans to these changes of circumstances.

"One thing that is really up in the air is studying abroad, obviously – I was really hoping to do that my sophomore year,” University of Dayton student Sophia Divagno said. “I’d rather miss out on living in an apartment than living in a house, so this year will impact my schedule further down the road.”

Class scheduling, in some cases, has been pressing students into choosing a learning format as COVID guidelines continue to change in various ways, with a long-discussed “second wave” becoming an increased reality that will affect the next semester.

"I am coming up with my class schedule in a few days, and I am not sure what kind of classes I want to do (online, in-person, hybrid). So I’m having to make some tough choices because if I already commit to in-person classes and I want to go home, I can’t leave,” Divagno said.

Perhaps the biggest impact on the college experience that the preparation for new outbreaks has caused has been on housing, as some students are scrambling to find secure living arrangements.

"Right now, a lot of the communication with other students from home has been in the wake of coordinating for next semester, as housing has become more up in the air recently,” said University of Michigan student Zach Rose.

The new rises of COVID have been the only thing standing in the way of a widespread belief among students that the next semester will not be much different.

“I’m expecting school guidelines to look very similar, but I am just worried that we won’t be back in the spring – not because U of I will be underprepared, but because the state itself has had such an increase in cases,” Illinois student Grace Kellie said.

Many students believe, despite the similar restrictions to the on-campus experience, the future semester will attract more students to campus.

“Right now it seems like they are planning for next semester to be very similar,” Rice University student Marissa Giangiorgi said. “I think there might be more people coming to campus now that a full semester is under our belt trying to be in-person.”

Marissa Giangiorgi (right) is optimistic about what next semester holds for students attending Rice University. (Courtesy Marissa Giangiorgi)

Some have even gone as far as to say that this growing familiarity with the circumstances will not only lead to more students feeling comfortable going on campus, but more students losing interest in guideline compliance.

“With the administration, it is going to be the same in terms of guidelines, but the students are probably not going to care as much,” said Gabby Smith, a freshman at University of Texas. “People are definitely following the guidelines now, but they are just not as scared about it anymore.”

Other students, however, have a more bleak future in mind.

“I expect to be home next semester,” Harvard University freshman Litsa Kapsalis said. “I’ve maintained optimism for most of the year as we’ve had no COVID cases, but things have spiked a little bit more recently so I want to stay cautious about things. I really have a supportive environment at home, but it is five people in a house – three of which are doing school at the same time, so it might not be great.”

Considering all of these uncertainties, a lot of students have chosen to remain flexible.

“If it gets better, obviously I’m going to go out and try to have my college experience, but it gets worse, there’s no way I’m going out there,” said Carthage College freshman Ryan Klein. “There could be a new vaccine any second so I’m just keeping my options open and making sure I don’t close any doors too early.”

Old College Lessons Being Taught with New Tricks

University of Texas student Gabby Smith (left), an LFHS Class of 2020 graduate, makes the most of her first semester on campus in a tumultuous time. (Courtesy Gabby Smith)

As these college students have faced a variety of new college experiences, one thing has been consistent – the unprecedented nature in which they take place. For this reason, the broader lessons of this scholastic life can be a unique perspective.

“You just have to set your own boundaries surrounding how you interact with guidelines, as this determines what your experience will look like and who you will interact with,” Kapsalis said. “I’d also recommend Google Calendar, as things are a little bit more tight than you are used to – stay organized.”

Beyond such lessons, this era of a pandemic has even led to some discoveries that may be beneficial going forward.

“I’d also take advantage of using online office hours with professors, and I really hope those kinds of resources remain beyond pandemic-world,” Kapsalis said. “I would normally not be able to magically teleport from math, to engineering, to econ office hours in a matter of seconds. It’s very nice to be one link away from getting help from your teachers.”

At Harvard University, Litsa Kapsalis (left), has taken advantage of the positives hidden in the 2020 college experience. (Courtesy Litsa Kapsalis)

But with these new circumstances have come some new concerns and a heightened awareness of the need to fight them.

“Try your best to make some friends, make an effort to make conversation. Also, really do your best to combat any major distractions,” said Princeton University freshman Alex Slomba. “For some, it is Tik Tok, for me, it’s been Among Us – really do your best to stay focused and fight any addictions. If you have to uninstall an app, uninstall an app. Be careful!”

Ultimately, being a college freshman during a pandemic has the potential to be debilitating, but the LFHS Class of 2020 students that I talked with have faced the challenges with resolve.

“Make the best of the circumstances. Obviously, it’s not going to be what you imagine your experience to be, but try to find ways to embrace how unique of an experience you can have. For me, it was going to visit my grandparents, but however you may find that unique piece – try to make the best of worse situations,” University of Miami student Paul Rhoades said.

And while a “heightened independence” far beyond any expectations has defined being a new college student in 2020, perhaps this journey toward stability in a turbulent time has still taught many core life lessons of the usual college experience.

“Keep a routine. If a synchronous class is a viable option for you, then do it so you can find some kind of normalcy,” Michigan student Zach Rose said. “Eat three squares, wake up at a reasonable time. Even though in some of these situations you can technically go further off schedule, it’s best to do the most you can to stay consistent on your own.”