Roar: The Podcast | Episode 9: Committing to college during COVID-19


Roar: The Podcast | The Psychology of Memes

Welcome back to Roar: The Podcast! In this episode, seniors Olive Howden, Zianna Razon, and Melina Kritikopoulos discuss how COVID has impacted their college process, having navigated applications and the decision of where to spend their next few years during a pandemic. 

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  • Zianna Razon, senior at Santa Clara High School 
  • Olive Howden, senior at Santa Clara High School
  • Melina Kritikopoulos, senior at Santa Clara High School

Edited by Melina Kritikopoulos


Melina: Hello everyone and welcome to Roar: The Podcast, a student-run podcast hosted by members of Santa Clara High School’s very own The Roar staff.

Olive: Hi, I’m Olive and I’m a Roar staffer.

Zianna: Hey, I’m Zianna and I’m a Roar staffer as well.

Melina: Hi, I’m Melina and I’m a Roar staffer as well. We’re all seniors as well because today, we’re going to be talking about college decisions and how COVID has impacted our college process all the way from when we began applications to where we have now decided where we’re going to be spending the next four years of our life. All of that has been during COVID and during a pandemic. I think it’s probably best to start us off at the beginning with applications. Zianna, do you want to start us off with how your application process went in COVID times?

Zianna: Yeah, sure. I started in the summer on my UC applications and my Common App. Not gonna lie, for my Common App deadline, I thought I had more time. I found out very last minute that I had like three days to do my USC app, so I did that in a very short amount of stressful time. The application process was also pretty hard to navigate on my own. I feel like since we’re in this pandemic and we’re not in-person in school together during college app season, we don’t really have that interaction with our other classmates to ask, “Hey, how do I submit my AP scores?” or “What did you put for this because I don’t really know what to do.” I mostly just relied on YouTube and other people that were older than me. That’s pretty much a summary. It was just hard to navigate, and I did my Common App in a very small amount of time. But you know, what? I got in, and I spent a lot of time on my UC apps, and I didn’t get in. So it’s a little confusing. What about you Olive?

Olive: Well, for me, I was trying to remember exactly what the application process was for me, and I cannot remember. I remember very little about it. I definitely could have done more research for my applications, and I agree, being in person would have helped because then I could have just randomly been asking a classmate, “What are you guys doing? Do you guys have any tips?” or maybe being able to talk to my counselor better. It would have been helpful to be in more frequent communication with my counselor because for my applications, I mainly talked to a few people that I know in college, particularly my friend who’s a former Roar staffer, and I also talked to some of my high school friends about what they were doing. So I was kind of on top of my UC applications. I knew when the deadline was, and then my Common Apps, you know, the different schools have different deadlines. I was a little bit less sure about that. But for all of my applications, I pretty much started, in earnest, working on them, like two weeks before the deadlines, but it was enough time for me. It kind of worked out. How about you Melina?

Melina: Yeah, a kind of a different experience. I hate procrastinating, so as soon as we went into the pandemic, I was like, “Okay, what am I gonna use this time for?” I set myself up to do all of my apps over the summer. Plus, my sister had come home from college because of the pandemic – she’s a sophomore right now in college – so she was able to help me with any question I had. I actually felt that apps became way easier. But the thing that made them harder was that you had so many options almost because you could visit a school whenever you wanted to by taking their virtual tour, or just visiting their website. I remember, I was on a meeting with one of my college counselor persons at the schools that I was applying to, and they said, “You can visit 20 schools in a day if you wanted to because you have the websites.” And every school was trying to make their website better in order to seem more appealing to their students because everyone was visiting them via a website. I ended up applying to way too many schools because I was like, “Well, I have all this time. I can write all these extra questions besides the Common App question. I can visit all these different schools.” Later in the process when I was trying to pick where to go, it became really stressful because I had way too many options because I just kept applying because I had all the time in the world to just keep working on stuff. That was kind of an unexpected disadvantage for me, but like Zianna said, I started the UC stuff. You can find the questions ahead of time; you can find the Common App questions ahead of time. Basically, all of summer was me prepping for app season. In the fall, I was kind of okay because I had pretty much written everything that I needed to write already and had to do some final edits. Personally, I found apps easier in terms of writing them, but in terms of picking where to apply was way harder because it became infinitely more options it felt like because you had all the time to do that research. Also, the Zoom fatigue of being on that many webinars… every college would email you being like, “We have this webinar today and this webinar today,” and I would overbook webinars and try to go back and watch them. That was awful. My entire summer was spent just watching YouTube videos and webinars about colleges saying, “Come to my school.” Did you guys have experiences with that kind of stuff?

