In recent weeks, many 2020 high school graduates packed up their belongings and moved into dorm rooms in unfamiliar cities to start their next chapter as college students.
It’s a thrilling yet uncertain time in a teen’s life — especially this year amid the coronavirus pandemic. More than ever, it’s critical that freshmen feel they’ve found a school where they fit in and feel at home. For many, saying goodbye to Santa Fe — a place with ample access to the outdoors, unique cuisine and a multicultural community — is not an easy transition.
“Santa Fe had a really nice hometown feeling,” says Avery Phillips, a Desert Academy graduate and freshman at Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology in Terre Haute, Ind.
“Everybody in Santa Fe had a laid-back feel for the most part,” Phillips adds. “Santa Fe feels like one of those places trapped in time.”
While Phillips says he feels the vibe on campus is similarly easygoing, he misses New Mexico’s rich history and culture — and especially its cuisine.
“Southwestern food is overall more fun than the food in the middle of the country,” Phillips says. “I feel like I have been spoiled a little bit with food.”
Dulce Rosales-Foster, a freshman at Westminster College in Fulton, Mo., who is interested in the school’s medical programs, agrees: “I love green chile, and proper spicy food is hard to get here.”
Still, there are aspects of a college town that can feel more vibrant compared to Santa Fe, where most everything closes by 10 p.m.
Also, “it is cool to see buildings that aren’t square and brown,” Phillips says.
When looking for schools, it’s clearly not just about finding quality academics but about matching personality with a sense of place. Though it can feel overwhelming, teens are not on their own.
Jenifer Dreyfoos, a local college counselor and college consultant, says a common concern for teens in Santa Fe is finding a school where they feel comfortable.
Students tend to make decisions on their interests and what is appealing to them, she says. Skiers and outdoor enthusiasts tend to look for schools in the West, whereas students interested in language and politics might consider spots like Washington, D.C., or New York.
“New Mexicans tend to fit in better in the Western schools,” as a lot of facilities on the East Coast are quite different in terms of climate and culture,” she says.
However, many teens in Santa Fe do not like the idea of going to Texas, Dryfoos says: “I get this horrified look when I mention it, even though they have some great schools.”
While many teens look for colleges that mirror aspects they love about New Mexico — some will even stay in state for this reason — others choose out-of-state universities to have a new experience, Dryfoos says. She says a lot of kids “want to go to the beach” or a large metropolitan city — somewhere that contrasts the quaint, outdoorsy atmosphere of Santa Fe.
For teens who want to stay close to home, she recommends they look at the University of New Mexico and the New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology. Both offer in-state tuition and have a variety of competitive programs. New Mexico Tech, located in Socorro, is ranked as one of the top tech schools in the country.
Of course, the ongoing pandemic has created challenges that might make adjusting to even the closest-to-home university more difficult than in a normal year.
Anna Hansen, a freshman at Washington University in St. Louis, says she misses the nature and the sunsets of Santa Fe — things she says she only fully started to appreciate after moving. Most of all, she misses the unique beauty of the area.
Hansen, 18, says she moved to St. Louis the first week of the month and started taking classes Sept. 14. While she looks forward to returning to Santa Fe later this year for winter break, she says she’s glad to have a semi-normal start to college.
“I am honestly glad I get to be on campus — I feel pretty safe overall,” says Hansen, who has been taking classes online. Though she says making friends is difficult to do over platforms like Zoom, she’s happy to be on campus.
Unlike Hansen, Ryan LoRusso, a graduate of Santa Fe Preparatory School, will have to remain in Santa Fe — at least for now. Rather than experiencing the out-of-state start to college, he’s living at home, spending even more time around his sister and parents than when he was in high school.
LoRusso, who started online classes for Princeton University on Aug. 30, says he is disappointed. He was looking forward to getting to know his new classmates and says he now feels like he’s missing out on that opportunity.
Whenever he is able to leave to take in-person classes in New Jersey, he will mostly miss his dogs, the desert climate and Santa Fe’s food scene, he says.
If he moves to campus amid the pandemic next year, “I think we will have to bring a box of food back to our dorms and eat there. It isn’t appealing,” he says, noting most dining halls will be closed or will have strict protocols in place. He notes he also won’t be able to cook like he normally would at home.
Whether the transition to out-of-state colleges is seamless or a challenge, teens agree on one thing: No matter how many miles are between them and Santa Fe, a piece of their hearts are here — the place they will always call home.