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COVID-19 affects US college gap year decisions


With prom cancellations, Zoom graduations, and online classes, the COVID-19 pandemic has been the reason behind much disappointment for high school students. However, the recent outbreak has not only disrupted high school learning but college learning as well. In mid-March, dormitories in the US were evacuated and the majority of students returned to their homes—resulting in online lectures. Thus, the future of the 2020-’21 school year for US colleges remains uncertain. The Art & Science Group, a US-based consulting firm for private schools, released statistics informing readers that one out of every six senior students is planning on taking a gap year because of the outbreak. Although a gap year is usually taken by rising college freshmen who want to defer their admission for work experience or traveling, many are considering one in order to avoid the numerous complications that COVID-19 has caused for the education system.

“Covid-19 has had a huge impact on the education system,” said Chris Bracciano, AP Psychology teacher. “This whole event is unprecedented, and schools have had to reconsider how best to teach students in this new environment. I actually rushed through university in three years thanks to lots of AP classes and just trying to save money. But if I could do it again, I would take my time—the college years are a great period in your life. Under that logic, I think a gap year could be interesting, too. I am not comfortable making a blanket recommendation here, but I think it is up to each student to consider what kind of experience they want from their first year of college. It will certainly be different if your first year is spent mostly online, but it is also not the end of the world.”

On May 17, California State University (CSU) announced that its fall classes had been moved online. This decision has affected more than 481,000 students, for CSU has 23 campuses throughout the state. Additionally, Harvard Medical School (HMS), declared that it had opted to continue remote learning and shut down its research laboratories due to the threat of various health hazards. Nevertheless, college education shifting to online platforms has been met with mixed reactions. Even though schools such as Harvard and Tufts are refunding dormitory expenses, they are not reducing tuition fees. Therefore, because numerous students believe that the quality of online college is inadequate compared to that of normal college, many have considered taking a gap year in order to pursue other activities.

“I had considered taking a gap year due to the current situation of COVID-19 in the US and enlisting in the [South Korean] army,” said Jinkyu Han (12), a graduating senior student. “However, the school that I have committed to, UC Berkeley, does not allow students to take a gap year for military issues, so I decided to not take a gap year. I believe that COVID-19 will heavily influence the choices I make in my freshman year of college since the pandemic may result in online classes continuing [until then.] It is quite unfortunate that I will be missing out on the campus life that I have been looking forward to.”

Furthermore, there has been a steep increase in concerns regarding what will happen when US college campuses reopen. Anthony S. Fauci, the US’s top infectious-diseases expert, informed Capitol Hill that reopening the country too soon could lead to “suffering and death.” Also, a study conducted by the American Council on Education found that 96% of college presidents are especially worried about fall enrollment, a significant revenue source. Nonetheless, multiple factors have swayed students’ decisions to take a gap year. For instance, certain schools require gap year students to relinquish their financial aid, which could result in a loss of scholarships. Moreover, many students prioritize completing their education as quickly as possible. Therefore, the majority of students have chosen to continue with their original plans to attend school during the 2020-’21 school year.

“I am not planning on taking a gap year because I want to graduate from college on time”, said Ashley Choi (12), a graduating senior student. “I have already made a lot of friends through my university’s Facebook group, and I feel like taking a gap year would hinder me from deepening my bond with them. As someone who will be attending an art school, if I were to start college online, it would be very inconvenient because I would not have proper access to a studio and art materials. Even though this pandemic has led to many seniors not being able to make the most out of their last semester, I believe social distancing is very much necessary for the safety of everyone.”

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