For many Morro Bay High School seniors, the end of the school year marks a transition into higher education, whether they choose to attend Cuesta College, an in-state four year university, or take their studies out of state. Always a time of stress, anticipation, and excitement, college transitions amid the COVID-19 pandemic feature even more unknowns as students are currently unsure what to expect in terms of how much of their experience will be online when they begin schooling in Fall 2021.
Each choice of college brings a different experience, which has been further altered by the pandemic. Three Morro Bay High School alumni, Audrey McClish, who has attended UC Berkeley since 2019, Edie Irving, who has attended Cuesta College since 2020, and Marisa Dinsmoor, who has attended University of Colorado Boulder since 2020, each commented on their experiences so far.
Whether students are attending a school within our county or thousands of miles away, adapting to being a college student is a significant time of change. McClish, who currently attended UC Berkeley, said that “transitions are always hard and there were many many aspects of going to college that I felt unprepared [for] such as class rigor, huge classes, going to school with thousands of peers” and more. McClish continued, “however through finding the right people and advocating for myself my experience has not been overly tumultuous.”
For Irving, who attends Cuesta College, adapting to college life was made more difficult by the pandemic. She said that “the transition was certainly interesting” and that her first semester at Cuesta featured many of the same difficulties with online learning that she had felt at the end of her senior year at Morro Bay High School, which included feeling that “the students and teachers at Cuesta seemed to share a generally stressed, sad mindset” as they worked to adapt to online learning. Fortunately, Irving continued that, as she and the rest of the institution have worked through the difficult transition of online learning, her second semester is “feeling a lot better” as her “classes feel overall more manageable, and the teachers seem a lot more prepared.”
Dinsmoor, who currently attends the University of Colorado in Boulder, shared that she felt that her transition “was somewhat easy” as it “was very nerve-wracking but also exciting.” In particular, she highlighted moving to [a] much larger school in a larger town as making her “feel like [she] was a little fish in the ocean!” These feelings, though nerve-wracking, have also allowed Dinsmoor to take advantage of many opportunities as “absolutely no one knows her and there are tens of thousands of people to meet and start fresh with.”
In the shadow of the pandemic, becoming a college student brings unexpected challenges. Dinsmoor highlighted travel as one such challenge “since flying is a risk and I test and quarantine after coming home.” Irving, meanwhile, struggled with maintaining positivity and motivation throughout online schooling, as she recalled feeling “these last couple semesters was that there wasn’t really an end in sight and the whole situation felt pretty hopeless.” Fortunately, Irving elaborated that “with people getting vaccinated and cases seeming to go down, [she’s] feeling more optimistic!” McClish, meanwhile, found that her challenges came from a more academic angle as she explained that there “were many many aspects of going to college that I felt unprepared such as class rigor, huge classes, going to school with thousands of peers” and more. Like Irving, McClish has been able to overcome many of these obstacles “through finding the right people and advocating for [her]self.”
Virtual learning has presented particular challenges for each student. McClish, who had already attended UC Berkeley for a year before the COVID-19 pandemic, felt that “changing to online learning has been difficult but luckily I had already made a good group of friends which I have been able to lean on.” Dinsmoor also highlighted her somewhat positive experience as she explained that “surprisingly virtual and hybrid theatre classes worked.” Her experience combined in-person classes which only briefly went virtual when COVID-19 cases rose too high. Further, she has been able to live on-campus with students in her major, meaning that she has been able to “meet so many awesome people in my program and also through shows” because “everyone is lonely and looking for social interaction so it’s easy to make quick friends in class.” Irving, attending Cuesta, said that in her experience she “definitely [hasn’t] met as many people as I would under normal circumstances but she [has] met some cool folks” through shared interests and classes.
As each student makes their way through the pandemic, each looks forward to a time when they can return to a semblance of normalcy. In particular, Irving stated that she is “looking forward to road trips with [her] friends, seeing movies at the Palm Theatre, concerts, live theatre, having people over to [her] house, [her] friends getting to meet [her] frog, and giving lots and lots of hugs.” Dinsmoor also shared that she is looking forward to live music and live theatre, as well as “football games, and college parties and get-togethers with my new friends” and being able to more fully explore her new home. Finally, McClish highlighted “in-person clubs and gatherings on campus and face to face instruction” as that which she is excited to return to.
At Morro Bay High School, many students are preparing to undertake the same endeavor that these alumni have. Whether they are bound for Cuesta or a university in another state, the college experience brings challenges and triumphs. Particularly during the difficult time of the COVID-19 pandemic, students can expect to have to transition to a new way of life, both academically and socially. However, even with these barriers each alumni’s experience highlights that the college experience brings with it opportunities to grow and learn.