More students are considering taking a gap year as colleges’ fall semester plans remain unclear. Here’s what you should know before taking a year-long break from school.
Joey Hadden and Juliana Kaplan | May 15, 2020, 3:32 PM
High school seniors are still considering taking a gap year.
As the coronavirus spread across the globe, colleges and universities were forced to make a series of abrupt adjustments.
Schools closed their campuses in the middle of the spring semester and sent students home to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. In-person classes were replaced with online coursework and virtual lectures. Commencement ceremonies and graduation parties were replaced with virtual conferences and video games.
The changes could continue well past the spring semester, too. Several schools predict that remote learning may continue through the fall semester because vaccines will likely only be available for emergency use, if at all, by fall and winter of 2020.
With the great state of uncertainty surrounding college reopenings in the fall, more students are considering another option: a gap year.
Christopher Rim is a college admissions consultant and the CEO of Command Education. In an email to Business Insider, he said the gap year idea is already catching on among his students.
“Almost all of my students who have been admitted to top-tier colleges are reconsidering their plans for this upcoming academic year, with some submitting gap year request forms to delay the start of their freshman year so that they can have the full college experience,” Rim said.
If you’re considering taking a gap year during this time, here’s what you need to know.
What is a gap year?
A gap year is a year-long break taken after years of schooling.
Gap years are typically taken between graduating high school and beginning college, or between undergraduate school and a career or graduate school. The point of a gap year is to give students a chance to have new experiences, grow, and figure out what they want to do next.
Karl Haigler, co-author of the book “The Gap-Year Advantage,” found that the two most common reasons students take a gap year are burnout from the competitive pressure of high school and a desire to know more about themselves.
In 2010, The Wall Street Journal reported that while gap years have been common in England for a long time, they’ve been gaining traction in the US thanks to organized programs.
How many students take a gap year?
While there are no official statistics on how many students take gap years in the US, the Gap Year Association tracks data for some gap year programs. Of the 38 programs surveyed, 23 programs reported an enrollment increase from 2017 to 2018. Overall, general enrollment in all programs increased by 2%.
In March, higher-education research and marketing firm SimpsonScarborough surveyed 1,100 current high school seniors and college students in the US. According to the survey, around 3% of incoming college freshmen typically take a gap year. Of the current high school seniors surveyed, 12% are now saying they will take one in light of the pandemic if colleges only reopen online in the fall.
How do students usually spend their gap year?
Malia Obama famously took a gap year in 2017 before enrolling in Harvard. During this time, she traveled and worked in politics and film.
In an interview with TV presenter Jonathon Ross, author J.K. Rowling said she took a gap year in 1991 following her mother’s death to teach English in Porto, Portugal, where she wrote her favorite chapter of “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone,” titled “The Mirror of Erised.”
According to data collected by the Gap Year Association, when deciding to take a gap year, students report that they are most influenced by opportunities to travel, grow personally, and take a break from their academic track. Other heavily influencing factors include opportunities to volunteer, learn a new language, explore college and career options, and gain work experience.
Amid the coronavirus pandemic, gap year plans like traveling are less feasible, but there are several options for volunteer work if you are healthy.
What are the benefits of taking a gap year?
Robert Clagett, a former dean of admissions at Middlebury College and former senior admissions official at Harvard, previously described the way that taking a gap year can impact students. Students who elect to take a gap year, Clagett said, “will frequently be more mature, more focused, and more aware of what they want to do with their college education” when they enter college.
Research at Middlebury backs this, stating that students who took a gap year have shown a “clear pattern” of attaining higher GPAs than those who didn’t take gap years.
Now, as schools pivot to adjust to the coronavirus pandemic, experts predict there could be a surge in gap year interest.
Much of the college experience occurs outside of classwork. As NYU professor Scott Galloway told Business Insider, people are realizing Zoom classes alone are not worth the cost of tuition.
“I think a gap year in deferring 2021 is going to be what I’d call a disruptive but a terrible year for the end consumer, as we as academics try to maintain this hallucination that we can continue to charge what we’re charging for a totally substandard experience via Zoom,” Galloway told Business Insider.
Rim, the college consultant, said he thinks so many students will apply for a gap year that colleges might stop allowing applicants to request it. Too many deferrals could substantially shrink the incoming class, which would mean less tuition going to schools — and some colleges are already on the brink of closure.
“It’s a little uncertain how colleges are going to approve or deny gap year requests,” Rim, the college consultant, said, adding that many of the students he helped get into top schools have said they want to take gap years.
Originally published in the Business Insider on May 15, 2020.