As COVID-19 ramps up this summer, colleges are struggling to justify opening up their campuses to students this fall. They need to offer on-campus courses and bring students back to the dorms in order to justify charging full tuition, room and board, yet they don’t want faculty and students to succumb to the coronavirus on their watch. This indecision about opening up campuses and the unknown about the second wave of the coronavirus this fall is now causing a new trend of students taking a gap year.
Normally, just a few students take a gap year between high school and college. These students either aren’t quite ready to make the big jump into a 4-year program or they have sports or projects that need to be completed before transitioning to college. Others take this opportunity to travel abroad or immerse themselves in research or work. They know college will be there for them when they’re ready.
But this year, students are choosing to take a gap year because they don’t want to miss their “college experience.” Living at home in their old bedrooms under family rules – and now “shelter-in-place” rules – stuck behind their laptops is not quite how they want to spend the next school year. They only get 4 years of living the college dream and they don’t want to waste one (or more) of those years living and studying from home. Parents are also on board for gap years because forking out $30,000 to $70,000 just doesn’t make sense when their kids are living and eating at home and taking classes online.
Taking a gap year while sheltering in place will be a completely different experience for these students. Most will not be able to travel abroad, do internships, or get jobs. The big difference this year is that many students are opting to take gap years because they want to live on campus, whereas previously, students took gap years to do something special.
Not all colleges allow gap years so check with your college to lay out a plan. Some colleges require that you reapply the following year. Others don’t allow students to take classes at other institutions during the gap year.
If taking a gap year makes financial sense, make good use of this year. Volunteer and support programs that help people struggling while sheltering in place. Work with your political party to get out the vote. Learn a foreign language. Build technical computer skills. Read, read, read! Consider your options and lay out a plan to ensure that you’ll be happy and satisfied with your decision to take a gap year.