Cars loaded to the ceiling with bedding, books and cooking utensils. Parents drag crates and boxes through the dorms while their teenagers awkwardly meet new roommates and start decorating the walls. The excitement in the air is palpable as college campuses come alive for the start of a new academic year.
The scene takes place across the country each August, a rite of passage for thousands of students who choose to leave home, some for the first time, to pursue a college education. It’s a bittersweet time for parents and their children, and a welcome time after the pandemic has disrupted life so much over the past two years.
Many factors go into a student’s decision to leave home. Many chose their schools based on what they planned to study, such as Olivia Silvestri, a graduate of Palo Verde High who plans to major in environmental studies at the University of Southern California. “I chose USC for its academic offerings and opportunities,” she says. “While I didn’t choose it purely for its proximity to home, being only four hours away is a big plus.”
Dora Chatterjee, a graduate of the Coral Academy of Science, is heading to the California Institute of Technology. “I plan to double major in computer science and business, economics, management,” she says. “Cal Tech aligns with my future research goals, and it’s also the closest and most prestigious institution to my home.”
For other students, a school further from home may provide opportunities for greater independence and a very different way of life. Vinati T., a graduate of Clark High School, plans to attend the Illinois Institute of Technology. “I can’t wait to explore the new city I’m going to live in,” he says. “Chicago has a lot to offer, and I’m really excited to get out there and get a feel for the environment around me.”
As most are living away from their first-time parents, these college-going students say they will miss the constant support and companionship, as well as the familiar comforts of home, including home-cooked meals. But they’re also excited about the on-campus amenities.
“I can’t wait to see how accessible things are inside my campus. I had no idea how many things were included, like their wellness center for mental health, recreation center and more,” says Georgianna Esmeria, a graduate of the Coral Academy of Science who will study nursing at Cal State. Fullerton. “It’s a much larger environment than my high school, but I know I can adapt to it.”
As for dorm essentials, Silvestri’s list includes a fan, shower caddy, mini vacuum, storage bins, and plenty of USC products. Esmeria mentions a kettle for hot water and her soft toys, “to keep me company while I’m away from my family.” And Vinati, bound for Windy City, is already anticipating the weather, packing winter coats with keepsakes given to her by close friends over the years.
Despite their excitement for impending college life, these students have not forgotten that the world remains in a pandemic. Disinfectant wipes and masks are on shopping lists, with their health and safety and that of those around them top of mind.
“I am confident that I will have a safe university experience, given the improved pandemic conditions,” Silvestri says. “Going to school rather than doing it virtually has always been extremely important to me, and I will definitely take precautions to ensure I can continue my education in person.”
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