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First Year Voices #4

The gap year during COVID-19: Part II

In Part I of this two-part series, we heard from an expert gap year counselor and from students who decided not to defer their enrollment. Now, in Part 2, we’re turning our attention to two students who chose to take gap years because of the pandemic. We hope that hearing their hopes and concerns for the coming year will be valuable for other students and their families.

Meet Ava, a San Marino High School graduate who committed to Columbia. Ava’s choice to defer was driven by her concern about how the pandemic would impact her college experience. “I think a lot of it is the uncertainty of the situation right now,” she said. “Especially since my college is in New York… [it] might take longer than a lot of other parts of the country for things to go back to normal.”

That might mean more online classes. “Of course being online isn’t the worst thing in the world,” Ava said, but “I don’t learn well that way.”

Ava had never planned on taking a gap year until the COVID-19 crisis. “It didn’t even cross my mind,” she said. “It was actually my parents at first who suggested that I defer and I was really resistant to the idea.” Unfortunately, she didn’t have much time to decide before Columbia’s May 15 deferral deadline. “That whole week I was so stressed out because I felt so conflicted,” Ava recounted. In the end, she feels that deferring was right for her. “So far I haven’t really been regretting it,” she said.

When we spoke a few weeks ago, Ava was starting to consider options for gap year activities. “I’ve been thinking about it, and a lot of stuff I’m not really sure about just because we don’t know what is going to be open, if anything,” she said. “Right now, I’ve just been looking at different kind[s] of online internships, but I would love to just have a real, in-person job." She also wants to spend time on creative endeavors, like writing and taking acting classes, “again, if things open.”

Ava has also been thinking about what her social life might look like during a gap year and beyond. “I was just worried about being lonely if all of my friends are at their colleges and then again when I finally start next fall, fall of 2021, I don’t want to be the one kid that deferred and have a different experience from all the other incoming freshmen,” she explains. “The social aspect of college, both missing out on it this year with people who would have been in my class, and then thinking of it next year… [is] the biggest thing that’s kind of the downside.”

Ava is both looking forward to and a little nervous about the year ahead. “I’m excited for that openness and the possibilities, but I am worried that I just won’t find things to do or that everything will be just kind of not really feasible,” she said. “I would say that overall I have more concerns about this gap year,” she acknowledged, but she is “trying to have a good attitude right now.” Ava is “just looking forward to having time to do stuff that I couldn’t do in high school because I had too much homework, too many extracurriculars,” she said.

Sophie, a Marlborough School graduate and Tufts University Class of 2025 student, began considering the gap year option early in the pandemic. “March was when I first started thinking about it, because before then I never considered a gap year, but once schools closed, it started to become very clear that… in-person college was not a given.”

West Hall, Tufts University, 2010. Image by Daderot on Wikimedia Commons.
West Hall, Tufts University, 2010. Image by Daderot on Wikimedia Commons.

She had a few other reasons to consider deferring. “This is specific to the fact that I’m moving from LA to Boston,” Sophie said, but “it just seemed very scary to move myself across the country… and so it felt a lot safer to wait until things were kind of back in the swing of things.”

Sophie was also concerned that going to college during the pandemic wouldn’t give her the chance to fully explore potential majors. “I think the fact that I was undecided made the gap year decision easier, because I was worried that if I went to college in a scenario where I couldn’t necessarily meet a lot of other people, and I couldn’t bond with professors, and my classes were online, potentially, I would have less of a space to explore different interests,” she explained.

In the end, Sophie felt that deferring was the “safer route.”

But she didn’t want to defer without gap year plans. “I started reaching out to Ms. Magazine, because I worked there before as an intern, and I didn’t want to defer college without having any other sort of plan that I can do in the meantime.” She didn’t hear back for a while. “In that time period, I was still considering a gap year but just didn’t really want to proceed without having an alternate plan.”

As it turned out, there was an exciting reason for Ms.’s delay. “They were discussing offering me an entirely new position that I hadn’t had before,” Sophie explained. “They got back to me and offered me a research fellowship with a stipend starting in July through the academic year. And then it must have been like the next day that I submitted my request for [deferral].” Sophie was thrilled to have the opportunity and says taking a gap year “was a pretty easy decision” once she was offered the fellowship.

Recently, Tufts University announced its plan for the 2020-2021 year, which involves an on-campus start with students in small cohorts. The announcement essentially confirmed what Sophie was expecting and reassured her about deferring. “I felt more confident in my decision,” she said. “I’d rather wait and then feel much better about my social situation than rush into it now.”

Of course, taking a gap year comes with its own challenges, and Sophie shares several of Ava’s concerns. “I always had this idea in my head… that once I graduated high school, I would then meet a lot of new people very quickly afterwards,” Sophie explained. Most of her friends will leave for college to do exactly that while Sophie takes a gap year. “I started to realize that, I don’t know, it would be still isolating even to stay here. I think it’s less isolating in my case to stay here and [work at Ms. Magazine] than to go to college,” she said, “but I think it’s still a concern.”

Regardless, Sophie feels that she has a lot to look forward to in the coming year. “Even just the past few months, I’ve learned so much more about myself,” she said. “I’m excited to have more time to recognize my non-school identity, which I haven’t felt like I’ve had time to do until now.”

Posted in Student Voices

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