Student News

The Gap Year Just Got Really Popular

COVID has college students uncertain about the fall semester, and many are wondering if they should take a gap year to save money.

Shawna Newman

May 15, 2020

 The Gap Year Just Got Really Popular
What's a gap year? Should I ask to take one?
Just as many U.S. colleges and universities are still trying to navigate what the fall semester will look like on their campuses, students – especially entering college freshmen – are faced with the decision to attend college in August. As high school seniors, the class of 2020, were looking forward to their first true college experience, the student life future does not look as robust as it had, prepandemic. In fact, the term “Gap Year” is picking up steam as college students (of all years) and parents are looking for a smart solution to postpone college until a Coronavirus end is in sight. The Wall Street Journal reports, the Google searches in the U.S. for the term “gap year” erupted to “180% in the last week of April...” Looking for more COVID-19 student-impact information? Find it here.
With the uncertainty of the college fall season, many students and parents are asking: What is a gap year? Does the Centers for Disease Control have any recommendations for college students this fall? Should I stay home or attend school this fall? Why have I never heard of the gap year before?

What’s a Gap Year?

A gap year is a time to pause; it’s a period of curiosity, self-discovery, and enlightenment. According to a Go Overseas blog post, your “...break is an intentional one, with clear guidelines and timelines.” This purposeful pause usually occurs between a big life event, such as high school or college graduation. A gap year doesn't have to be a year-long experience, either. Although it’s typical for students to use this 365-days for self-improvement, you can take time off for a semester, six months or 12 months. The time frame is up to you and your goals.
Prior to the pandemic, some Americans were introduced to the gap year concept via President Obama and Mrs. Obama’s daughter, Malia. According to The Atlantic, Malia chose to take a gap year in 2016 prior to attending Harvard University in the fall of 2017. The gap year is thought to have started in European countries. It’s not a well-known or popular concept, until now. Pre-COVID, a majority of college-bound students would consider a gap year, a luxurious solution they couldn’t afford. Today, the gap year is undergoing a pandemic-influenced rebrand. An Intelligencer article points to higher-education research by Simpson Scarborouh, “...12 percent of high-school seniors are thinking they’ll take a gap year, as opposed to the normal 3 percent.” The gap year has changed into a Year of Purpose; an intentional, higher education pause during a time of uncertainty. Even better, this year of purpose can be very productive, and if planned correctly your year of purpose can be valuable.

A Pause with Purpose

Prior to COVID-19 the ideal gap year would include traveling abroad to interesting locations, living within new cultures, working with wildlife, joining AmeriCorps, and more. Now that some students, and their parents, are concerned about finances and public-health and safety, some are choosing to modify the typical gap year to fit their situation. Here are some productive and budget-friendly gap year modifications: 1. Secure an internship – Your year of purpose could include a paid virtual internship for the duration of the fall semester. If your internship is paid, you could use your earnings to help you pay for college once campuses are fully open. Other internship benefits are the skills you’ll learn and acquire. As you’re applying for scholarships, you’ll have a lot to include in any required essays. 2. Volunteer – As college is a time of self-discovery, use your pause to help out where you can. Not only will you have some neat stuff to add to a scholarship essay or your resume later, the good will you’ve shared will instantly lift your spirit. 3. Enroll in free online courses – There are thousands of free courses offered online. Pick a few courses that you could use to enhance your knowledge. Some courses are even taught by top universities. The possibilities are endless. Use an e-learning platform to help you sort through the noise. 4. Land a part-time job – This experience will have so many benefits for you. Including making connections, extra cash or college savings, and it will help you boost your resume. When applying for jobs, ask yourself “How will this particular job help me maximize my gap year?” 5. Enroll in online, prerequisite community college classes – If you were looking forward to whole college life experience, and don’t feel comfortable paying full tuition for remote learning, save your money and enroll in courses at a community college. Most of the courses are cheaper here than a four-year institution.

How do I ask a college for a gap year?

Colleges are still trying to figure out what fall enrollment will look like. Administrators want to ensure enrollment numbers have been met before mass accepting admission deferments or gap year requests. Yet, students and parents want to get the most bang for their buck and solidify final decisions. Colleges have responded to this wacky shift, by extending the May 1 Decision Day to June 1 (in many cases). Due to the COVID-19 circumstances, students have more flex power related to the college admissions scene. According to The Wall Street Journal and an interview with a UCLA representative, “How Covid-19 has affected families medically and economically could also affect how it answers individual deferral requests.” Unfortunately, there is no one way to ask for a gap year. Here are some recommendations to help you create your own gap year request. 1. Do your research. Before you dive too deep, check out lists from the Gap Year Association and Winterline. Both lists highlight some gap-year friendly colleges. Don't worry if you can’t find your college on one of these lists; it doesn't mean they don’t accommodate gap year requests. Included in your research is finding options to fill your gap year. Our favorite choice is enrolling in free online courses! Compare popular e-learning platforms such as Coursera, EdX and Khan Academy and virtual courses offered. If money is not a concern, popular programs like are offering virtual study abroad experiences. 2. Ask yourself “Why am I pausing my college education?” It’s important you clearly think this through. Whatever your reasoning, create a short narrative on your why you’re requesting a gap year. Be sure you support your circumstances with details. Preparing yourself for the ask is very important. 3. Create Your initial, Year of Purpose or Gap Year Plan. Detail the time frame of your gap year plan. Set and explain goals. Do you wish to volunteer to clean at your local VA Hospital? Will you be working a part-time job to help you save money for the spring 2021 semester at college? Now write out what you’ll gain personally from these experiences. 4. Make your request. Email your admissions representative and ask for a time to speak with him/her about the fall 2020 academic year. In your meeting you’ll want to ask if the university has a deferment policy in place. Be sure to have your gap year plans handy, should you need to reference them. Your admissions counselor should be able to provide you with next steps and important financial aid information related to your requested gap year. It’s important to note, if you’re granted a gap year, you’ll have to reapply for the FAFSA when you return. During your inquiry there are some important things to ask the admissions team: • Can you defer your scholarships too? Some you can, some you cannot. • Will you have to re-apply or pay a reapplication fee? Student, and parents, are not excited about paying the original fees, without the standard highly interactive college life experiences. One thing is for sure, COVID-19 has breathed new life into the gap year. As uncertainty lingers, more students are considering subbing the fall semester for a gap year –calling it their year (or semester) of purpose.

Gap Year Scholarships Exist

There are scholarships out there specific to the gap year! Take a look at this list of 10+ gap year scholarships. It totals more than $75,000 in financial aid.

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