Taking a gap year? Here’s how to make the most of it amid pandemic

Taking a gap year amid the coronavirus will be a different experience than the international travel plan many recent high school graduates have favored.

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As politicians and universities fight over the reopening of college and university campuses, recent high school graduates are debating if they should take a gap year, deferring enrollment for at least a year.

Popular among Europeans, gap years have been increasing in popularity among young Americans since Malia Obama decided to take a year off before attending Harvard University. 

There is evidence to support that taking a gap year can improve academic success. A year filled with travel or volunteer experiences can provide clarity into fields of study or future career pursuits. Accredited gap year programs can provide valuable work experience and an opportunity to earn money. But options may be limited due to the pandemic. 

Amid the public health crisis, it is becoming increasingly obvious that a typical gap year might not be feasible. Many students may opt to take a gap for financial reasons. Harvard recently announced that tuition for an online education experience starting Fall 2020 will costs upwards of $54,000. With students expected to pay nearly full tuition for remote learning, some are debating the value of higher education.

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The uncertainty caused by Covid-19 has caused colleges, scholarship providers, banks, and other lenders to temporarily change their policies. If you’ve already committed to a school, deferment is not as simple as not showing up. There’s a process and each process is different at each school, according to Casey Nealon of Citizens Bank.  Some schools may encourage a gap year, while others may have different guidelines. Contact your school’s admission office and ask about their deferment policy. Also, check with your school’s bursar office about financial aid and scholarship policies. 

If you decide to take a gap year it probably will not resemble the Instagram friendly experience of the past. Instead, you’ll likely be forced to stay local. The Gap Year Association recommends the following steps to ensure a meaningful gap-year experience:

  • Set a timeline for when your break will begin and end.
  • Create a budget. It might sound intimidating, but it’s necessary. You may not be able to make it to Europe, but that doesn’t mean you won’t overspend in your hometown. Creating a budget can help you cut down on expenses and set you up with more money for when you return to campus.
  • Build a structure. You don’t want a gap year to turn into a vacation. With job, internship and volunteer opportunities limited, consider taking free online classes or developing skills. Along with setting goals, a structure will provide a blueprint to maximizing your experience. 
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