If you’ve accepted a college’s offer of admission, you may find yourself in a dilemma. You may not know if the campus will be open in the fall or if classes will be online, so you’re hesitant to pay a substantial sum for what may be only a facsimile of college life. Or you may simply be reluctant to join campus life while the coronavirus is still extant. Instead, you may want to consider a gap year program.
Colleges that plan to re-open their campuses in the fall are introducing so many restrictions to cope with Covid-19 that it can hardly be considered college life. You may prefer to save money by attending a local community college and then transferring to a four-year college or enrolling at a state college for all four years.
Another alternative is to attend the college whose offer you’ve accepted but wait until all contingencies caused by the pandemic are resolved and normal campus life has resumed. You can choose this path if the college allows you to take a gap year during the 2020-21 academic year. Under present conditions, many institutions have revised their policies so that you can be granted a gap year after you’ve accepted their offer of admission.
Before a college approves your request, they want to know that your plans for the year are worthy of the privilege. The most popular gap activities have been packaged programs involving overseas travel. However, due to the pandemic, traveling abroad isn’t a good idea now, so international gap programs have been shut down.
The idea that you need to travel to a developing country, learn about its language, people, and culture, and improve people’s lives, simply isn’t practical in 2020. But you don’t need to go abroad to improve people’s lives. By revealing harsh inequities in our society, the pandemic has made it clearly evident that there’s plenty of help needed in our own country.
Gap Year Programs for 2020-21
An online search will enable you to review gap programs that conform to this year’s constraints. These programs allow you to assist those people most in need in your area as a result of the pandemic. A few of the programs are described below:
1. Global Citizen Year – When Covid-19 struck, Global Citizen Year converted its international travel-based gap program into a virtual leadership course. Among the features of the program is that students will be matched with mentors in their planned profession who will coach them on a one-on-one basis toward their goals.
2. Americorp – This national service initiative is recruiting for programs like VISTA, whose volunteers work on poverty-related projects all over the United States. AmeriCorps covers living expenses and includes an education award to help pay college costs. See additional options on this site.
3. Service Year Alliance – This nonprofit lists even more gap year activities than Americorp. It focuses on areas such as the environment, health and nutrition. aging, disability, homelessness and housing, disaster, animals, and public safety. Taking a Service Year provides you with an opportunity to develop real-world skills through hands-on service to those in need. A stipend is paid to participants.
4. The 2020 Election Gap Year Program – This organization’s mission is to: “Empower our nation’s youth to take an intentional gap year in 2020 to work on an election campaign or for an issues-based organization that resonates with their values.” The program lets you engage in our democracy. You’ll defer college by taking a gap semester in fall 2020 so that you can dedicate yourself to campaign work, getting out the vote, or organizing around an issue that’s important to you. The organization provides assistance in obtaining permission from your college.
The Benefits of a Gap Year
A gap year is more than a way to cope with the present moment. In recent years, there has been increasing awareness of the benefits of gap years to students and colleges. This accounts for the growth in the number of students requesting permission to take a gap year and the willingness of colleges to grant them.
Conceptually, the purpose of a freshman gap year is to allow a student who has been driven to excel throughout high school some time to relax and reassess while engaging in a purposeful pursuit. For example, Harvard’s rationale for their gap program is: “Harvard College encourages admitted students to defer enrollment for one year to travel, pursue a special project or activity, work, or spend time in another meaningful way — provided they do not enroll in a degree-granting program at another college.”
Some colleges provide a structured, pre-approved approach to gap year activity. The University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill offers incoming students the opportunity to participate in their Global Gap Year Fellowship, which is described as “…the only college-sponsored gap year program that allows students to design their own gap-year experience. Fellows are encouraged to create their service-based gap years with the full support and guidance of our staff and faculty.”
In addition to college-sponsored gap programs, there’s a growing mini-industry of gap program providers. Many of these organizations, such as Outward Bound and National Outdoor Leadership School, are members of the American Gap Association, a professional group that sets standards and accredits participants.
Gap Year Pros and Cons:
Like all important decisions, you should consider the pros and cons of taking a gap year between high school and college. Below are those associated with an academic year that doesn’t have the added pressures of 2020.
1. After the intensive grind of college admissions… you’re fried! You’ll benefit from being in a non-competitive environment for a while to assure that you’ll be at your best when you begin college. You’ll return from your gap year with your vitality restored and your focus sharpened,
2. Research (see Middlebury College website) indicates that students who have taken a gap year perform better in college than those who have not,
3. It allows you to learn about an unfamiliar culture and region,
4. You’ll have an opportunity to become fluent in another language by immersing yourself with native speakers,
5. It enables you to develop leadership and self-reliance skills, and to grow in maturity, independence, and self-confidence.
6. Participating in a gap year program displays the qualities that post-college employers will be looking for in professional hires, and,
7. During your gap year, you’ll be part of a community of peers with aspirations and goals like yours. You’ll form lifelong friendships.
1. A major reason why most students choose not to take a gap year is that they don’t want to fall out of step with their class. Their friends will be going away to college in August and they want to share that experience,
2. Certain financial aid programs require students to attend college without a break in order to remain eligible for funding each year, and,
3. Packaged gap programs can be expensive. If your family is stretching its budget to pay for college, the added cost of a gap program may be too much. However, low cost options such as AmeriCorps and the Peace Corps are likely to be approved by your college.