Uncovering COVID (and Oberlin): My First College Class
April 10, 2021
Ricarda Hill ’24
When I got the email in mid-March that I had been accepted to Oberlin, I could barely contain my excitement. My parents encouraged me to look into campus events for admitted students, and we were planning to make a trip that would allow me to immerse myself in the life of an Obie.
Then, the coronavirus dashed those plans. (I am fortunate to be writing this piece having been safe and unscathed from the ongoing global pandemic, and I think that any admission of “oh, this didn’t work out due to COVID-19” should be placed in the context of the numerous tragedies and hardships that families around the world have experienced.) Oberlin impressed us by reacting quickly despite the cancellation of admitted student days. Within days, we heard about the option to take an online course on COVID-19 that would showcase Oberlin faculty and allow us to meet current students and future classmates while granting us college credit. (For context, none of the other schools I was considering made such a concerted effort to connect prospective students with current students, faculty, and alumni.) I was initially hesitant. The discussion component of the class, where I would meet other students, made me nervous. I didn’t know anything about the coronavirus other than what I read in news articles. What if I made a bad first impression because I couldn’t contribute to the discussion?
Despite the butterflies in my stomach, I signed up. When the first lecture finished, I was hesitant to click the Zoom link to meet my discussion group. I was greeted by a dozen nervous yet smiling faces from all across the United States and even a couple sleepy faces from other countries. Each group of twelve or so students was led by an older student called a PAL, a Peer Advising Leader. PALs are also instrumental in providing guidance and instruction during orientation and throughout the first semester for first-year students. The motto of the PAL program is “every first-year student has a PAL.”
We discussed the lecture and our opinions and experiences for roughly half of the period, and we spent the second half becoming more familiar with the Oberlin community and student life. I was ecstatic to learn that the Ultimate Frisbee teams are very welcoming to inexperienced players! It was also reassuring and interesting to hear from my future classmates. We shared what we looked for in a college community, why we had applied to Oberlin, and any thoughts or concerns we had about choosing a college. As someone who missed out on these discussions with my high school classmates due to COVID-19, it was therapeutic to hear from other students and relate to their feelings.
Outside the organized program, my PAL encouraged us to reach out to her if we needed anything, and exchanging emails with her was helpful to find out more about the myriad of opportunities at Oberlin. When the college commitment deadline came, we celebrated our decisions together. Out of the dozen or so students who had initially joined, only a couple opted for other colleges similar to Oberlin, some citing factors such as proximity to home and winter sports like skiing as reasons why they went elsewhere. I am still in touch with several of the students, including a couple who enrolled at other schools. One of the students from the group even lives on the same floor as me in my first-year dorm!
Uncovering COVID did not just allow me to gain more knowledge and perspective about the global pandemic we are living through. It introduced me to professors, current students, and classmates in my same year. I learned about Oberlin’s diverse community at a time when I had to make a difficult decision, and I bonded with the other teenagers I will be navigating college life and adulthood with. Uncovering COVID uncovered Oberlin for me and sealed the deal.