Gap years existed before COVID-19, but COVID-19 has made them more popular.
In April 2020, a poll by the Baltimore-based Art & Science Group found that about one in six graduating high school seniors reported they would likely change their plans and take a gap year.
Gap Year Association, a gap year accreditation organization, estimates that the number of students taking a gap year this fall has increased by 9% compared to 2019.
Students take gap years for many reasons, but the recent spike can be attributed to the coronavirus. Citing health and safety concerns, a desire for a “normal” freshman year, or an unwillingness to pay full tuition prices for remote learning, incoming freshman across the country have moved ahead with gap year plans, deferring college admissions for at least another year.
Is taking a gap year the right decision?
Should you take a gap year because of coronavirus too?
The answer to those questions solely depends on your circumstances. You’ll need to spend time thinking through what you’ll gain and what you’ll miss out on by taking a gap year from college.
Below, we’ll cover several important factors to consider before taking a gap year because of the coronavirus.
What is a Gap Year?
A gap year is a semester or year-long break taken by high school graduates between graduating high school and starting college.
During a gap year, students engage in experiential learning activities or fulfill family obligations—like caring for an ailing loved one.
Other gap year activities students partake in include:
- Working and saving up money before college starts
- Traveling and learning about other cultures
- Developing their world view
- Learning a new language or skill
- Volunteering full-time through a program like AmeriCorps
- Shadowing professionals to determine what major or career path to pursue
- Caring for an ailing family member
What to Consider Before Taking a Gap Year Due to COVID-19
A gap year might sound like an easy solution if you’re dreading online learning or living on campus during a pandemic. However, it’s not a decision to make on a whim.
Before taking a gap year, consider the following factors:
Your School’s Gap Year Policy
Did you know that taking a gap year could mean losing your admissions spot?
At many schools, you need to have your gap year approved if you want to defer your admissions spot. Other colleges don’t hold your spot at all.
And, colleges may not be as open to approving gap years as they were in the past because enrollment numbers are down.
Refer to your college’s deferment or gap year policy before making any decisions.
Your Financial Aid Package
While a college can choose to defer your admission, they cannot defer your financial aid package. You will need to apply for federal and state financial aid again next year.
On the surface, this might not seem like a big deal, but it can have big financial consequences.
For example, when siblings attend college simultaneously, the financial aid award for each sibling is typically more generous. Why? Because the Parent Contribution from the Expected Family Contribution (EFC) is split amongst all enrolled siblings.
Suppose your sister is a senior in college. If you take a gap year, she’ll end up with a less generous financial aid package than she would have if you had enrolled. Maybe she’ll have to take out another private student loan. When you enroll a year later, she’s no longer a student, so you’ll end up with a less generous financial aid package too.
However, if you don’t take a gap year, you’ll overlap for one year. For that one year, you might both end up qualifying for grant money or subsidized federal student loans that you otherwise wouldn’t.
Depending on your school’s policies, you might lose any scholarships or grants awarded by the college or university if you take a gap year.
For example, at the University of North Alabama, accepted first-time students lose their competitive or departmental scholarships if they take a year-long or longer gap year. These students must reapply for admission and any scholarships.
If the scholarship were the only that reason you could afford that college in the first place, is losing it worth the risk?
Depending on your plans, taking a gap year can cost a lot of money. It could earn you a lot of money too.
If you spend your gap year working and saving, you can limit how much money you need to borrow for college. This will limit your student debt, making your financial situation more manageable after college.
If you spend your gap year living on your own or traveling (if you’re able to), it will cost you—or your parents—a lot of money. That money might be better spent on tuition.
The Opportunity Cost
Along with the actual costs of taking a gap year, you also need to consider the opportunity cost of taking one. Starting college a year later likely means graduating college a year later than you would have if you had started college “on time.”
According to the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE), the average starting salary for bachelor’s degree candidates from the Class of 2018 was $55,280.
That $55,280 minus any money you make during your gap year is the opportunity cost of the gap year.
It’s unlikely your gap year earnings will come close to that $55k. The Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that high school graduates earned 40% less on average than Bachelor’s degree holders in 2019.
By delaying the start of your career, you’re also delaying your future raises, future promotions, and future earnings, including retirement contributions, compounding interest, etc.
