To break-up, do long distance, or stay close together: how coupled-up seniors are planning for college

By Tessa Collar

Graphic by Milo Bitters

Spending time together every day turns into FaceTime calls once a week. Hugging goodbye for the last time and parting ways for the good of a future college education. 

Or, spending even more time together, living in the same dorm, and attending the same college. High school couples are deciding which of these avenues to follow post-graduation. 

Choosing a college and planning for one’s future is always difficult, but add a romantic relationship into the mix– another person to consider– and decisions become more complicated. Lawrence High students are following a variety of paths when it comes to planning for college and the future of their relationship. 

Seniors Daphne Bracker and Lucas McLaughlin, who have been together for 8 months, are both planning to attend college in Pennsylvania. McLaughlin said Bracker’s plans helped influence his decision to apply to college in Philadelphia. 

“We already were both looking at the East Coast,” McLaughlin said. “It kind of helped me narrow down what part I wanted to go to because I had been looking at stuff in Massachusetts before.”

Bracker plans to play basketball for Bryn Mawr College and study biology while McLaughlin is hoping to attend Drexel University to study architecture. 

“We talked about it and we were like, ‘oh, you know we’d still be cool doing long distance, it’d be a bummer, but we would do that,’” McLaughlin said. “Ideally, being close would be very nice and that’s kind of what we’re headed to hopefully.”

The couple noted the importance of communication once they enter this new phase of their lives. 

“I think that just in general our communication is really good, like we tell each other what we need,” Bracker said. “So I feel like that will translate to when we need time to study and I’ll have basketball practice and stuff.”

Saige White and Abby Michael | Courtesy of Abby Michael

For seniors Abby Michael and Saige White, it worked out that they both wanted to stay close to home and attend the University of Kansas. Despite planning to still live close to each other, Michael discussed potential challenges they might encounter. 

“I think it will be hard,” Michael said. “I think that it’ll be some adjustment because obviously the workload in college is a lot more than when you’re in high school, but I think as long as we both are open with communication we should be just fine.”

Michael and White are looking forward to the opportunity to spend more time together doing new things in college thanks to more open schedules. 

“I also think we’ll have a lot more time to spend outside of Lawrence and go to different cities,” White said. “Like see a movie in Topeka or something… go shopping at Oak park.”

While some students chose to factor their relationship into their college decisions, other seniors focused strictly on personal aspirations. 

Senior Henry Adams pictured with his girlfriend, Lily Otter | Courtesy of Henry Adams

“I didn’t really think beyond what would benefit what I wanted to do,” senior Henry Adams said, who has been in his current relationship for over a year. “I didn’t think anything else mattered other than the rest of my future. Obviously, I felt that I could’ve gone anywhere and me and Lily would’ve still dated.”

Adams plans to attend Johnson County Community College to study music production, and his girlfriend, who currently attends Free State High School, plans to attend the University of Kansas.

Adams discussed the challenge of having a different schedule in college than his girlfriend.

“Lily is a person who likes to have a schedule like 3 months beforehand and I’m a person that’s like ‘alright what are we doing,’” Adams said. “So scheduling and fitting whatever hours of work and school we have to do together, that’ll be difficult to figure out at first, but once we get into a rhythm like we have here in high school, I think it’ll be fine.”  

Lawrence High social worker Carissa Welsh discussed her advice for students in these situations. 

“I’m always going to tell people, don’t follow somebody to college, don’t follow somebody and not live out your own dreams,” Welsh said. 

Welsh noted the importance of prioritizing oneself before others when making important decisions. 

“You do have to take care of yourself before other people,” Welsh said, “and then in those moments, when you do that, sometimes doors can open professionally and personally to things you wouldn’t have even imagined.”

Seniors David Bell and Paige Unekis | Courtesy of Paige Unekis

Some couples, like seniors Paige Unekis and David Bell, are planning to break up before heading their separate ways to college. 

“We started dating with the intention of, we will break up over the summer,” Unekis said. “If there is a chance where we don’t want to break up, we will do long distance because he is planning on going to KU and that is my last option.”

Unlike Bell, Unekis plans to attend a liberal arts college on the East Coast, and said she didn’t factor her relationship with Bell into her decisions of where to apply. Unekis discussed her feelings surrounding their planned breakup. 

“It’s not something we like talking about,” Unekis said. “We are dating for fun and we know that it’s nothing serious, and I mean, I am nervous for when we do have to break up and that final goodbye. It’s gonna be sad, but it’s not something I really occupy my mind with.” 

Senior Cecelia Jakubauskas pictured with her boyfriend, Simon Mason | Courtesy of Cecelia Jakubauskas

Senior Cecelia Jakubauskas is planning to stay with her boyfriend of almost 2 years, Simon Mason, as they enter college. Jakubauskas and Mason both plan to attend the University of Kansas next year. 

Like other students, Jakubauskas said she took her boyfriend’s college decision into account when picking a school, but didn’t base this decision solely around Mason’s.

“I definitely don’t think I’d just choose KU as the school that I go to because he’s going [there],” Jakubauskas said. “I do like it, it’s one of my top options.”

Jakubauskas discussed her feelings surrounding Mason’s college decision impacting her own.  

“I know I shouldn’t be tied down to someone I probably won’t be with for a long time, but it makes me happy to do what I feel in my heart is right,” Jakubauskas said. “So it’s both happiness and guilt for doing that.”

Despite having complicated feelings, Jakubauskas is looking forward to beginning a new part of her life with Mason. 

“I’m excited,” Jakubauskas said. “We’ve kind of been together for all of high school and I feel like I’ve really grown as a person and he’s grown as a person…I feel like switching into that phase in my life is just going to be exciting and it’ll bring a lot to the relationship.” 

Seniors Abe Roman and Peyton Fowler | Courtesy of Peyton Fowler

Seniors Abe Roman and Peyton Fowler are unsure of where they will be attending college next year but plan to stay together. The couple has been together for 7 months.

“We kind of just decided we’re just going to see what happens,” Fowler said. “We’re not gonna break up just because we’re going to college. Let life take its course.”

Roman is planning to attend either the University of Kansas or Kansas City Kansas Community College and Fowler is unsure of where she will attend but plans to stay in the area. Fowler said she took Roman’s college decision into account as well as proximity to family when choosing where to apply. 

“I just don’t want to be super far away from home,” Fowler said. “I also kind of put into consideration that Abe does plan to stay in Kansas. And so since my family is here also, it just makes sense to stay close by.”

Although both have uncertainties in their futures, Fowler is comforted by the constant Roman will provide.

“Personally, I kind of see it as, I have absolutely no idea what I’m doing next year, but I know that he’s still gonna be there,” Fowler said. “It’s kind of that foundation, like it’ll be okay.”