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Turlock High senior uses pandemic downtime to earn college degree
Nataly Frias
Turlock High School senior Nataly Frias has double the reasons to celebrate this May as she prepares to earn both her high school diploma as well as an associate's degree in psychology from Merced College (Photo contributed).

Graduating high school is a task in itself, but one Turlock student will also accept a college degree this month along with her diploma. 

Turlock High School senior Nataly Frias made the most of her downtime during the pandemic by accelerating through the final courses she needed in order to earn her associate’s degree in psychology from Merced College — an effort nearly four years in the making.

When she graduates from THS on May 28, Frias will have accepted her associate’s degree from the junior college just the week prior. With two parents who are both college counselors, Frias got a head start her freshman year of high school when she first began taking online courses at Merced College. At first, she said, it was a challenge to balance college classes with her job, travel volleyball, school work from THS and playing volleyball as a Bulldog, but soon she became a time management expert. 

“During that time, it was so overwhelming with so much on my plate,” Frias said. “When I did have free time, I was asleep.”

When COVID hit the nation and subsequently shut down almost everything for high school students like Frias — her job, sports and even in-person classes — she went into overdrive, using quarantine to knock out even more online courses than she would have taken during a normal semester. Had the pandemic not happened, she said, she would have most likely graduated high school with between four and six college courses left in order to receive her associate’s degree. 

“I probably wouldn’t have graduated as early without the pandemic because it really helped give me so much time where I was only focused on my online courses,” Frias said. 

Frias plans on attending Fresno State in the fall, where she’ll enter as a junior and work on obtaining her bachelor’s degree in psychology while also majoring in nursing, should she be accepted into the program. Along with her associate’s degree from Merced College, Frias is also graduating with Superintendent Honors, which means she completed at least 36 units in degree-applicable courses while maintaining a 4.0 GPA. 

“It feels so good now that it’s all finally here,” Frias said. “Time really flew by. Knowing that I saved myself two years of time in my life that I’ll eventually get back makes it all worth it.”

As Frias continues toward her goal of becoming a nurse practitioner, she hopes her knowledge in the field of psychology will help her be there for her future patients in a way other nurses may not. While double majoring in both fields will be a challenge, she’s no stranger to multitasking and encouraged other high school students to get started on their dreams if time allows.

“Just do it. It’s a lot of hard work but you’ll feel so accomplished,” she said.