Living and learning on a physical college campus means that you’re using shared spaces, shared surfaces, and shared equipment. You’re waiting in lines for food, opening doors, sitting at desks, and walking in hallways that thousands of others do too. You may even be sharing bathrooms and laundry facilities with dozens of others too. While you can stay safe on college campuses during the coronavirus, nothing is guaranteed.
If you fall into the category of being at increased risk for severe illness from the coronavirus, living and learning on campus proves extra risky.
While many schools offer all online or hybrid education models for the 2020-2021 school year, not all do.
If you’re concerned about your health and your chosen college or university doesn’t have online classes for you to take, taking a gap year makes sense. You could use your gap year to take some online classes at another institution and wait until your college reopens campus safely or offers online courses.
High unemployment rates, continued layoffs, and a turbulent stock market are just some of the economic effects of the coronavirus. If your family’s financial circumstances have changed from COVID-19, a gap year might make sense.
Maybe you need to stay home and work to help support your family. Perhaps daycare isn’t an option for your family, so you need to help younger siblings with online schooling when your parents work remotely or on the front lines.
Talk to your family about what it would look like if you left for college or what it would look like if you stayed.
Your Ability to Learn Remotely
Adjusting to college-level learning is hard enough for many incoming freshmen. Adjusting to remote college-level learning while living at home can be even harder.
If your college is starting fully remote or plans to switch to remote learning in case of an outbreak, you must evaluate your ability to work remotely.
First, evaluate how well you’ll be able to learn in an online learning environment. Have you done this type of learning before? Did it work, or did you struggle? Can you make it work moving forward?
Then, evaluate the physical space where you’ll be working.
Is there a quiet spot in your home to work? Is your family prepared to give you the space and time you need to attend online classes and complete assignments?
Is your home’s internet fast enough? If not, is there somewhere else you can go to complete assignments and stream classes?
Your home situation and your learning style are unique to you. Only you can determine if you’re capable of successfully completing college classes remotely.
If you think it’d be a struggle, consider taking a gap year until classes resume in person.
What You Hope to Gain
Maybe you’re considering taking a gap year because you don’t want to pay full-price tuition for remote learning. Maybe you don’t feel safe attending classes on campus. Or maybe your family needs help with childcare.
Those might be the “whys” that are swaying your decision, but you need to think beyond those reasons.
You need a plan for your potential gap year before you can make an informed decision.
Planning a gap year looks different now than it did before. Gap years taken amidst the global COVID-19 pandemic are far from normal. Out-of-state travel—let alone international travel—might be difficult, depending on your current state’s travel restrictions. Structured gap year programs can’t operate as they used to. Even finding an internship is more difficult as many employees are still working from home.
However, just because the availability of gap year options has changed, doesn’t mean that what you stand to gain has. A gap year taken during the coronavirus crisis can still yield the same positive results as one taken in years prior.
Ask yourself what you want to gain from your gap year experience and then work backward to make a plan that’s suitable for coronavirus America. Factor the benefits of your plan in when deciding if you should take a gap year.
What you hope to gain might include:
- Feeling more confident in your choice of major and career
- Learning skills that will help you land internships or a future job
- A sense of purpose and appreciation for community
- Better study and time management skills
- Better coping and stress management skills
- More money in the bank to limit how much money you need to borrow
- Finding yourself and what you want to do with your life
Should You Take a Gap Year Because of Coronavirus?
Taking a gap year is a big decision, especially if it wasn’t your original plan when you applied to colleges and graduated from high school. As you go about deciding what to do, make sure you’re aware of your school’s policies, the effect it will have on your financial situation, and your ability to cope with attending school during the pandemic. Weigh the pros and cons of all the factors, make your decision, and then contact your school to let them know.
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“College Ave Student Loans products are made available through either Firstrust Bank, member FDIC or M.Y. Safra Bank, FSB, member FDIC. All loans are subject to individual approval and adherence to underwriting guidelines. Program restrictions, other terms, and conditions apply. (1)College Ave Refi Education loans are not currently available to residents of Maine. (2)The 0.25% auto-pay interest rate reduction applies as long as the borrower or cosigner, if applicable, enrolls in auto-pay and authorizes our loan servicer to automatically deduct your monthly payments from a valid bank account via Automated Clearing House (“ACH”). The rate reduction applies for as long as the monthly payment amount is successfully deducted from the designated bank account and is suspended during periods of forbearance and certain deferments. Variable rates may increase after consummation. (3)$5,000 is the minimum requirement to refinance. The maximum loan amount is $300,000 for those with medical, dental, pharmacy or veterinary doctorate degrees, and $150,000 for all other undergraduate or graduate degrees. (4)This informational repayment example uses typical loan terms for a refi borrower with a Full Principal & Interest Repayment and a 10-year repayment term, has a $40,000 loan and a 5.5% Annual Percentage Rate (“APR”): 120 monthly payments of $434.11 while in the repayment period, for a total amount of payments of $52,092.61. Loans will never have a full principal and interest monthly payment of less than $50. Your actual rates and repayment terms may vary. Information advertised valid as of 12/14/2020. Variable interest rates may increase after consummation.”
