A COVID-19 Gap Year

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Uncertainty About College Created by COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic and the subsequent economic fall off is causing many students to rethink their plans for attending college this fall. A survey by the Baltimore-based Art & Science Group revealed nearly one in six graduating high school seniors now indicate that, due to the pandemic, they will likely revise their plans of attending a four-year college in the fall and take a gap year instead.

Additionally it found that 63% of graduating seniors are uncertain whether they will be able to attend their first school choice in the fall, with 21% of these students indicating that it was no longer affordable, and 12% citing personal or family health reasons.

Many Students are Considering a Gap Year Instead of College Online

An analysis by the consulting firm McKinsey considered three possible scenarios for higher education.

  • The best-case scenario was that the COVID-19 virus is under control by this fall and regular campus life resumes.
  • A second scenario envisioned a virus recurrence, with physical distancing and other restrictive measures kept in place in some regions for several more months beyond the fall.
  • Finally, the most pessimistic scenario considered pandemic escalation where the public-health response fails to control the spread of the virus for an extended period of time, probably until vaccines are widely available.

In the optimistic scenario, the current semester is finished online and graduation is virtual. In the other two scenarios there is a greater and extended shift to online learning. This could create issues around equity (lower income students could be at a disadvantage because of less access to the right computer equipment and high speed Internet), and also quality of the educational experience. The current struggles that educational institutions as well as students are having with online learning shows that it is not yet ready to stand in for the richer experience of life on campus.

The financial impact that has accompanied the COVID-19 pandemic also means many families may have a more difficult time sending their kids to college.

So it may not be surprising that many students are considering waiting out the pandemic with a gap year.

What Does a COVID-19 Gap Year Look Like?

On this blog, we have often talked about the benefits of a gap year, especially for students with ADHD or similar learning and attention challenges. But what would a COVID-19 gap year look like, especially if social distancing and stay-at-home orders remain in place for an extended period?

Here are some potential ideas for a “COVID constrained” gap year suggested by College Transitions and others:

  • Volunteer for a political cause or candidate – 2020 is an election year with many important national, state and local races. You could make calls or assist with a candidate’s social media outreach from the safety of home or you could volunteer to work the polls.
  • Get help from a mentor – If you are unable to attend college in person, this could be a good time to tap into networks of people who can advise you with regard to college and career goals. One organization that does this now is Global Citizen Year. They help students tap the networks of their parents or send emails asking leaders in fields they’re interested in for a 15-minute Zoom chat.
  • Take online, college level courses – There are plenty of good courses in virtually every area of study – many of them free -to help you explore and deepen your knowledge in your area of interest.
  • Do work for a community  non-profit – Many local charities and non-profits are facing staffing shortages to help serve community needs during this time of crisis. If this work involves working directly with people, you will need to follow public health guidelines about protecting yourself from exposure to the COVID-19 virus.
  • Work locally for an essential business – Over 60% of American families have already a reduction in income. This may be a way to earn and save money to help with future college expenses. Again, if this work involves direct exposure to others, please follow public health guidelines to protect yourself from COVID-19 exposure.
  • Learn a foreign language online – You can use an online platform like Dualingo, to sharpen your foreign language skills. Learning another language can be useful in college and beyond, as bilingual individuals enjoy a greater array of opportunities and make more money, on average, than their monolingual peers.

When the constraints on travel and social interaction are lifted, you can expand your gap year to include more options.

Just like any gap year plan, it starts with setting clear goals for what you want to achieve and how it will help you when you return to academic life. Design your own plan and make sure it aligns with your interests and ambitions. And, during this time of crisis, stay flexible and adaptable.


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