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Guide to Taking a Gap Year During COVID-19 and Beyond

Dec 17, 2020

With the COVID-19 pandemic having disrupted the normal schedules and routines of higher education, many people have begun to reconsider the plans they may have had for years. While students may still begin taking classes online in the fall, others may prefer to take time off from college and start their studies when things have returned to normal. For those students, it may be best to take a gap year.

What is a Gap Year?

Gap years, sometimes also known by the more formal term of a 'sabbatical,' is the act of taking a year off from structured education after finishing high school and before entering college. While gap years are defined by this break, this doesn't mean that they are devoid of learning opportunities. Traditionally, a gap year is used to gain knowledge from real world experience, as opposed to the book and classroom learning which has been the primary source of education in a child's life to that point. This might include traveling the world and becoming familiar with other cultures, taking a job and working to earn money to help pay for college, or even simply self-directed learning on a variety of topics.

Should I take a Gap Year?

Taking a gap year is a personal decision, so you will need to consider carefully whether this is the right choice for you. Consider the benefits and drawbacks, and the situation which you and your family are currently in before committing to a break from education.

Benefits of Taking a Gap Year

There are numerous benefits to taking a gap year, and that may be even more true in the wake of COVID-19.

Find Your Passion

Just because you've finished high school doesn't mean you've figured out what you want your college major to be. Going straight into college without a clear goal can be a big problem, potentially leading to wasted funds on tuition from changing majors and taking a longer time to graduate. Taking a gap year can give you time to experiment, study, and determine just what kind of career you'd like to have. Internships, volunteer opportunities, and other similar real-world experiences can provide insight into what that career would actually be like and help to determine if it's a good fit. While the availability of these may be limited due to COVID-19, opportunities may still be present in some fields.

Save Up Money

For most people, even with student aid, college is expensive. If you aren't able to land excellent scholarships after graduating high school, it may be cost prohibitive to head straight into college--and that's more of a problem than ever, as families deal with being out of work because of COVID-19 related business closures. Instead of spending that money now, it may be better to take time off and either assist your family by supplementing parental income or begin saving to pay for your own education. Gap year students can perform gig work roles or work from home, if being out in the workforce is not an option. You might also be able to work at smaller, essential trade businesses learning about that trade, which may be handy knowledge even if it is unrelated to your ultimate career.

Create Art

Many young people have an interest in a career in the arts, and may even be considering going to college for it. However, the realities of being an artist can be quite different than the dream image in a student's head. By taking this time to practice and create, you can learn about what it's like to work on art full time, and the particularly talented may even be able to build a career or earn scholarships off of their art. Aside from helping to decide whether art is something you'd really like to devote your life to, a gap year can also aid you in making the connections and networking you'll need to someday succeed if you do choose that life.

Travel

Travel is the classic gap year activity and the one impacted the most by COVID-19. While some service programs may still provide student volunteers with the opportunity to travel to remote locales, most recreational travel has been put on hold indefinitely. Students who simply wish to see the outdoors and experience nature may have the best luck, so long as they remain within their state and abide by lockdown rules, when in effect.

Take Online Classes

Just because students take a gap year doesn't mean they can't make progress towards earning their degree. Due to Covid, almost all colleges are offering online classes that students can take to make progress towards an online degree or traditional degree. Taking a gap year means students can casually take flexible courses as they fit in with your other activities.

Cons of Taking a Gap Year

Gap years aren't all sunshine and roses, and they may not be a good fit for everyone, especially in uncertain times. Here are a few reasons you might not want to put your education on hold.

The Expense

If you aren't spending at least part of the gap year working, you may end up costing more money than you save by deferring college for a year. Students considering gap years should have good money sense and a solid support structure that can help them remain financially sound, even in the midst of COVID-19. Deferring can also sometimes be a problem for scholarships and grants that students are eligible for, although many have made special exceptions due to the unprecedented nature of the current situation.

You Get Out What You Put In

With no looming school assignments or rigid classroom schedules, a gap year is often a young person's first taste of freedom, and that can be an issue for those who aren't self-motivated. The temptation to laze around and indulge in bad habits can be quite strong, especially for those who do not have financial troubles to worry about. If you take a gap year, it's important to have a solid plan that incorporates some combination of learning experiences, career building, artistic endeavors and profitable work to remain disciplined.

Breaking Study Habits

One common problem for students who take gap years is that the study habits which have been ingrained and built up over the course of a high school career are quickly lost in a year without classwork. This can make the transition back to classes and studying quite difficult, placing freshman year academic performance at risk.

Gap Year Ideas

The Gap Year Association is a coalition of organizations which offer more structured gap year experiences, including travel, volunteer work, and career coaching and advancement. The GYA also provides accreditation as to the value of gap year programs offered. These programs may last anywhere from a few weeks to the entire year, providing different price points that may be more accessible. Some programs are service based, such as BroadFutures, which helps gap year students work with kids with learning disabilities. Others are travel based, such as the Warriors Academy, which offers experiences in countries like South Africa and Switzerland. Others are based around building up a variety of skills, such as the Winterline Global Skills Program, which teaches skills from wilderness survival to founding a business to scuba diving. While formal programs aren't necessary to have a gap year, they can help you to get the most out of the experience.

Planning a Gap Year

It's important to go into your gap year with a plan, and that's more true now than ever. While it's alright to take some time to destress after graduating, you should start planning what goals you'd like to achieve in your gap year as soon as possible. If you want to volunteer, begin researching organizations, particularly those still operating. If you want to develop your career, look into internships and coaching services that may work remotely. Ensure you have sufficient funds to pay for any experiences which may cost money. Work out a loose schedule of when you plan to do these things, but remain flexible, as things may change at a moment's notice throughout the pandemic.

Taking a Gap Year During Covid-19

COVID-19 has had substantial impacts on the gap year, especially as it relates to travel, but it has also convinced more people to give a gap year a try. The period for deferment has been extended at some universities, so you may still have time to maintain your acceptance and take a gap year. Some of the established gap year programs have also made changes to their offerings to replace travel, shifting to small in-person events or online coaching and mentorship in an attempt to continue to provide valuable services. A year is a long time, however, and conditions may improve before your gap year comes to an end, allowing the possibility for some travel in 2021, if you truly have your heart set on it.

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