May 18, 2021
They are leaving and never coming back. That is to say, the Class of 2021 is finally graduating, and after going through the college admissions process, many seniors are leaving Altholton to pursue postsecondary education.
“Leaving high school is bittersweet. After this year, I’m ready to go, but… I’m leaving all my friends and that’s really sad to me,” senior Caitlin McMahon said. “I’m really excited [for college] though, because this is something I’ve been waiting on for so long.”
The experiences of Atholton’s seniors parallel those of other twelfth-graders across the world as they prepare to leave their high schools and hometowns. While the coronavirus pandemic has changed senior year for everybody, the graduating class is making the best out of their situation. That means forging ahead and making plans for these crucial upcoming years. For some, these plans included preparing to take a gap year or enter the workforce, the military, or trade school, but for many others it meant applying to colleges and universities, receiving acceptances and rejections, visiting potential schools, and ultimately deciding where to attend.
As they reflect on their high school experiences and plan for what lies ahead, some seniors remember the stress of the college admissions process while also being excited for the future. Others relatively enjoyed applying to and visiting colleges, and are ecstatic about the school they have chosen. Further, some twelfth-graders experienced a smooth admissions process and are looking forward to future success and being out of high school.
Senior Ethan Dobbin was anxious during the college admissions process because of “how long it would take to hear back from [colleges].” However, nine out of the ten colleges Dobbin applied to got back to him with acceptances, which alleviated his anxiety, and he’s now excited for “independence and high school being over.”
Dobbin is going to North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University, a historically black college and university (HBCU), in the fall, where he will major in computer science and minor in business administration. Dobbin decided to go to an HBCU in part because he wanted to “be able to surround myself with other people of color who have similar interests to mine,” especially because he “didn’t think that I’d see as much of myself amongst class members” in STEM programs at predominantly white institutions (PWIs). At North Carolina A&T, his “top school since freshman year,” he hopes to be successful.
While Dobbin found the college admissions process to be somewhat stressful, senior Aliya Belay didn’t feel overwhelmed because her applications were due at staggered intervals, which “split up” her stress.
Belay applied to nine schools and was accepted into seven. Speaking on the two rejections, she said, “Rejection is redirection. It’s going to hurt for a little while… but no matter what college you get into you’re going to get a great education and you’re going to get that degree in the end. So, as long as you try to make the best of wherever you are… it’ll be okay.”
That rang true for Belay, who was accepted into her top two choices: Georgia Tech and Rice University. She ultimately decided to attend Rice University, where she plans to major in mechanical engineering with a specialization in thermal fluids and minor in applied mathematics, but her visit to Georgia Tech almost changed her mind. “I was surprised how much a campus visit really made me think about it,” she said.
What made Rice stand out to Belay was its small class sizes and residential college system, which she described as “kind of like Hogwarts.” The colors, navy blue and gray, and the school mascot, an owl, also reminded Belay of the Harry Potter house Ravenclaw. “I thought that was really, really nice, like a home away from home,” the senior added.
McMahon “had no guidance” while writing college essays and filling out applications. Because of that, the hardest part about the college admissions process for her was “figuring out what to do,” but her friends were willing and able to help. After applying to ten schools, McMahon was accepted into seven. The three rejections “hurt,” she said, but they were from her reach schools, so she didn’t feel too bad.
McMahon credits her independence with her academic success in high school, her seven college acceptances, and feeling prepared for college. “Being independent at Atholton makes you have more success, I think, because you have to go out and reach out to your teachers, you have to go out and try to find information or ask questions,” she explained. She also recommends rolling admissions, which may help rising seniors cope with the “nerve-wracking… rollercoaster” that is the college admissions process.
McMahon will attend New York University Shanghai in the fall, but she was in between the international school and the University of California Los Angeles. However, NYU Shanghai was surprisingly cheaper, and her language teachers influenced her and pushed her to travel and experience new cultures, which motivated her to leave the country to go attend her dream school in China, though her parents and friends were resistant at first. McMahon doesn’t yet know what she will major in, but she is leaning towards majoring in international business or relations and minoring in a language or “something STEM.”
All three seniors chose to close out their high school years online due to the pandemic. In the past, they would have had many fun activities to balance out the stress of their impending futures, such as prom, homecoming, Senior Ditch Day, and spirit week with their classmates. Despite that, McMahon remembers her high school experience as “fulfilling,” and Belay “loved it.” While Dobbin preferred online learning to in-person, he wishes he had done things throughout high school “a bit differently,” like doing dual enrollment to get a head start on college credits.
Even though the world has changed in a scary way, the seniors are all looking forward to embarking on the next chapter of their lives.
Dobbin is thrilled to attend North Carolina A&T, a top HBCU for STEM. “A&T has more connections with certain companies for internships and co-ops, which really interests me to do later on down the line—maybe junior or senior year of college,” he mentioned. To add to those benefits, many of his family members live in North Carolina, and a few of his friends will be joining him as freshmen.
McMahon enthused about the language aspect of attending NYU Shanghai. “I’m…hoping and expecting to become fluent in Chinese. That’s something I’m really anticipating because it’s been a personal goal of mine for so long. I want to go there and be immersed and be forced to speak the language. I’ll actually be good, which I can’t even process right now.”
Belay already knows that she will love Rice University, and looks forward to making new friends. “I feel like I made some really good friends in high school, and I hope that I can make friends again in college that are similar to me and have some of my interests,” she professed. “I hope that I have people [at Rice University] too.”
However, though many people go to college or university after high school, postsecondary education isn’t always the perfect path for everyone. College is expensive and difficult, and a Bachelor’s degree can take four or more years to complete. Others find their interests more suited to trade school, an apprenticeship or internship, joining the military, taking a gap year, or entering the workforce. And community college is a great option for people who want to save money and discover themselves. Regardless of their future plans, Atholton’s seniors are doing something in these upcoming years that will help them achieve their long-term goals.
Even so, it is sad to leave everything they know behind. “At first I was really excited. [But] now that I’m realizing that I’m actually leaving, I think that I’m really going to miss… my friends and even my family; I didn’t think I was going to miss them that much,” Belay said, joking about her family. “I’m actually kind of sad,” she continued, “because these people I’ve been going to school with since elementary school, I’m not going to see them every day.” Still, she wasn’t entirely glum. “[College is] kind of a big change. A little scary, but I’m excited too.”