To Gap or Not to Gap: The Gap Year Dilemma Thanks to COVID-19

By Brandon Swenson October 21, 2020

The current pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of our lives, especially in terms of education. Both recent high school graduates who planned on attending college this fall and current college students faced an unprecedented crisis. And in response, some have chosen to take what is known as a “gap year”—a structured year in which students pause their education to explore other opportunities, including employment, an internship, travel or service work.


Weighing the Pros and Cons

Taking a gap year can yield a variety of positive outcomes, both in terms of academic performance and personal growth. Twelve (or more) straight years of schooling leads many students to feel unmotivated or burned out. A gap year can provide a welcomed break and allow students to mentally and emotionally recharge while planning for the future. Some choose to take a gap year to learn real-world skills and explore their career goals before committing to a field of study. This provides clarity and a sense of purpose, as well as practical experience that puts classroom studies into context.

There may be cons to taking a gap year as well, like falling behind in your program or feeling alone while not in school. However, upon closer examination, most of these negatives can actually have positive effects. The idea that taking a year off will slow momentum or put students behind their peers has been proven false. In reality, ninety percent of students who take a gap year re-enroll in college within a year, most with a renewed passion for learning. Studies also show that students who take a gap year are more likely to attain a higher grade point average than those who don’t, an effect that continues throughout the entire four years of schooling.

If you’re a recent high school graduate considering a gap year before attending college, the idea of being completely on your own in the real world may seem like a barrier. However, being forced to become self-reliant during the gap year creates a sense of responsibility. During this time, you will learn how to become independent and build self-confidence—skills that will help tremendously during college and in your career.

The positive impact of taking a gap year is demonstrated by self-reports of graduates in a2015 National Alumni Survey. By taking a gap year, respondents reported improvements on personal, educational and career levels. 98% claimed that their gap year aided their personal development; 94% shared that it helped them interact with individuals of different backgrounds; and 93% noted their communication skills were improved. Additionally, 84% said the college gap year helped them acquire skills for future career success and 73% felt an increased “readiness” for college.


How Is COVID-19 Changing the Gap Year?

The COVID-19 pandemic has reduced the number of available gap year options for students. Where previously they could use the time to travel and pursue opportunities around the world, now students are drastically limited by restrictions and closed borders. There are still a number of online opportunities to pursue during a gap year right now, however, as well as paid internships and service work opportunities within U.S. borders. The pandemic has exposed and amplified the needs of many local communities, which translate into working or volunteer opportunities for gap-year students.


Is a Gap Year Right for You?

To determine if a gap year is right for you, it’s important to consider a number of life factors, including your personal goals, financial situation, ability to travel, availability of jobs and internships, and options for deferment provided by your university. Every person has a unique set of circumstances that must be evaluated before making the decision to take a gap year. To ensure that a gap year would be used productively and will help you in the long run, consider your current needs and future career goals.

Ask yourself the following questions: Are you burnt out from back-to-back years of schooling and ready for a break? Are you unsure of what you want to study or where you want to go in your career path? Do you feel like you could benefit from more life experience? Are you unprepared for living on your own? Are you seeking new personal skills to ensure a successful transition to college life? Answering yes to these questions indicates that a gap year may be the right choice for you.


The Downsides of Deferring Enrollment to Take a Gap Year

The effects of COVID-19 on student enrollment is clear. Admissions decisions and the awarding of financial aid packages have been delayed, and many advanced placement tests and standardized college entrance tests have been canceled. In response, many universities have altered or totally eliminated certain eligibility requirements.

The most consistent, widespread change, however, is the switch from in-person classes to online learning (or a combination of the two). The popularity of online learning has been steadily growing for over a decade, but the pandemic has made the transition to virtual learning critical for both students and institutions. Online learning has become a strategic priority, so universities must change the way they fund and manage the development and distribution of online courses. Institutions that have already invested in online learning will fare better than traditional universities due to their existing structure and experience with digital coursework.

The fact that some colleges have several years of experience in online degrees while others are just now scrambling to set up will likely create a discrepancy between the quality of education offered. Keep this in mind when considering your future plans. How will the education you receive online now differ from the education you may receive online or in-person in the future?


Gap Year or Not, Have a Plan

Whether you choose to take a gap year, enroll in online classes or return to in-person classes, thorough planning is the key to your success. Consider your own personal circumstances when making decisions and set reasonable, achievable goals. Be aware that the pandemic will change your college experience in a number of new ways. With the status of the pandemic evolving and colleges constantly adjusting to keep up, it is essential to remain flexible so you can take advantage of new opportunities.

Interest in the gap year has increased dramatically now that so many students are faced with the uncertainties created by COVID-19. When planning for your future, consider that a gap year may be a perfect solution as you navigate our changing world and prepare for future success. For more guidance on taking a gap year and info about affordable, 100% online programs, reach out to a UA Grantham admissions representative today.

About the Author

Brandon Swenson
Brandon Swenson, communications manager, is on University of Arkansas Grantham’s editorial board. A veteran and college graduate himself, he understands the benefits and intricacies of government education programs, such as veteran education benefits. Brandon earned his bachelor’s degree from the University of Missouri-Kansas City toward the end of his nearly two-decade tour in the United States Marine Corps.
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