Considering a COVID-19 Gap Year Before College?

It’s been a tough year for all of us, but with the vaccine rollout in full effect across the country, the United States is finally beginning to emerge from the depths of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The prospect of returning to life as we once knew it is encouraging. Still, the effects of this unprecedented global event will linger indefinitely. Students of all ages have had to deal with significant change, but those going through the college admissions process have been affected in unexpected ways.

In 2020, extraordinary numbers of students opted to defer college admission. Though colleges and universities have resolved to return to normalcy as soon as Fall 2021, many high school students we’ve heard from are nevertheless considering a gap year—perhaps as an opportunity to reacclimate to pre-COVID life before following their path to college.

There are many benefits to taking a gap year. Beginning school as a college freshman following a gap year gives students the distinct advantages of maturity, additional education, a rested mind, and increased social confidence.

That said, deferring college admission is a big decision that deserves proper consideration from students and parents.

Questions to Ask When Considering a Post-COVID Gap Year Before College

If your high school student is considering a gap year, open the dialogue to find out what they’re thinking. These questions can help start a meaningful and productive conversation.

Why is your student considering a gap year?

Traditional reasons for taking a gap year generally include recharging from academic burnout, getting the perspective and motivation needed for college, and developing the maturity to succeed. But in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, students may have other important reasons for deferring college admission:

  • Uncertainties about post-pandemic life
  • Concerns about health and safety—their own or their family’s
  • Reluctance to invest in college until there’s a full return to on-campus activities

What are your student’s plans for their gap year?

Gap years can be incredibly valuable for students who take the opportunity to learn and grow. The good news is that with life gradually returning to normal, students will likely have access to traditional gap year activities that can add depth and meaning to their lives:

  • Taking a job or internship to gain experience in an area of interest
  • Pursuing a passion before attending college
  • Traveling the world while they’re still young

Talk with your student to learn how they plan to make use of their time during a gap year.

Is your student ready for college?

If your student expresses ambivalence about taking a gap year, encourage them to reflect on an important question:

“Do I feel ready for college?”

If the answer is yes, maybe it’s time to charge forward with those applications! However, if they’re unsure, it’s completely fine to take some additional time to prepare. College is what you make of it; there’s no one path that’s best for everyone!

Can you financially support your student’s gap year?

Not every parent can support their children completely during the gap year. Your student may need to work, or they may be able to secure a scholarship/grant from a gap year program or college. Make sure everyone in the family is aligned with what needs to happen for a gap year to work financially.

Keep in mind that entering college can be a jarring experience for many. It’s natural for the lingering effects of a traumatic global event to compound students’ concerns and apprehensions about immersing themselves in a new environment. Instead of going straight to college, taking a gap year might result in more success and less stress—while potentially saving tuition money in the process.

Picture of Sheila A.

Sheila A.

Sheila Akbar is President & COO of Signet Education. She holds a bachelor's degree and master's degree from Harvard University and two doctoral degrees from Indiana University. She joined the team in the summer of 2010, bringing with her a wealth of experience teaching SAT, ACT, GRE, literature, and composition in both one-on-one and classroom settings.

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