ELFI: Subject to credit approval. Terms and conditions apply. To qualify for refinancing or student loans consolidation through ELFI, you must have at least $15,000 in student loan debt and must have earned a bachelor’s degree or higher from an approved post-secondary institution.
LendKey: Refinancing via LendKey.com is only available for applicants with qualified private education loans from an eligible institution. Loans that were used for exam preparation classes, including, but not limited to, loans for LSAT, MCAT, GMAT, and GRE preparation, are not eligible for refinancing with a lender via LendKey.com. If you currently have any of these exam preparation loans, you should not include them in an application to refinance your student loans on this website. Applicants must be either U.S. citizens or Permanent Residents in an eligible state to qualify for a loan. Certain membership requirements (including the opening of a share account and any applicable association fees in connection with membership) may apply in the event that an applicant wishes to accept a loan offer from a credit union lender. Lenders participating on LendKey.com reserve the right to modify or discontinue the products, terms, and benefits offered on this website at any time without notice. LendKey Technologies, Inc. is not affiliated with, nor does it endorse, any educational institution.
CommonBond: Offered terms are subject to change. Loans are offered by CommonBond Lending, LLC (NMLS # 1175900). If you are approved for a loan, the interest rate offered will depend on your credit profile, your application, the loan term selected and will be within the ranges of rates shown. All Annual Percentage Rates (APRs) displayed assume borrowers enroll in auto pay and account for the 0.25% reduction in interest rate.
Splash Financial: Terms and Conditions apply. Splash reserves the right to modify or discontinue products and benefits at any time without notice. Rates and terms are also subject to change at any time without notice. Offers are subject to credit approval.com
Earnest: To qualify, you must be a U.S. citizen or possess a 10-year (non-conditional) Permanent Resident Card, reside in a state Earnest lends in, and satisfy our minimum eligibility criteria. You may find more information on loan eligibility here: https://www.earnest.com/eligibility. Not all applicants will be approved for a loan, and not all applicants qualify for the lowest rate. Approval and interest rate depend on the review of a complete application.
Earnest’s fixed-rate loan rates range from 3.89% APR (with autopay) to 7.89% APR (with autopay). Variable rate loan rates range from 2.50% APR (with autopay) to 7.27% APR (with autopay). For variable rate loans, although the interest rate will vary after you are approved, the interest rate will never exceed 8.95% for loan terms of 10 years or less. For loan terms of 10 to 15 years, the interest rate will never exceed 9.95%. For loan terms over 15 years, the interest rate will never exceed 11.95% (the maximum rates for these loans). Earnest variable interest rate loans are based on a publicly available index, the one month London Interbank Offered Rate (LIBOR). Your rate will be calculated each month by adding a margin between 0.26% and 5.03% to the one month LIBOR. The rate will not increase more than once per month. Earnest rate ranges are current as of April 23, 2019 and are subject to change based on market conditions and borrower eligibility.
Auto Pay Discount: If you make monthly principal and interest payments by an automatic, monthly deduction from a savings or checking account, your rate will be reduced by one quarter of one percent (0.25%) for so long as you continue to make automatic, electronic monthly payments. This benefit is suspended during periods of deferment and forbearance.
The information provided on this page is updated as of 04/23/19. Earnest reserves the right to change, pause, or terminate product offerings at any time without notice.
Earnest loans are originated by Earnest Operations LLC. California Finance Lender License 6054788. NMLS # 1204917. Earnest Operations LLC is located at 303 2nd Street, Suite 401N, San Francisco, CA 94107. Terms and Conditions apply. Visit https://www.earnest.com/terms-of-service, e-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org, or call 888-601-2801 for more information on our student loan refinance product.