Zianna: I remember signing up for webinars as well. I’d go to some, but then other times, I was just not feeling it. “I cannot look at a screen anymore.” On some days. I’m just like, “I’m going to sit this one out.”

Olive: Same Zianna. I signed up for some webinars, but I honestly went to very few. Honestly, for me in my application process, I was pretty focused on the UCs, so I applied to a few West Coast schools in Oregon and Colorado and Washington. But I knew that I didn’t want to go to the East Coast, or past Colorado, really, so that narrowed it down for me quite a bit. I had also – right before COVID hit I had toured the UCs in person, most of them, so I had seen the campuses in person and I knew that UC Santa Barbara was my favorite UC. That made it kind of easy for me for that part of the applications process. But yeah, the overwhelming amount of choices. With all those webinars, I was like, “Oh my gosh, wait, maybe I should apply to this school.” Or there were a few schools that I applied to because they looked cool and there wasn’t much of an application fee, so I was like, “Yes, I want to apply there.”

Melina: The amount of schools I applied to just because it was a free application and I had no intention of going, that was so dumb. And then later when I got there, I was like, “I don’t even want to go to this school. Why did I put time and effort into this?” Yes, I definitely feel you on that one, Olive. Z, do you want to start us off? Let’s talk (about) second semester. Once things started coming in, how was that process?

Zianna: I only got into some CSU schools. I was only waitlisted and rejected from the UCs. I was waitlisted to UC San Diego and UC Santa Barbara, which is my second choice school. I got into Fullerton, CSULA, San Diego State, all those like So Cal schools because I want to go south. I found out I got into USC last, which was a big surprise. I really didn’t have much trouble picking because USC has been my dream school since I was little, and luckily, I’m in a financial position to attend as well because my parents have been saving up, my grandparents are supporting me in this. So very, very happy to say that I’ll be going to USC, so picking was pretty easy once I got all of my admission results in.

Olive: Congratulations, Zianna. I’m really happy for you

Melina: Congratulations, we’re super excited for you.

Olive: It is really cute to see how excited you are about USC.

Melina: What’s your major going to be, Z?

Zianna: Public Relations at the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism. I also might double-major in Communications as well.

Melina: Ooh, very exciting. Super proud of you. You have that dream school, got in, sealed, ready to go. Olive, what was your process like?

Olive: For me, I have never really had a dream school. I always kind of knew that I was interested in going to a UC, so I applied to five UCs. Should I list my schools? I applied to five UCs. I got wait listed by San Diego, and I got into the other four. The main two were Santa Barbara and Berkeley. Berkeley was more like, “I don’t really want to go there. I just want to see if I can get in,” and I did. I really did not think that I was, so that definitely threw me for a loop because I was like, “Do I have to consider going there now?” because Berkeley is a really cool school. I know a bunch of people there, and they all love it. I’m like, “Well, maybe I should go.” I also applied to a couple CSUs, and I also applied to the University of Oregon and University of Colorado Boulder. I was pretty interested in both of those, but when I got in, it was a bit more expensive than I’m willing to pay, and I didn’t get that much financial aid. I decided that I’m going to go to UC Santa Barbara because I really love the chill, laid back vibe there. I mean, as much as I think that Berkeley is an amazing school, it’s a little bit too large and competitive for me, and I’m not that big of a fan of the campus. I’m pretty excited about my decision, and I’m going to be a Gaucho for the next four years.

Zianna: Congrats!

