High school seniors face unique challenges as they approach graduation

High school senior Ian Viamontes expected a year filled with unforgettable nights balanced with a few acne-inducing decisions. 

But, for the graduating class of 2021, things have been radically different. Navigating stressful responsibilities like choosing and applying to colleges, taking the SATs and ACTs, and filling out FAFSA applications all while living through a global pandemic made for the most difficult year of many students’ lives. 

“We’ve had to deal with all of the most stressful parts of high school without being able to experience the best parts of high school,” said Viamontes, who attends Monsignor Edward Pace High School in Northwest Miami-Dade.

Preparing for college has always been nerve-racking. The additional uncertainties that have come with the pandemic have made college prep even more taxing. 

Pre-pandemic, rising seniors could visit prospective colleges, which helped them choose the perfect fit. This year, seniors had to make those decisions based on virtual experiences. 

“It’s been hard to find what college is right for me,” said Sebastian Bak, Pace student body president. “Colleges have provided different ways for seniors to find out what they offer. It’s been a struggle through virtual campus tours and webinars and information sessions. It’s been difficult getting a really good feel for the schools.” 

While picking a college was stressful for students, figuring out how to pay for it is what worries parents most. 

“I didn’t know anything about financial aid or how to apply for it until I started doing research on my own,” said Mayren Viamontes, mother of Ian Viamontes. 

In the past, Barbara Goleman Senior High School parents would attend a “FAFSA Night” where counselors and teachers would walk parents step-by-step through the lengthy and complicated application process. This year, the high school created a how-to-video, but parents experienced difficulties. 

“It has always been a concern, but this year it’s to the millionth power,” said Melanie Gonzalez, a counselor at Goleman. “They are worried about financial aid, government funding, and how to get it.” 

High SAT and ACT scores can mean scholarship money and acceptance to dream colleges. However, the 2021 Florida Bright Future Scholarship requirement scores went up from previous years, requiring students to achieve higher scores on SAT and ACT exams. 

Many high schools have been providing virtual standardized test prep for the past several years. Both Monsignor Edward Pace and Barbara Goleman encourage students to use Khan Academy, a free electronic platform designed to help with test prep. 

“We have seen a drastic increase in points when students actively engage in Khan Academy prior to taking the SAT,” said Gonzalez. “Thus far, they are doing well.”

The class of 2021 has learned a thing or two about the complexities of adult life. Although they have missed out on traditional experiences like prom, grad night and senior trips, they’re feeling ready for their futures.

“I’ve learned a lot in the past year,” said Viamontes. “I am better prepared for college now than I’ve ever felt because I had to do everything on my own and it wasn’t easy, but I figured it out.”

Sophia Lama is a senior at Florida International University majoring in broadcast journalism. She was ABC 7 Chicago’s first-ever race and culture reporting intern. Currently, Sophia is a part of the NBCU Diversity, Equity & Inclusion fellowship in Washington, DC and is interning for ESPN.