At 4 AM sharp, the charging iPhone screen lit up a corner of the room. The alarm blasted violently through the quiet night.
“Ahhhhhhh, shut the FUCK up!”
As quick as the way it came, the alarm stopped and immediately gave the space back to the traditional, winter-exclusive silence. To deal with the February crisp, the sky was wearing its thick all-black winter coat with a few dark-grey bubbly patches of cloud. The trees, once so lively, shook away their blazing yellow jacket and formed themselves a soulless, ice white coat.
A window illuminated part of that black coat with yellow light. If one had a closer look, they could see the dim lights from a monitor and hear the strokes of a mechanical keyboard subtly rebelling against the silence. Notes and pens scattered on the table. In the corner, an empty Mason jar sat on the wet rattan coaster.
Welcome to a typical pandemic college student’s life: Constantly staying up late, constantly breaking down, fuelled by excessive amounts of coffee, messy rooms and bright lights. Oh, and don’t forget about being anxious about almost everything, too.
There is a saying that if you are constantly under pressure for long periods of time, you will eventually adapt to the pressure. Over time, it will be ignored, disregarded, and gradually become the new normal. For a small, luxurious amount of inner peace that we call the “new normal”, our little shelter from reality, we have to pay for it with our mental health. Unfortunately, this option is what most of us have unconsciously chosen in the middle of the pandemic.
Like many students during COVID-19, I have lost the ability to be aware of many things that happen as time goes on, even the important ones. Applying for universities was one of those things.
“60 credits done… It’s February now. Only 15 credits left. Wait. What?”
The moment this thought came through my mind cannot be as casual and unexpected as when I was watching Season Four of “The Crown”. Before then, I was just hanging in there without even bothering to check what day it was. After all, why would I even care when every day passes the same and the cycle begins again? All of a sudden, the thought of applying to universities swarmed my mind like a cyclone. Panicked? Of course. Anxious? Can’t forget to mention that.
As a perfectionist, it feels horrifying for me to do research about universities in such a short amount of time. If you are fortunate enough to have a clue about what you are going to need to do, you might somehow manage to complete the work on time, but it will not be to the best of your ability or your own satisfaction.
All of a sudden, my MacBook went from showing me Netflix to loading universities’ websites and downloading documents. My TrackPad was put to a real test that night. I continuously scrolled, tapped, swiped, dragged the mouse cursor around the screen, gathering everything I thought could be helpful for my applications. I looked at their admissions pages, what they offered, and most importantly: the deadlines.
The lack of flexibility the pandemic has given me when it comes to selecting universities has actually turned into an advantage. Anything that includes going out of state, travelling far away, high expenses or highly competitive acceptance can be easily crossed out. Within an hour, the endless line of tabs was reduced to only three tabs. Three universities, and three weeks to work on the applications. I guess that’s not too bad.
Amidst the pandemic, going through paperwork when applying is surprisingly stressful. You have to gather your paperwork and order transcripts, but there is even more paperwork needed when you are an international student. The thing is, not everything can be found in the United States. For an international student, there are certain things that will require you to contact services in your home country and explain the forms to your parents. If the school requires anything mentioned above to be sent through mail, you can feel a huge part of yourself slowly dying inside.
Unlike my friends when they were applying to universities, the very first step of my application did not require me to sign up and apply through the Common App. Instead, for each of these three schools, I had to create a separate account directly on the universities’ websites. It was a rather small disadvantage, but that was not what I was concerned about the most.
After filling in box after box, which were quite simple, I rolled my eyes through the essay section, to which I repeatedly murmured the questions to myself. Two essays with 350 words each. As a typical trait of the pandemic, the essays were closely related to what happens in our lives during COVID-19. Once again, sounds like a small deal, but oh boy, were they not a “small deal” after all. However, I felt a rush of determination as I dove right into working on the essays.
It was 5:30 AM when I put the final full stop on my second essay. Alas, the night was over. With the very last bit of my energy, I dragged myself to the bathroom and treated myself with some warm water. My upcoming class was going to start at 9:00 AM, and before I could plug my phone into the charger, I fell asleep thinking that I had finished my college essay. Little did I know, it would take another 5 days, countless edits and adjustments to perfect my essay.
At last, just one more read and the application was ready. The red submit box was ever more tempting.
The tab loaded for a little bit before confirming the application submission. I let out an exhale and stared at the blank white screen. What was once filled with an overwhelming amount of information now seemed so empty. It was over. And now, to wait.
Day by day, the darkness has slowly retreated, leaving more and more space for the sunlight to shine. As it gets stronger and gives us more hope for a brighter future, I think about others who were also unfortunate enough to have similar experiences as me in this tough period of time. In 2 years, people will begin to forget what exactly happened during the pandemic. In 5 years, COVID-19 will belong in the history books and old science reports. And, soon after the moment when we declare our victory against the COVID-19 virus, the unique challenges of this generation of students will also be forgotten.