Coronavirus Cancellations: Is This the Time for a Gap Year?

gap year

There has never been in recent history a year like this for high school seniors. World pandemics have little respect for tradition. Many members of the Class of 2020 are facing the reality of senior year with no prom, no last season, no senior trip, and no “real” graduation ceremony. Hug your seniors.

Seniors are also facing some real, serious choices. Many are in the midst of deciding what college to attend or how to spend the next year. Even when choices are made, there will still be uncertainty. Will colleges be back in session by August? Will it be safe to live in close housing spaces like dormitories by August? Amidst all the chaos some seniors might be questioning their decision to move away from home and head off to college. Understandably, some are probably more anxious than others. There is no “one-size-fits-all” advice for this unique and unprecedented year.

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Certainly some students are comfortable with the uncertainty. They will proceed as planned unless/until they can’t. They will hope for the best and either have a freshman year just as they had planned, or they will quickly pivot and be comfortable with what the unexpected might bring. Other students may be paralyzed by the uncertainty. For these students, it could be an ideal opportunity to plan a gap year.

What is a Gap Year

The “gap year” describes the year some students take between high school and college. Gap years are widely variable. Many students use the year to gain workforce experience (often appealing to hiring managers after college) and earn money (often needed to afford said college). Some travel, though this may not be the ideal year to plan that particular experience. Other students might use the year to immerse themselves in a particular topic of interest through research internships. Some students might use the year to volunteer extensively in their communities, churches, or elsewhere.

There are two common threads throughout a productive gap year for all students. The first is that students are not enrolled in any formal education. They are not altering their official academic record in any way. The second is that the year is intentional. They are taking a pause on formal learning to develop other qualities or characteristics that will be useful in life (or the admissions process).

What Do You Need to Do?

At this point, most seniors have already completed the application process and are in possession of (hopefully) at least one offer of admission. What do you do if you’re already been offered admission? Most colleges will have a process in place through which they entertain requests to defer admission for a year. Seniors would need to contact their intended colleges and ask what their policy is for deferring admission. Use that term: deferring admission.

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For some colleges, it’s automatic. You’re changed from entering in 2020 to entering in 2021 with the click of a button. Boom! Done. For others, a formal request will need to be approved or denied. You will need to write with the request and describe how you intend to spend the year.

If the request to defer is honored, most colleges will dictate that you cannot enroll in any type of coursework elsewhere during the year. Some will require you accept the offer of admission and deposit now (even though you won’t enroll until the next year), others will tell you to keep the deposit and you’ll just automatically receive a new offer of admission for the next year at which point you would send the deposit.

If the request to defer is not honored, but you still decide to pursue your gap year then you will need to understand that you’ll be applying for admission all over again next year. This begs the question, “What do admissions committees think of the gap year?”

Is It a Good Idea?

In my 20 years of experience, the gap year is almost always a positive addition to an application. Mind you, though, that I never read an application where the gap year was spent amassing impressive Fornite wins.

The gap year allows the student time to contribute to both the world and their own personal growth in some way. At least, that’s what its intention is! This gap between high school and colleges allows for an extra year of maturity and “real world” experience if done right. Parents can’t continue to treat the student like a child. The student can’t continue to act like a high schooler on summer break.

But provided there is a plan, an intention, and proof it was a productive year, then it’s highly likely it will be viewed as strong “plus.” Most college administrators welcome an extra year of maturity and real world experience in their freshman classes.

COVID-19 has thrown the world for a loop. If you don’t roll with uncertainty as easily as some then the gap year might be something to consider. One word of advice – have a plan. Don’t undertake a gap year out of fear or procrastination. Do so with intention and excitement about an opportunity that arose from chaos.

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