SMOKE: In Santa Rosa, in Northern California, 2,834 homes burned in devastating October fires. Schools were closed for three weeks, students fell behind in their APs, and college plans were changed. Above, a hopeful sign in downtown Santa Rosa.

College applications and SATs take a back seat for disaster victims

From Houston to Santa Rosa, priorities change and plans do too.

October 31, 2017

For 12th-grade students, 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, Calif., where a sudden wildfire consumed 2,834 homes and thousands of other structures, has had to change schools. A senior at the public Maria Carillo High school up until the Oct. 9 fires, he has just begun attending Jewish Community High School of the Bay in San Francisco, near relatives with whom his family is staying.

His house was burned down, and he and his family rushed to a relative’s one-bedroom apartment  in Berkeley, where they are currently staying until they find a permanent place.

“That car ride was really intense,” Ari said. “We were saying the Shema the whole time.”

Ari is applying Early Decision to Yeshiva University, which has given him an extension on its application deadline. But he said that school has taken a backburner 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 Ari said this was used as a time to recuperate. But it also caused many 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.”

Some colleges 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 mass shooting in Las Vegas.

Columbia, Harvard, Princeton, Yale, Stanford University and the University of Pennsylvania are among schools that have altered their application schedule.

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,” Maya said.

Her plan was to take one more ACT 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, Maya has 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.”

Like Maya, Ari 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.”

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Meet the Writer
Photo of Lucy Fried
Lucy Fried, Co-Editor-in-Chief
Lucy Fried joined the Boiling Point staff as a freshman and served as Arts and Culture Editor, Features Editor, and Torah Editor before becoming Co-Editor-in-chief this year. She has been published in Best of SNO and won awards from Quill & Scroll, the American Jewish Press Association, Quill and the Jewish Scholastic Press Association awards for various stories written during her sophomore and junior years. In addition to her love for BP, Lucy is also co-captain of Shalhevet's Model Congress and swim teams and captain of Cross Country.
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College applications and SATs take a back seat for disaster victims