Six months after the COVID-19 pandemic hit New York, even the best-laid plans from “the before times” are in tatters. These range from the personal, such as birthday parties having to be canceled, or weddings having to be postponed, to the institutional, such as the bureaucratic chaos seen in the city’s efforts to reopen in-person schooling. In my case, the pandemic uprooted my planned college transfer, leaving my education in an uncertain haze.
From the beginning of my sophomore year, I planned on transferring from Clark University, where I began my studies. My reasons, as I assured my friends, weren’t because I was particularly unhappy with my situation at Clark. If anything, the friendships and connections I made to student organizations were the things that made me hesitate to transfer.
Instead, I wanted to transfer not because of anything I disliked about Clark, but for opportunities I couldn’t find there. I wanted to continue to learn Korean, a language I’ve been teaching myself on and off for over five years. That simply wasn’t something I could find at Clark. Neither could I find a more robust film studies curriculum, as that department at Clark, although staffed by passionate professors who ignited my interest in the subject, was fairly limited in scope.
So I worked on my applications. Throughout the winter, I applied to a small selection of colleges, far fewer than I had initially applied to back in high school. By the time I submitted my applications on February 29, I’d certainly heard of the coronavirus, but, like most Americans, had no idea the scale on which it would spread.
In late April, when I began to receive my letters of acceptance and rejection, we were all living in a different world. In New York, the situation felt apocalyptic. It was in this situation that I learned I had been accepted to Wesleyan University, and began deliberating whether to transfer, a situation further complicated by the fact that I was unsure if I would even be able to go to campus in the fall.
In July, Wesleyan revealed their reopening plan. The protocols, which included twice-weekly testing of students, a moratorium on in-person events and bans on dorm visits, were reassuring from a public health perspective. However, they represented a challenge from a social perspective.
How did I get to know people in college? Through sitting near them in class and attending student group meetings. With spaced-out or virtual classes, and no in-person meetings, these opportunities were drastically limited. Furthermore, as an incoming junior, I thought, I only had four semesters to spend at Wesleyan. Hoping to get the full college experience in the future, I made the difficult choice to defer my admission. This would be the first autumn since I first attended preschool that I would not be going to school.
College reopening plans have faced wide scrutiny, and for good reason. With each passing day, you see another story of partying students spreading infection, colleges expelling students for violating rules and even campuses having to shut down right after first reopening due to the rapid spread of COVID-19. Certainly many college plans seem more motivated by profiting off tuition money than ensuring campus-wide safety.
That being said, both the college I left and the college I am going to seem to be handling things quite well. Both Clark and Wesleyan have reported no positive tests among students in the last week, with only four and three, respectively, testing positive over the last several weeks as students returned to campus. This may be attributed to both their rigorous testing policies, and small, easily containable campuses.
Larger institutions, such as New York University, may not be able to fare as well. With an undergraduate population in the tens of thousands, and an urban campus that spreads across much of Lower Manhattan, NYU has already suspended students for violating COVID protocols, and earned a reprimand from Governor Andrew Cuomo over a large student gathering in Washington Square Park.
This is not to single out NYU, as its issues are far from unique. Rather, they are emblematic of the issues facing higher education as a whole, as administrators, educators, and students find their positions suddenly fraught with regard to public health. I deferred my enrollment in the hopes of avoiding the chaotic realities of college in the age of COVID. But, as with everything regarding this pandemic, the future is far from certain, and none of us can be sure when “all this” will be over, or if testing and quarantine will become as much a part of the college experience as textbooks and clubs.
Hoping to get the full college experience in the future, I made the difficult choice to defer my admission. This would be the first autumn since I first attended preschool that I would not be going to school.