Faced with the possibility of spending freshman orientation and their first semester of college over Zoom, anxious seniors are considering pushing their plans back a year. Though we’ve been fielding more questions about gap years than ever before, students are understandably wary of committing to a plan before they know whether colleges will open normally in the fall. (The Chronicle of Higher Education is tracking official plans for reopening here.)
Here’s what you need to know:
The earlier you request a deferral, the better:
Colleges—whose endowments are already suffering in this COVID economy—want to enroll as many students as possible. Though only a handful have made official changes to their gap year policies, it’s likely many schools will cap the number of students they allow to defer.
If, indeed, colleges decide to move classes online in the fall, we expect an influx of gap year requests to follow. If you apply to defer now, you’re more likely to be approved. Keep in mind, though, many schools will treat this decision as final, so if you request a gap year now, you might be locked in—even if schools resume on campus next semester. It’s also possible you might not be able to return on schedule. Princeton, for example, has indicated that students who take a gap year might not be guaranteed immediate return to the university.
Make sure a gap year is the right choice for you:
Though a gap year might seem particularly appealing right now, keep in mind, COVID’s impact extends far beyond higher education. In the past, students contemplating a gap year had all sorts of options when it came to work, internships, and travel—options that might be precluded.
Take some time to consider whether you’ll really be able to make the most of the experience. You’re also more likely to be approved for a gap year if you present the Admission Office with a concrete plan. Some organizations are already figuring out how to translate service work to local and online formats. Service Year and Election 2020 are good places to start.