Melina: Congrats Olive, we’re very excited for you. Also, UCSB’s campus is so pretty.

Zianna: Yeah.

Melina: What is your major, Olive?

Olive: I’m undeclared, but I am considering going into audiology eventually. So I would study Speech and Hearing Sciences. I’m totally not locked into that or anything, but I’ve definitely been reaching out to people I know to see if that’s a field that I would be interested in.

Melina: Yay, that’s so cool. Very exciting.

Zianna: What about you, miss Melina?

Melina: This is a long one. Oh, gosh. Okay, so ever since I was little and I had first visited New York when I was like eight, I fell in love with the city. I have always loved big cities. I just love them so much more than a suburban area, so I had my heart set on Syracuse (University) early in the process. I had always wanted to be in New York. Syracuse is not in New York proper, like New York City proper, but it is in the state of New York. I could always be in the city if I wanted to. I found out about Syracuse doing my crazy, end of junior year, “I need to know where I’m going to college right now,” research because of the pandemic. I want to do journalism as anyone who knows me knows, so that is one of the best journalism schools, besides Northwestern and stuff, in the country. It has an incredible program. I got waitlisted. But it wasn’t that upsetting because the process was so weird for me. I applied to way too many schools. I think I applied to like 15 or something which is – don’t apply to that many schools. I got accepted to all of them except for Santa Barbara, Syracuse, and UCLA. Santa Barbara as in UCSB. I got rejected from UCLA and then waitlisted at Santa Barbara and waitlisted at Syracuse. I had too many options, as I have previously stated, and I hadn’t been to the New York area since I was eight. I was kind of becoming iffy about New York because the other schools I applied to, besides Syracuse, were not as prestigious as that one, and I wasn’t totally sure. The other kind of East Coast kind of thing – this is not East Coast – but in that general sense of colder weather and not California, I had applied to two schools in Chicago, and they’re both pretty good schools for journalism as well. Luckily enough, my entire family was vaccinated right before spring break, so we did travel, which – we were vaccinated. We went and visited the two schools that I got into in Chicago and when I got there, I realized I didn’t actually like it that much. This is a very big privilege that I (was) able to go and visit, and it just made me aware of… Before we had gone, I had had my heart set on – it was DePaul in Chicago – I was like, “This is where I’m going to go. This is where I’m going to be for the next four years.” As soon as I got there, I was like, “I don’t actually like it that much.” So it made me think about people who weren’t able to go and visit places. They can’t go in person. It is so much different seeing it on Instagram and seeing what the school sells themselves as versus actually being there. So that made me very wary of what I had kind of thought up in my brain. Once we got back from Chicago – before we even went I knew that I had gotten into UC Berkeley – and I was kind of stressed about it at first because I was really scared that I’d have to live at home again for a year because it’s so close to where we live, and there’s no point in paying for a dorm, if all the classes are gonna be online and that kind of stuff. That was really stressful, but eventually I came around to the idea of Berkeley. It seems like they’re going to be back in person for the most part next year, so I ended up deciding on Berkeley. That process of, you know, I would have gone somewhere, gotten there, and it would not have been my expectations. The people that were deprived of being able to travel and seeing what it is online is kind of stressing me out for others. I’m glad I was able to have that process. Something to think about that I think a lot of other seniors probably are dealing with, and I’m worried that people are going to not have their expectations met when they get somewhere in the fall. But ultimately, we picked Berkeley because it’s an incredible school, and my end goal is to end up doing the journalism grad school there because they don’t have a journalism undergrad. But the Daily Cal is a really good paper and that would be incredible to be part of that team. Also its proximity to San Francisco, the internships and job opportunities and stuff. That’s like – my end goal is to work at KQED and live in San Francisco. So it’s like, “Why wouldn’t I go to Berkeley?” Plus, having in-state tuition is way cheaper than any of the privates that I got into. I was undeclared in the College of Letters and Science, but I’m planning on trying to get into the media studies major once I’m there. So that’s mine.

Olive: Well, congratulations, Melina. I’m super happy for you.

