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To Go or Not to Go–College Decisions in a Pandemic

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Students Decide Whether or not to Continue In-person Schooling Despite Covid Risks

In Fall 2020, I took a semester off from college. It was not an easy decision, and I remember having so many misgivings at the time: would this throw me off for the next five years, when would I finish, would I be able to get a job later?–all these questions flooded around in my mind. 

Most jobs and schools moved online during the pandemic. But as the world begins to rehabilitate, we see many people have the opportunity to return to their daily activities in person. One of which is college students; this begs the question, to go or not to go? They could choose to skip this year altogether.

On the other hand, halting the college journey might cause some students to lose motivation and never complete their education at all.Taking a semester or even a gap year off may have advantages that have not really been highlighted until covid came on the scene. Young people have a chance to mature and “adult” in new and unconventional ways. Waiting to attend college during covid could be beneficial. A gap year can give students more time to mature, the ability to grapple with the uncertainty of the times, and a chance to close the learning gap brought about by the online school year in 2020.

TIME TO MATURE

First, taking a gap can give young people more time to mature before plunging into new studies. CNBC notes, “For some students, taking a gap year or semester gave them time to think about what they really wanted to do with their futures” (par. 18). Students taking off time from college can use that time to work, discovering their passions without the pressure to commit to one major prematurely. And being in the workplace can really improve a young person’s social skills in working with other people.

The LA Times mentions stats from the Gap Year Association and Temple University (Philadelphia): “According to the survey, 86% of gap-year participants reported that they are satisfied or very satisfied with their jobs; 63% reported participating in the 2014 election cycle; and 89% reported participating in community service– all far outpacing national averages” (par. 33). This data is taken from 2014, long before the pandemic was even a thought, but the same idea could still apply.

Taking a semester or a year off from college can help young adults to mature in ways that they may not with a conventional campus experience. All these things–voting, volunteering, and job satisfaction– come about due to maturity. If given the time to take a gap year or semester during the pandemic, young people have time to think about what career they want to devote their lives to and why.

UNCERTAIN TIMES

Secondly, a gap semester or year helps young people handle the uncertain reality of these times. Many students have experienced school anxiety from being quarantined from classes because of covid. According to Scott Jaschik in his Inside Higher Ed article “Nervous Freshmen, Nervous Colleges,” “One of the issues is that students don’t trust their colleges. Only 25 percent of returning students strongly agree that their institutions would take the necessary steps to keep students safe” (par. 9). This article was written in August of 2020 when students were contemplating returning before the vaccine’s arrival. But these uncertainties still exist to some extent.

Vaccinated students may not necessarily fear being hospitalized anymore. However, the fear of being quarantined and missing classes is still present in the back of many students’ minds. Taking a gap semester during this time could eliminate this unpredictability, as many universities try to adapt to new CDC guidelines and protocols. Also, another uncertainty brought about by the pandemic is financial instability. Many students’ families have lost their jobs during the pandemic. Many of these families have not financially recovered from the impact the economy has had on them.

THE LEARNING GAP

Finally, taking time off gives young people a chance to close the learning gap brought about by a year of online learning. High schoolers have just spent the entire academic year online, and transitioning to college can be very challenging indeed. So many high school seniors have spent the senior year entirely online and do not know what it would be like to be in college classrooms in person. This learning gap only grows, as students take on the responsibilities of college life, work, and assignments. The University of Michigan labels this gap as “significant,” and I believe time will show the extent of this gap. Taking time off allows students to seek academic support and sharpen their skills before entering college and then the workforce.

SO…

Perhaps taking a gap semester can help young people prepare for college life. I know for me it was one of the best decisions I made during my college journey. It equipped me with maturity, confidence, and more academic security.Although this choice may seem unconventional to a lot of students, we are living in unconventional times. At the end of the day, the decision is yours.

Sources:

https://www.cnbc.com/2021/06/09/many-college-students-chose-time-off-over-remote-learning-during-covid.html

https://www.latimes.com/lifestyle/story/2020-07-16/college-students-gap-year-best-way-outwit-coronavirus

Survey: 40 percent of freshmen may not enroll at any four-year college (insidehighered.com)

How serious is the COVID “learning gap”? (umdearborn.edu)

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