OPINION: Consider this before taking a gap year


Student facing the decision to take a gap year. Photo by Tim Guow

Emma Sheeran, Opinion Editor

Gap years are usually filled with traveling, experiential learning and work experience. However, COVID-19 has turned our world upside down. Despite the drastic changes we’ve experienced as a result of the pandemic, students opting for gap years have reached a record high. According to Fitch Ratings, the annual enrollment is expected to plummet 5-20% nationwide. The question is: Should you take a gap year during these unprecedented times?

Since the onset of COVID-19, a record-breaking number of students chose to take a gap year. Pennsylvania State University saw a 300% increase in admitted students taking gap a year this semester. This dramatic increase has been seen nationwide, with students choosing to stay home, work and explore their interests rather than pursing their freshman year.

Many students have opted for a gap year due to fully remote learning format. One of the major aspects of the college experience is in-person opportunities such as research, organizations and campus involvement. With many universities teaching remotely, students have started to question whether it is worth their time and money to attend this year. These are fair concerns considering the rising tuition and housing costs.

In addition to the lack of opportunities, remote learning poses the problem of being inadequate for some subjects such as theater, art and music. Majors like these are difficult to benefit from when utilizing the online learning format. These subjects involve hands-on education that simply cannot be fulfilled remotely. For instance, theater students would not be able to participate in group activities that need to be performed in-person. The online learning format presents a huge obstacle for those pursuing degrees like these, making a gap year more appropriate.

However, gap years are not the best academic choice for everyone. Students who excel with online learning formats should be able to adapt to the new normal in universities. Moreover, students pursuing majors such as English, philosophy, or social sciences could do well with remote learning since these subjects don’t require much intensive hands-on experience. Taking a gap year would not be appropriate for these students since they can excel in their subject using the online learning format.

It is important to consider the economic impact of starting higher education a year later than your peers. A study from the Federal Reserve Bank found that students who take a gap year could be sacrificing $90,000 in future earnings due to the average salaries of college graduates. For instance, a 22-year-old student graduates and earns $43,000 on average during their first year in the workforce. A student who took a gap year graduates at 23 years old, earning the same $43,000. There is already a $3,000 difference between these two graduates, and the economic gap will follow as their careers progress. Gap years not only delay graduation, but they can also delay earnings throughout careers.

Students should also consider their level of motivation before embarking on a gap year. Students need to make sure they have a plan to return to their education following the gap year. Momentum can easily be lost during a gap year because individuals get comfortable with their lives and don’t want to return to the classroom. While 90% of students return to college following a gap year, 10% do not. The main lesson here is don’t lose your motivation during a gap year to get a degree. Use this time wisely with the end goal of returning to your higher educational path.

With everything considered, gap years should be carefully decided upon. Keep your options open until you have weighed all the pros and cons of taking a gap year. While remote learning isn’t the most ideal format, it is the best option we have during this relentless pandemic.