As many of you know, I am the lucky parent of a senior, Cassidy, and a sophomore, Ben. I also work with several high schoolers from across the area. I have been hearing more and more about seniors taking a “gap year” and delaying college admissions for a year. To some, this is their solution for handling the covid-19 pandemic.
Gap years traditionally involve the student traveling the world or volunteering for a nonprofit organization. One of the common pros of taking a gap year is that it looks impressive on your resume. Gap years are fairly common in Europe with up to 35% of students taking a gap year before enrolling in university. Harvard University even recommends a gap year, “We encourage admitted students to defer enrollment for one year to travel, pursue a special project or activity, work, or spend time in another meaningful way.” A gap year sounds great if you have the financial means to support the year and there is not a global pandemic.
Some college advisors and consultants are recommending that students take a gap year. The reasoning is uncertainty about if classes will be in person or online this fall. The cost of classes online is not worth it. Also, part of the traditional college experience for freshman is the first month of college and everyone being new and making friends and learning how to live with someone. That first month of college is surely memorable during traditional times. I can still remember me the red neck hick from a small town in upstate New York meeting my roommate from urban New Jersey who was far wealthier and worldlier than me. We navigated a lot that first month and ended up living together three years.
Unfortunately, these are not traditional times. Most universities are planning for three possibilities: starting the school year in person with a mix of virtual and in person classes, delaying the start of the school year a month, and going online fall semester. My daughter is going to attend Colorado State University, and we will not know the plan for fall until towards the end of summer. We also do not know if there will be emergency changes after a decision is made because of the possibility of another spike in covid-19 cases.
Even with all this uncertainty, I have recommended to Cassidy and my clients that they do not take a gap year. I have various reasons for my recommendation. If the purpose of a gap year is to travel or volunteer, those opportunities are not as readily available at this time. Travel, either domestic or international, is on hold right now, and no one knows when travel restrictions will loosen. Nonprofit organizations usually need volunteers, but more people taking a gap year want to do something “big” like go on mission trips. That option is not available. Spending a year helping out at a food pantry is needed but can be done if in college or at home. Employment opportunities are scarce with so many currently unemployed. Employers are more likely to hire someone they anticipate sticking around rather than a person who will only be around for a short time. Thus, your student is likely to be home without much to do, just like they are now home without much to do. That does not sound like spending time in “another meaningful way.”
Some people have raised a valid issue regarding paying the same rate for online classes that you pay for in person classes. Their argument is that the quality is not the same. I think in some cases that is accurate. For example, Cassidy is taking a ceramics class at the area community college. She can no longer make ceramic objects and is now watching videos about ceramic art and artists. I have watched both children try to do lab experiments for their high school science classes, and the quality is not as good as in person labs. I imagine the difference is greater in college. Fortunately, freshman level classes tend to have a wider range of options and are broader in scope, which means that creating a schedule that could work online is easier for a freshman than a senior with limited choices left. I have a final concern regarding gap year. This concern is not about the class of 2020 but rather the class of 2021. Usually incoming students are allowed to defer your acceptance a year and are guaranteed a spot next year. What does that do to the class of 2021 when they apply for college? Will there be fewer sports available for them, thus leading some youth to not be allowed to attend college?
This year’s incoming college freshman class is a class like no other. Most of them were born before or soon after 9-11. Mass school shootings have sadly become all too common place for them. Now when they are supposed to be celebrating their success and rites of passage like banquets, proms, and commencement, events are cancelled and they have to stay home. Most students will not get a prom, and several will not get an in-person commencement. This class is uniquely bonded across schools, ethnicities, and geography. They have been through so much together, going through this freshman experience together only makes sense.