Considering a Gap Year?

Congratulations on making your college decision! We know that right now you are dealing with a lot of mixed emotions including excitement, anticipation, and in these strange times, uncertainty. Some of you may be thinking about taking a gap year and deferring going to school until Fall 2021 when you can be assured of a more typical college experience as you start college. And others may be rethinking paying full college tuition for a lesser experience if classes are online in the fall.

Over the past few weeks we have been listening to admissions officers across the country grapple with how this coming year will be impacted for freshmen. Most colleges are committed to starting classes in the fall, but very few have a clear idea of what that will look like. We have heard a variety of scenarios from going completely online, pushing the start date to later in the fall, starting classes in January (Boston University), a hybrid approach including some live classes and some online, and switching to quarters or smaller mini-semesters (Beloit.)

Amidst this uncertainty, it’s not surprising that students are thinking about deferring or delaying their freshman years. So, let’s look at the reality of the various options.  

“How long do you want to wait it out?  Covid 19 is a part of the class of 2024’s history and it’s an opportunity to bond with a squad that will forever be marked by this experience.” 

Whitney Soule, Dean of Admissions at Bowdoin

Taking Classes at a Community College. Most colleges will require students that start at a community college for the semester to reapply as a transfer student once they’ve earned 12 credits. And for some colleges, it is even fewer credits. Check with your college to understand what your status will be, and if you can enter as a freshman, if you opt for this plan.

Taking a Gap Year. Every year, colleges receive a handful of gap year requests and usually grant them. They are looking for students to do something meaningful during their time off so that they will grow and mature and contribute even more when they arrive on campus.

The issue this year is that most of the typical gap year opportunities, like travelling abroad or doing an internship, could be impacted by the pandemic. However, there are several options that could still work.

  • Verto Education: They offer smaller programs and are optimistic that they can move forward with their programs because of the small sizes and format of the classes. However, they also offer college credit, so it’s important to get approval from your college to participate so that you do not inadvertently become a transfer student.
  • Volunteer: Many students have already discovered creative ways to volunteer within their communities, from sewing masks, to making PPE using 3D printers, to organizing food drives, to creating apps or new business ventures. We would expect that colleges would embrace these opportunities.
  • Medical Issues: If you are in the unfortunate circumstance of dealing with a medical issue of any kind and need time to address it, this could also be a good time to take care of your health before starting college.

If you’ve decided that you do want to defer for a year, it’s best to deposit at your chosen college and then ask about the deferral or gap year process. Most colleges want to receive those requests some time in June (it varies by school.), and the sooner you make your request the more likely it will be approved.  However, many colleges are being flexible about dates given the fluidity and uncertainty of our times. Here is a great article from the Dartmouth Newspaper on how they are handling gap year requests and another from Inside Higher Ed.  Pomona just updated their policy and is allowing students to defer as long as they were not accepted off the waitlist. And Wesleyan proactively offered students an automatic deferral in the event they are unable to open in the fall.  

From Wesleyan: In the event we are unable to resume our residential educational experience in the fall or your student is unable to travel to campus due to COVID-19 related issues, we will automatically grant a deferral of enrollment until the spring. That said, we are earnestly preparing now to provide a safe, robust and holistic education to our students this fall.

We have heard from other admission reps that if they receive too many gap year requests, they may put a cap on the number of approvals.

So what does this mean for the class of 2025 or current juniors? While there will undoubtedly be some schools with fewer slots for your class, if colleges do put a cap on the number of requests they receive, that issue should be mitigated. And on the flip side, many kids who had wanted to do a gap year pre-Corona virus, may opt out of doing it this year because their program is cancelled and may instead take it the following year.  

While starting college virtually is not ideal, schools are saying they will develop programs to help students form community. We all hope that any disruptions will be limited to the fall semester, and students will have ample opportunities to form in-person connections with their classmates.  And as Whitney Soule, Dean of Admissions at Bowdoin said in a webinar last night: “How long do you want to wait it out?  Covid 19 is a part of the class of 2024’s history and it’s an opportunity to bond with a squad that will forever be marked by this experience.” 

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