Melina: Thank you.

Zianna: I’m so proud of you. Oh, my gosh, you’re gonna do amazing things at Berkeley, I know.

Melina: Love you guys. We’re all succeeding, we’re all going to fancy California schools. Okay, in kind of a more general pros and cons sense, you guys want to go over the general process, kind of an overview? What were your pros and cons in terms of the college process and COVID? How’s it been, kind of a wrap up. Zianna you can start us off.

Zianna: Okay. We can start off with the pros, pros in being in a pandemic during college app season. One is that first semester of senior year, it’s usually more rigorous, but the fact that we were in distance learning made it easier to slack off a bit in classes. The workload was a little lighter, so we had more time for our applications. Also, in terms of applications, I feel like colleges were looking for students who were still doing a lot of things during the pandemic – they’re looking for people who took opportunities. I think it shows a lot of perseverance. I think if you’re a student who has done a lot still during COVID-19, it might have been more impressive to colleges, and also, probably the biggest pro is that because of the pandemic, a lot of colleges were not taking SAT’s and also our AP exams were pretty easy.

Melina: Oh, yeah, that was a big advantage.

Zianna: Yeah, I don’t think I would have done as well as I did this year if it was a normal test.

Melina: I feel like a fraud.

Zianna: Oh, that brings me to the cons, though. That kind of gives you a little bit of imposter syndrome because you think that because you’ve had it easier and also because you’re kind of slacking off this year, you think that you might not do as well in college. That is the con. And also I was really sad during college app season because we had no senior year, so it was a little hard. And there was a lack of support and no actual in-person tours. What about you guys?

Olive: I definitely agree with all of your pros and cons. Definitely not having to study for the SAT or the ACT junior year saved me so much time and stress over a test that I really would have only taken one more time. That helped a ton, and then pass/fail second semester definitely helped me kind of prepare for college applications and do research because I wasn’t spending as much time on school as I would have at the end of junior year because I know that I would have been spending a lot of time on homework and just extracurriculars otherwise. And then not being able to do much this summer even though we weren’t able to tour the schools that we applied to before we applied. It did help because I was just spending more time at home, so I had more time to do stuff that I needed to do to apply. I feel like not being in person, though, did kind of make it more difficult because I was more isolated and didn’t have as much support as you said, Zianna.

Zianna: You actually reminded me of one thing. The pass-fail thing was a good thing and a bad thing because for students who usually were struggling in a class, that helps because it’s easier to pass. But also, colleges usually value the second-semester junior year grades the most, and I was doing pretty well right before they changed it. I was really upset at first.

Olive: Same.

Melina: I had the best grades in my life. Then we went to pass-fail, and I was so upset.

Olive: Yeah, I was upset. But, you know, I came around.

Melina: Yes. And in the end, it did help more people than it harmed. We’re the people who were like, “We had straight A’s and we had to go to pass.”

Olive: Poor us.

Zianna: We turned out fine anyways.

Melina: We’re fine. We’re good. We all got into very good schools. Pros and cons, same exact things as you guys. I want to mention as well for pros, again, it really is just like, the more time and you know – this kind of a pro and a con – being able to have so many options and “visit” so many places, but at the same time, that’s a con because it makes you kind of be overwhelmed with your options. Another con – I mean, this could be a pro or a con – but seeing how the school took COVID into account and what their COVID response was. If they were really prepared with it, you feel safer trusting your money, I guess, or your education with that school, but if they were kind of like lenient on it – not lenient but maybe not as “on it” about COVID response – you might have just weeded that out right away. My biggest thing is really just – I didn’t realize how much schools sell themselves to you via the internet. I think I learned a very big lesson in just not taking things at face value and being a little bit more skeptical about things. If COVID goes the way it does – this is my advice to next year’s seniors, or upcoming seniors – be very wary of what they put on their website because they’re really trying, they’re putting their best out there. If you want a real review of the school, go to YouTube and see what people have to say who attended the school and they won’t lie. Unless like, if it’s sponsored by the school, they’re probably going to be trying to hype it up. But if it’s just their own YouTube channel or something, they’ll give you the real tea, I guess, about what their school is like. Just be really, really careful about what they’re telling you at those webinars. That’s it. Anyone else have a final thing?

