College on Pause: Is it the Pandemic, My Classes, or Me?

The first time I sat down in a Conservatory practice room, I felt this flash of anxiety and wondered, “Am I really ready for all of this?” I had spent my life practicing piano, playing in competitions, and attending music camps, and in the seventh grade I identified my dream college as Oberlin. I applied and, after an intense and emotional audition, I was accepted into the double-degree program in piano and liberal arts.  

In the months leading up to my first semester at Oberlin, I felt nervous wondering whether I had what it took to be a double-degree student. Through my final months of high school amid a pandemic, I wondered if I would retain the kind of drive I had when I was preparing for the audition when I actually got to college. Would I be good enough?

When I logged onto my first virtual class of the semester, I was struck by just how mechanical the entire process felt. Instead of the expected awkward banter, I was greeted by a bunch of boxed heads on a computer in my cluttered dorm room. I felt emotionally empty. Yes, I was learning, but I lost that shared sense of curiosity that I had felt so powerfully in physical classrooms with my peers.

As a first-year student, I expected to go through the same process of self-discovery that every other first-year college student goes through. As a double-degree student, I wanted to be able to pursue my musical and academic interests in a way that felt natural. I expected myself to move seamlessly and happily from practicing, to class, to studying. But instead, I found myself stuck. I wanted to do everything well — I had envisioned doing everything well in college — but it seemed like I was trudging through my daily schedule. I wanted to feel the rewards of my work, but the emotional satisfaction just wasn’t there.

At the end of the semester, I left asking myself a few questions. Am I feeling anxious and uncertain because my classes are online, or because the subjects aren’t right for me? Do I know myself well enough to know that this is what I want to do? Because COVID-19 prevents us from really experiencing the intellectual intimacy of a small class, the body language of our peers, the collective feeling of learning, and the immense joy of playing music together with friends — I don’t know if I am accurately perceiving my work. Are my feelings really genuine, or merely a product of a transitory pandemic? Would my conclusions about my major, my courses, and my career outlook be different if this once-in-a-century pandemic had never happened?  

Even though I’m still struggling to find answers, I hope to gain some clarity soon, and, by writing this, I hope that others can relate to my experience. We might be physically apart, and this may be an imperfect feeling of community, but I look forward to experiencing Oberlin as it truly can be.