A “gap year” has been a popular concept for far longer than the COVID-19 pandemic has been around, but the uncertainty and tumult of the last few years has definitely made a gap year more appealing for many would-be college freshmen.
As CNBC reports, the Fall 2020 school year saw a 2.5% decrease in enrollments, and that was largely driven by undergraduates opting out. While this dramatic drop was enough to sound enrollment alarms and have some questioning the long-term impact to higher ed, many of those students are much more likely to be taking a break rather than turning away from college completely.
Let’s take a closer look at the concept of a gap year and better understand why it has seen such a resurgence as an option.
A Gap Year isn’t Necessarily a “Year”
The term “gap year” traditionally refers to a high school graduate who chooses to take a year off from studies before enrolling in college.
The students participating in a “gap year” lately, though, aren’t necessarily delaying enrollment by a full year. Some are sitting out for a semester or even just arranging their schedules so that they have half-term classes that start later in the year.
These choices point to the reality that many students are choosing to postpone enrollment over concerns about the pandemic and its potential disruption.
COVID Gap Years Likely had Fewer Experiences
A gap year has traditionally been a time for students to volunteer, travel abroad, take on an internship, or otherwise explore passions and professions before committing to a long-term educational plan.
These recent gap year participants, however, have likely found themselves with far fewer options for travel and volunteering as many restrictions were put in place on such activities.
Students Want Stability and Focus for Studies
While there may be a misconception that students taking a gap year are reveling in a chance to slack off, that’s largely not the case. Many students are simply being realistic about what remote learning means for their studies.
In fact, many students crave the stability and time to focus that being on campus and attending in-person classes means for them.
As TIME reports, many students aren’t living at home in conditions that make focused study time easy. Waiting to enroll until in-person classes are less likely to get disrupted just makes sense.
Gap Years Can Be Valuable in Multiple Ways
As the conditions of the pandemic continue to shift, more campuses have returned to in-person learning, and the looming threat of disruptions seems less severe.
Many of those students who delayed entry to college will likely be enrolling. At the same time, those who have yet to experience a gap year may want to consider the option.
Taking some time to intern in a potential profession, practice a passion or talent, travel, or volunteer can be an eye-opening and enlightening experience that will make college all the more relevant and purposeful down the road.