Zianna: Yeah, I watched a lot of YouTube videos. I watched those admission result videos of people opening their letters so I could prepare myself. But also those videos about normal life, how a student feels at a specific university have been so helpful because I was also considering Chapman University because it seemed like a really nice school. I loved the location of the campus. The program looks pretty great. Then I looked at this Asian-American YouTuber, and she was talking about how it’s a little – it’s very much dominantly white. It’s also hard to… well, it wasn’t a good fit for her. She was doing a similar major to me, so I was like, okay. I agree with Melina: watch YouTube videos. They’re so helpful.

Olive: That reminds me, Zianna. Oh, by the way, really great advice Melina. I should also follow that advice because I haven’t watched that many videos to be honest. But, yeah, when I was looking at my schools, I also considered their Asian population, like how many Asian students they have, because we’re all Asian. That’s something that we take into consideration, especially this year with anti-AAPI hate crimes and that kind of thing. I mean, I’ve personally never really felt much racism, but it’s something that I’m wary of just because of conversations with my family and that kind of thing. I know that in California, schools tend to have more Asian people then like Oregon or Colorado where it’s really white. That is part of why I chose to stay in-state, you know?

Melina: Yeah, it’s also – our school specifically – we have a pretty fairly diverse group of kids. I think taking that into account as well, of like, when you go somewhere else it’s just a completely different demographic than what you’re used to. So definitely take into account those details. That brings me back to: colleges lie. Because they are trying to sell something to you. They will pull out like the 2% of whatever people of color they have and put them on their diversity page. Then you go on the website, you’re like, “Oh, cool, it’s super diverse.” Then you get there and it’s all white people. So definitely, again, just being skeptical, and really actually scrutinizing the – going to sites that are not the college-sponsored sites I think is really good. That is another layer that you have to take into consideration, and without being able to visit the place to feel how you feel in that environment, it’s probably really, really hard to get that. I think that might have also been a reason why all three of us stayed in California as well.

Olive: California gang.

Zianna: I’m glad we’re all staying in the same state.

Melina: Yes. So that’s pretty much all that we have to say. But just as a final piece of advice, Z and Olive, what do you guys have?

Zianna: Word of advice – kind of deep, sorry – but everyone’s path is different. You need to follow your gut and… you have to prioritize yourself because this is a very big decision where you’re going to go. Don’t follow your friends. Don’t go to a college just to please someone else or impress other people. Do your research and go where you feel like you can succeed and where you see a future.

Olive: College it is where you will spend the next two or four years, or however many years of your life. But if you feel like – if you go to a school and then you feel a year or two in that it’s not the school for you. That’s okay, and you can change your decision. It’s not like you’re locked in forever, for the rest of your life. That’s something that I personally had to keep in mind because I was really stressing out about my decision. But in the end, if it doesn’t work out, it doesn’t work out, and that will be okay, too.

Zianna: Everything will be okay.

Melina: Yes, I love it. As a final thing, college is not your only option. You don’t have to go to college to be successful. If you think that that’s really stressful to have to move away from home right away, you’re only 18. Go to community college. Don’t go to college at all. Do a bunch of other things that are slipping my mind right now. There are so many options that you can do outside of just going to college. It’s so expensive, and it’s so stressful. So around May when people are posting about their decisions on Instagram, and everyone is like, “This is where I got into,” don’t feel bad if you’re not doing the same thing that everyone else is. That goes for anything in life, but for this specifically, you’re still going to be a successful person and you’re still going to have a great life, whether you go to college or not. And whatever college – if you’re on the track of a four year, whether you’re going to a brand name school or something that nobody’s heard of, it doesn’t matter. What’s right for you is what’s right. And that’s it.

Zianna: Thank you for listening to our podcast. We’re so glad to have you here. Bye!

Melina: Bye!

Olive: Bye.