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Gap Year During a Pandemic
With all the uncertainty about how colleges and universities will reopen in the fall, more graduating high school seniors might be thinking about a gap year. Traditionally, that means delaying college for a year to travel, to gain work experience or earn money for college, or to volunteer for a worthy cause. Under any circumstances, experts say, there are pros and cons to a gap year. But the current COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way of looking at those pros and cons.
- It gives your student a chance to earn and save money for college. This year, however, there are serious questions about whether your student could get a job – and, if so, whether the job would be safe. With unemployment levels not seen since the Depression, the job market is challenging for everyone, especially a high school graduate with no college education or marketable skills.
- It gives your student a chance to travel and gain the experience of living in other places. But currently there are real concerns about the safety of travel. Are airplanes safe? Hotels? Restaurants? And some states and foreign countries require travelers to self-quarantine for a period after arrival.
- It lets your student gain experience in an area that interests him. For example, if he thinks he might want to be an architect, he might shadow an architect or take a few classes in subjects in which he might need some background. However, will there be an architect willing to mentor your student? And without some kind of mentorship, how will your student know what extra classes might be needed to prepare?
- Your student can spend the year as a volunteer. Some spend their gap year with AmeriCorps or a charitable organization. But it is unclear how many of those organizations are accepting new volunteers – and how they can keep those volunteers safe.
- A gap year puts your student a year behind her peers. How much that matters might depend on what her ultimate goal is. For example, if she wants a career that requires intense post-college education – medicine, the law, science, etc. – it will be an extra year before she can start that process, and before she can start her career once her education is complete.
- It can be expensive. Especially if your student envisions a gap year traveling and accumulating experiences, you – or your student -- might have to come up with a hefty amount of money. Added to the problems with travel during the pandemic, it just might not be worth it.
- It can leave your student very much on his own. This is also a potential benefit, because it can encourage self-reliance. But there is a lot of uncertainty in the world at the moment, which could make being on your own more risky than in a normal year.
- Your student might not ever continue her education. Although statistics show that most students who take a gap year go to college after that year, some do not. And even for those who do, it can cause a problem with focus on academics that might take some time to get past.
If your student is considering a gap year, it is important to discuss it thoroughly and to have a well-thought-out and executable plan. In the current unsettled world situation, that is especially important and challenging.