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My Road to Grad School is Paved with Uncertainty Because of COVID-19

Sherina Poyyail on a blue background with yellow highlight.
Like millions of other youth, Sherina Poyyail questions the fate of her higher studies as the COVID-19 crisis brings the world to a grinding halt. Photo courtesy: Caroline Almeida

Education

My Road to Grad School is Paved with Uncertainty Because of COVID-19

I missed a scholarship deadline because I keep questioning the futility of such things as the world seems to be crumbling around me.

Most Indian families have a checklist for their children: Finish school, graduate, get your master’s degree, get married, have children. My parents are no different, even while I was still in undergrad, they asked me to apply to grad school but I stalled for more time to figure out what I wanted to do with my life. After working for two years in India, I felt like I had a clearer picture of what I wanted to study, so I started the application process last year to join the incoming class of fall 2020. 

I’d envisioned my life in such a way that I’d complete a year at Re:Set by September 2020 and start the next chapter of my life. But my mom has often said, “Life doesn’t always work out the way you plan for it,” and as always, she has been proven right. That pin in my plans came in the form of COVID-19. We’ve been covering coronavirus related stories for months now, so there was no way I could underestimate the effect it could have on the economy, employment and more importantly, on education. With most colleges closed or only operating online, there is little doubt that application processing and acceptances will be delayed. So far I’ve only heard back from one of the schools I’d applied to, the others have provided no solid timelines on when to expect responses. 

Sherina Poyyail stands amidst stacks of books

The pandemic has forced Sherina to rethink her priorities and future plans.

Right now, India is looking at a lockdown till the first week of May, but it’s unrealistic to expect that we will return to life as usual in the near future. Even if I were to get accepted, visa applications and related paperwork can take well over three months and with shut offices, a backlog and a sudden drop in travel, these services have also taken a hit. With international air travel mostly at a halt, it also remains to be seen when flights will resume. 

Another thought that’s crossed the minds of my peers and I while we wait to hear back is whether colleges abroad will limit the intake of international students this year to help curb the spread of the coronavirus.

A friend who was planning to start grad school next year has wondered whether seats might fill up faster in 2021 as many students could defer their start date from this year to the next. While another who is currently in grad school and was looking to enter the job market has decided against it because of the rocky economic conditions. She’s now planning to pursue her doctoral studies directly instead. 

Card with yellow elements and words

With no definitive date as to when the pandemic will cease, a return to normalcy seems like a distant dream for those planning their future. Illustration by (c) Reset Fest Inc, Canada

With the global count of infections growing nearly every day, there seems to be no solid deadline for when we can control the pandemic. We are putting out fires as they start and these reactionary measures have left us fumbling as a community. The uncertainty of when we can expect “normalcy” again and what life will look like once this is over has left many of us feeling overwhelmed and anxious. The “next chapter” of my life remains but a distant dream and it makes me very uneasy to not know where I’ll be by the end of this year. 

I missed a scholarship deadline because every time I would sit in front of my laptop to fill it out, I would question the futility of the whole exercise.

As an immunocompromised person, my health, as well as the health of my parents, have always been a priority and cause for concern. During this time, it has forced me to face mortality head-on as an uncomfortable concept. I missed a scholarship deadline because every time I would sit in front of my laptop to fill it out, I would question the futility of the whole exercise because the world seemed to be crumbling around me. 

When millions in India are struggling to meet their bare necessities like feeding themselves, I know that many of my problems reek of privilege in comparison, but it is a reality for me and millions of others like me. 

I want to be hopeful and think that we will have better control of the situation in the coming months, but as a journalist, our world view always leans towards being more realistic than being optimistic. Will 2020 be the year I finally get my master’s degree or am I destined to spend one more year as the underachieving one in the family? Only time will tell. 


Also read: Class of 2020 Reflects on Graduating Amidst a Global Pandemic


 

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