The coronavirus pandemic has shifted our lives in many ways. Unfortunately, some of us worry how we’ll make ends meet, while others worry what their future will look like. High school seniors part of the Class of 2020 fall into the second category, as their college plans are more uncertain now than ever. 

The pandemic has forced many universities to shut their doors, and it’s unclear if they’ll be back open by the time the Fall semester rolls around. Students are faced with two options: to take virtual classes, or take a gap year?  

Let’s take a look at the benefits of both.

Benefits of a Gap Year:

1. Explore other interests

Taking a gap year can serve as a great opportunity to explore the things you’re interested in. As you probably know, taking a full load of college classes can cost you a big chunk of time – leaving little to no room to dive into the things you’re passionate about. During a gap year, the options of what you can do are endless. 

Traveling during the semester could prove to be a headache, since you have to worry about assignments, excused and unexcused absences and more. 

Devon Tyrie, an 18-year-old high school senior from Massachusetts, told the New York Times that she went to the Bahamas to explore marine and environmental science. Before the pandemic hit, she wanted to travel to Madagascar and Indonesia to learn more about the topic. 

“What attracted me about a gap year was the opportunity to travel and explore and go on adventures,” she told The New York Times.

2. Consider what you truly want out of life

In all honesty, some students are only going to college because they think they should, or because their parents are making them go. If you’re not sure what path you want to follow, taking a gap year could give you a lot of time to move in the right direction. Try new things. Make mistakes. Achieve goals. Through trial and error, you can find what you really want to do, and go to school with a renewed focus and vigor, if that’s what you decide to do.

This pandemic has placed many of us in special situations, and it has also granted us opportunities, and grace, to be able to pause, reflect, then take action.

3. Heal

If you’ve gone through a traumatic experience within the last few months, one of the last things you want to do is throw yourself into a stressful situation. Now matter how shiny and new the idea of college is, it’s a beastly world. It can be rigorous, and adjusting to a new environment, classes and more, can take a toll on you.

Examine your mental condition and decide if heading straight into the Fall semester is best for you. If not, that’s okay. Use that time to focus on yourself and healing. 

Benefits of Taking Classes Virtually:

1. Moving quickly toward your career

Some students are super excited to jump into their college courses, and in turn, taking virtual classes. By now, you know that virtual classes are very different from in-person classes, but there are several ways to adjust. Plus, your experience with virtual classes during the last few months of your senior year has given you some great experience. 

Marco Tonda, a 17-year-old from California, told the New York Times that he was initially going to take a gap year, but decided to do virtual classes instead.

“I think at this point I would rather just get it over with and go for the online classes,” he told the Times. “Maybe they will come up with a cool way of doing them.” 

If you have a hard time with virtual classes, it may be a good idea to use your summer break to research ways to better handle them. 

2. Securing your spot

If you decide to take virtual classes, it means you still have a spot at your school, which is great for you. But because many students are taking a gap year, and going to school in 2021 instead of 2020, some parents worry it will affect current high school juniors. Deferring your Fall semester could also put you in the position of potentially losing your spot at the school. So consult with your admissions department to weigh your options.

3. Multitasking

Just because you decide to do classes in the Fall doesn’t mean you can’t fit other things into your schedule. It just depends on your class load and other factors within your schedule. There’s a way to fit in your classes, family time and other things that interest you. Plus, since you don’t have to commute to and from campus, or physically walk to class, that frees up some time. Take a look at your schedule and workload, and decide how you can realistically fit in other activities. 

Things to Keep in Mind:

1. Scholarships

If you’ve been able to secure scholarships, then taking a gap year could definitely affect them. Scholarships are huge benefits, so check the rules and guidelines to see how taking a year off would affect them. If you’d lose the scholarships because of it, you’d have to decide if taking a gap year is really worth it.

2. Don’t let fear get in your way

Some people are afraid to take a gap year because they fear they’ll be behind. Others desperately want to take classes in the Fall so that they’ll stay on the schedule society has placed on us. Both fears are two sides of the same sword. 

There’s no “life schedule”. Don’t miss out on a great opportunity, whether it be in a gap year or taking online classes, simply because you want to stay on “schedule”. 

One of my co-workers graduated college at the age of 25, and brought up that she graduated “late” because she went to Kenya for a year. Within that year, she was in a different country, visited family, and had new experiences. I’m sure graduating at 25 instead of the typical age of 23 hasn’t ruined her life.

All in all, make the best decision for you. Do your research. Speak to your school about some options. Weigh your pros and cons. And once you reach a decision, don’t regret it, don’t look back. Because there’s no wrong or right answer.


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