From the moment Dakyung “Demi” Lee set foot on the Yale University campus at age 10, she knew she’d found her dream school. When it came time to apply for colleges, Lee sent in just one application: to the early admission program at Yale.
Now accepted, she’s waiting alongside a group of her Coronado High School peers to hear how some of the top schools in the country will proceed with the fall semester in the midst of a global pandemic — whether they’ll need to make cross-country moves over the summer, or take classes from the likes of Yale and Harvard at home.
Lee said that though she hopes to be on campus, she’s determined to attend Yale this fall no matter what format her classes take. A 2020 U.S. Presidential Scholar and the recipient of a $100,000 Rogers Foundation scholarship, Lee also said the COVID-19 pandemic has also not dissuaded her from pursuing a future medical career.
“If anything, it’s strengthened my resolve,” Lee said. “It’s encouraged me even more because If I can do my small part to save lives, it’s worth it.”
It’s a rare accomplishment for a group of students from one high school to be headed to elite schools, said Brandon Kim, executive director of the tutoring company Excel Academy, where the Coronado students attended classes. He added that with college admissions requirements changing almost every week, there is some anxiety among prospective students about applications, but those who have accepted offers are determined to succeed.
“They’re all very proactive in what they want to achieve,” he said.
Admissions counselor Casey Near of Collegewise said the students’ resolve is echoed nationwide, as even students who were reluctant to accept online classes in the fall have come around to the idea.
“There was a life cycle of grief where students were thinking and hoping they could defer or take a gap year or work or travel,” she said. “I think they’re realizing there’s nothing cool around the corner. Even those who initially said they wouldn’t go to online school are thinking maybe it’s the best option.”
Near said she expects schools to announce their plans for the fall in the next three weeks, whether that will mean reopening their campuses, moving online or some combination of the two options, with some of the more flexible arrangements coming from small liberal arts colleges that need to attract students.
“Ultimately it’s not the schools with large endowments that are getting creative,” she said.
Princeton-bound Megan King, a tennis star at Coronado as well as a National Merit semifinalist and an AP Scholar with Distinction, said that she might have considered a gap year had she been able to predict that a pandemic would disrupt her last quarter of high school, particularly in order to do volunteer work through the university. But the future mechanical engineering major added that nothing would compare to being on campus at a school she has wanted to attend since childhood.
“I’d say it’s very important to me to be on campus for the community and the experience,” she said.
Few nationwide deferring college
A survey of students from higher education marketing company Carnegie Dartlet also found that only 2 percent of students have decided to defer their college careers because of the pandemic, while 42 percent said in May that they will not delay under any circumstances — up from 34 percent who said so in March.
Katie Lim, bound for Harvard en route to her dream of being a policy analyst, a human rights attorney and later, a U.S. Supreme Court justice, said she’d be reluctant to delay the first steps of that career.
Lim said that though this last unusual quarter of high school saw its challenges — like when one of her online AP tests failed to submit — she felt her time at Coronado High helped prepare her for the future. Lim, the Nevada chair for the High School Democrats of America, was also accepted to Stanford, Columbia, Dartmouth, Emory and Georgetown, among others.
“It was really supportive,” she said of the Henderson school. “The teachers and staff were the best.”
Renato Nicolas Fajardo said Stanford University was always his top choice for college in part because it would allow him to stay close to his family. If the school moves to online classes for the fall, he said he would take advantage of the format and stay home.
“I really can’t wait to be there with the Stanford community,” the future medical student said. “But I’ll also have to weigh my safety and health.”
For students applying to college this fall, Fajardo said he understands the stress but encourages them to persevere.
“When you start applying for college, you think you have to fit a mold,” he said. “But if you stay true to yourself, the right college will find you.”