Given the state of the world in terms of both health and the economy, many students who would never have considered taking a gap year are now requesting a deferral, but should they be?
Let’s start with the basics. According to the Gap Year Association, a gap year is “A semester or year of experiential learning, typically taken after high school and prior to career or post-secondary education, in order to deepen one’s practical, professional, and personal awareness.”
Colleges typically approve a gap year for students for the following reasons:
- Health issues.
- To spend a year in service with an organization (think Peace Corps).
- Religious reasons (most often for those who want to spend a year abroad studying their faith or doing missionary work).
Gap years provide students with the following opportunities:
- To explore an interest, culture, language before starting college.
- To give back to their religious or other community and/or deepen their faith.
- To mature if they are a “young” freshman and/or build some life skills.
- For personal growth and development.
- Build their resume.
Some things to keep in mind:
- Gap years are usually NOT an opportunity to take classes locally or less expensively with the hope of applying these credits to the school they are deferring.
- Most schools will not approve a gap year/deferral for financial reasons even in light of today’s economy (this was made pretty clear on some recent webinars that I participated in).
- It may be difficult, if not impossible, to find something worthy of a gap year to do this fall.
Colleges will respond differently to the deferral request depending upon their financial situation and, to a lesser degree, how they are planning to open in the fall. If they can afford to lose the tuition (and very few can) or they want fewer students on campus to comply with social distancing rules, they may be more open to approving a higher number of deferrals.
Some schools are saying do NOT expect them to approve more deferrals than they would in a normal year. Others are more open to it. Yet others are realizing that their international students may not be able to enter the US, so they are allowing them to request a deferral. It remains to be seen how that will factor into the approval process.
So, what does this mean for high school seniors who were accepted to a school they want to attend, but aren’t sure if it makes sense for financial reasons, because they do not want online classes or because they want the full college experience (who wants to pay for a Big 10 college and not get football?)?
- If you have the ability to do something worthwhile with your gap year, then requesting a deferral could make sense. (Check out this New York Times article for some ideas: Gap Year Ideas for College Students)
- If you are experiencing financial hardship due to COVID-19 and your family needs you to work or simply can no longer afford the tuition, I would suggest reaching out to the school and asking if you can defer for a year.
- If you don’t want to pay the tuition for distance learning (assuming that this is how your school opens in the fall) because you feel you’re paying for the “experience” but only getting an education, then it couldn’t hurt to reach out to the school and ask if they will allow you to defer, take classes at a less expensive institution (which may still be online), and accept these credits towards their graduation requirement.
The college’s decision on a deferral request for financial reasons may be no. Then you should ask about the school’s readmittance process (due to financial hardship) or transfer process to see if taking classes somewhere else first and then completing the transfer application with the hopes of being readmitted to the school makes sense.
Clearly this is not a decision to make lightly. If you are going to work, create, volunteer, go to school or mature in some way, then this could be a good choice for you. But if you aren’t, you may be better off attending classes at the school you picked. You need to think about your expectations for college, your financial situation, and what benefit you will get from taking a gap year and then decide for yourself if this is the right path for you.