By Lucy Fried
For high school seniors, the impending college or gap year experience can consume one’s mind, and becomes the theme of every conversation. But for students affected by recent natural disasters, the focus of senior year has shifted.
Ari Rosenthal, who lives in Santa Rosa, California — where a sudden wildfire consumed nearly 3,000 homes and thousands of other structures — has had to change schools. A senior at the public Maria Carillo High School until the early-October fires, Rosenthal began attending Jewish Community High School of the Bay in San Francisco.
Rosenthal’s house was burned down, and he and his family are now living in a relative’s one-bedroom apartment in Berkeley.
“That car ride [after leaving Santa Rosa] was really intense,” Rosenthal recalled.
Rosenthal is applying early decision to Yeshiva University, which gave him an extension on its application deadline. But he said that school has taken a backseat to other priorities after the disaster.
“Considering where college applications fall on the scheme of physical things, I was more worried about surviving and, you know, finding a house,” he said. “Within 24 hours, we had both lost our home and were looking for a new place to live.”
Maria Carillo High School was closed for three weeks after the fires, and Rosenthal said this was used as a time to recuperate. But it also caused many students to fall behind in their Advanced Placement classes.
“The teachers in the AP classes said that they would not be able to extend the time during which we could take the AP test,” he said. “It’s unfortunate, so what kids at my school have to do is go to school on Saturday, or stay after class to make up material.”
Many colleges across the United States are accommodating students’ loss of time and focus due to disasters and tragedies, including Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria, the fires in Santa Rosa, and the recent mass shooting in Las Vegas.
Columbia, Harvard, Princeton, Yale, Stanford and the University of Pennsylvania are among schools that have altered their application schedules.
In an email to all seniors who had visited, Columbia University dean of undergraduate admissions and financial Aid Jessica Marinaccio wrote that the university’s early decision deadline was being extended to Nov. 15 from Nov. 1 for those affected by natural disasters or the shooting.
According to both Yale’s and Penn’s admissions websites, their early action deadlines have been extended to Nov. 10 from Nov. 1, and Stanford, Harvard and Princeton all say on their sites that those who needed extensions could request them by email.
All of those universities also offered application fee waivers to affected students who requested them.
Maya Walder, a senior at Robert M. Beren Academy in Houston, said her plans to prepare for college were totally altered when her home was destroyed in Hurricane Harvey. Her house was flooded five feet deep, reaching kitchen counters, beds and the dining room table.
“This situation forced me to make my decision really early on,” Walder said.
Her plan was to take one more standardized test and then decide where she’d like to go. But because of the stress of recuperating from the flood and the amount of work and focus that taking another test and applying to numerous colleges would require, Walder made her decision quickly. She will be attending Yeshiva University’s Stern College for Women in New York, after a gap year next year.
“Now I’m settling with this score and going to Stern, because there’s no time to decide,” she said. “I’m okay with it now, but I didn’t want to have to make that decision.”
Rosenthal is also finding a new perspective on senior year.
“I think for kids my age, school is everything,” he said, “but this disaster really showed me that your life and your family are truly everything.
“Yes I had to change schools and I have to meet new people, but that’s a price I guess I’m willing to pay to be alive.”
—Featured photo: Burned-out cars and charred homes cover the landscape in Santa Rosa on Oct. 14, after the wildfires that spread across Sonoma County (Courtesy photo by Will Martin via Creative Commons).
This story was originally published on the website of The Boiling Point, the student-produced publication of Shalhevet High School.