Getty fire ignites ‘panic’ in seniors submitting college applications


Molly Goldberg

Senior Celeste Ramirez logs in to her Common Application account, an advanced college application tool that helps prospective college students apply to multiple institutions at once. The Getty Fire impacted the college process for the class of 2020.

By Molly Goldberg and London Sinclair

College Guidance Counselor Gabrielle Dorsey’s inbox flooded with “concerned” emails when the Archer community was alerted of the school closures due to the Getty fire on the morning of Oct. 28. This news brought many families and their senior daughters “a high sense of panic,” Dorsey said, considering the majority of the class had a Nov. 1 early action college application deadline.

“We also had a lot of meetings on our calendar for Monday and Tuesday in particular because we encourage the girls to submit early,” Dorsey said. “So I sent out a letter to seniors and parents to just say….‘Hey, we’re not affected [by the fire], we’re happy to answer your concerns or review essays via email, feel free to contact us, we’ll update you as we see how this progresses.'”

When Dorsey found out that the school was going to close for the majority of the week, she said she was “nervous” about how this was going to impact everyone’s applications.

“Our job is to manage other people’s stress, which most of the time we can handle, but this was such a unique situation,” Dorsey said. “I really wanted to make sure everyone that wanted to submit by the deadline was able to do that, so we were working furiously to get through all of our emails.”

Senior Chloe Powers had evacuated from her home in the Pacific Palisades on Monday, Oct. 28. Powers and her family left their house at 6 a.m. and returned later that day at 1 p.m.

“My mindset was just to try to get as much as I could done, and that would be enough for me,” Powers said. “Once I stopped freaking out and realized that I was going to be safe, it actually kind of worked in my favor…It just so happened that these fires were the reason that I got my early applications done and submitted on time.”

While Powers was still in the process of completing her essays when the fires started up, other seniors had already turned in their applications. For senior Stella Gregg, who submitted all of her materials before the week of Nov. 1, checking to make sure colleges had received her application was “difficult” during the fire.

“Luckily, I had finished all my applications well before the first. But I had to evacuate and was in a hotel for a few nights,” Gregg said. “Even though I had everything done, I really wanted to double-check and make sure my colleges received all of my application materials, so this made it hard.”

This experience differs from senior Celeste Ramirez, who felt very “alone” during the week.

“My parents did not go to college, so they could not really help me,” Ramirez said. “I was stressed out because I wanted Ms. Lee to look over everything and make sure it was okay….so this made it ten times worse.”

Dorsey emailed about 150 colleges to alert them that Archer was in the mandatory evacuation zone. Dorsey said that they all emailed her back individually to inform her that they would be flexible with their deadlines. The college guidance team finished sending out documents such as transcripts and letters of recommendation the Friday before Nov. 1.

Many colleges sent out an official notice via email that they would be extending their deadlines for California students affected by the fires. Dorsey said most schools changed their early application dates to Nov. 6 or Nov. 8.

Powers said several of the schools that she is applying to reached out via email and offered extensions if needed.

“Obviously, I want to have the best chance of getting into the schools I want to go to, but overall my priority was my safety,” Powers said. “I feel like a lot of people were like ‘Oh, this is affecting my college process; ‘Oh, this is affecting my school work,’ and I feel like at the end of the day, [if] you’re safe, your family is safe, that’s enough for me.”

This story was originally published on The Oracle on November 18, 2019.