The pandemic has prevented many Berkeley High School (BHS) traditions from taking place for seniors. The class of 2021 has lost Red and Gold Day, blowout, Senior Sunrise, and the overall experience of being a senior at BHS. However, there are some silver linings, including the opportunity to go through the college application and acceptance process far from the often toxic college talk that has tainted the experiences of many BHS grads.
Applying to college is an emotionally exhausting experience, forcing students to pull from trauma, life challenges, and personal struggles to appear like an appealing candidate for admission. Oftentimes, seniors would work on essays together at the College and Career Center (CCC) or in class, and although that environment may have given students a sense of community when filling out applications, it also can easily lead to sob story competitions and an environment where vulnerability feels impossible. The social pressures of wanting to know where everyone else is applying and feeling insecure about telling people where you’re applying was significantly diminished in the pandemic, since students can choose who to share those details with.
The other major element of the process is the admissions and decision-making process. Getting college rejections and acceptances can be some of the best and worst moments for a young person, and in the pandemic, people were able to process their acceptances and their rejections in an environment away from their peers. During a normal year, college acceptances would sometimes be released during the school day, meaning students often had no opportunity to process before receiving input from those around them. Having a few hours or days to themselves and being able to choose who to tell and when to tell them let seniors have more agency over their decision. Additionally, having only a month between getting your acceptances and rejections and decision deadline can make the process stressful. Despite BHS’ attempts to mitigate the myths around big name schools, there’s room for growth in terms of the toxic conversations that can influence decisions.
Ultimately, the college application and admissions process is highly personal, and the pandemic helped to minimize toxic college culture at BHS. Moving forward, the BHS community should be aware of the ways a highly social school environment can impact the college process negatively. Future seniors must remember to prioritize mental health throughout the process and minimize their involvement in toxic competition.