Taking a semester or year off before starting college or between semesters has always been an option, but the stakes and options are different this year.
A gap year is a broad concept with varying definitions. The UK-based Universities and Colleges Admissions Services suggests a multitude of causes to devote a gap year to, including volunteering, travel, non-collegiate courses, internships and paid employment.
The Gap Year Association (GYA) recorded across-the-board positive results from its 2015 survey of over 1,000 of its alumni, with 97% saying their gap year increased their maturity and helped them develop as a person, 84% saying it helped them acquire skills to be successful in their career and 73% saying it increased their readiness for college.
UCAS also warns against negative potential outcomes of a gap year, such as difficulty returning to your intended track afterward or a lack of organization and planning resulting in an unstructured distraction instead of a valuable experience. Gap years also introduce an element of uncertainty that not all students are financially prepared to manage.
A key factor in gap years is mental health. The potential benefits and detriments of gap years could have a major impact on a student’s future as well as their personal wellbeing.
Mackenzie Camey, sophomore sociology major at MSU and OTC, waited until the spring semester following her high school graduation to begin college.
“Even though it wasn’t a long break, I think I was more mature or had more ‘life experience’ than the people I graduated with who went straight to college,” Camey said.
Camey said although she benefited in some ways from her time off, she also partially felt that she had wasted the time in waiting by not immediately progressing in her education.
While students can still navigate the many possibilities of a gap year on their own, they could also go through a structured program like the many partner organizations that work with GYA.
The High Mountain Institute, a nonprofit educational organization dedicated to connecting students to a background in nature through hands-on programs, is partnered with the GYA and is still open for action during COVID-19, according to their website. Their activities are based on hiking, outdoorsmanship and wellness expeditions. To accommodate for COVID-19, they have limited their destinations to Colorado and Utah, removing Chile and Argentina from the roster for now.
Carpe Diem Education, another GYA partner organization, uses gap years and semesters to take students on trips abroad for cultural exchanges with emphasis on building leadership and cultural immersion. Despite international quarantines conflicting directly with their means of operating, they’ve adapted by reducing their usual international programs to the rural United States, according to the GYA website.
By staying within American borders and limiting program size, Carpe Diem Education is able to control their exposure to COVID-19 to accomplish their mission of addressing social and environmental problems in communities in need.
Both of these programs are all-inclusive for transportation, accommodation and activities but have price ranges over $10,000.
There aren’t any guarantees for how taking a gap year will affect a student’s health or wellbeing, so there is always an inherent risk on investment.
Despite the hindrances of and hazards of COVID-19, gap years and semesters are still viable options for students hoping to make the most of their time.
Follow Scott Campbell on Twitter, @ScottCa81380794
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