High school seniors are facing the dilemma of the century. But is deferring their freshman year in favor of a gap year the right choice?
For decades, high school seniors have been dreaming about their Freshman Year of college: meeting lifelong friends at orientation, setting up the perfect dorm room, enjoying all-you-can-eat buffets in the dining hall or studying together in the library. But these days, the images of Freshman Year are put in jeopardy. Forced to implement sanitary measures resulting from COVID-19, colleges everywhere are scrambling to organize the new fall semester for the 2020 Freshman Class. For some, that dream of Freshman Year is turning into a nightmare. With the possibility that incoming students will experience a remote or hybrid virtual learning and social experience, many high school seniors are now considering deferring their Freshman Year and taking a gap year instead. Alison Kreuger of the New York Times recently wrote an article voicing some of the students’ main concerns.
For this group of teens, what was meant to be a fun final spring semester of high school has turned into a period of unprecedented stress. If your student is among those struggling with a decision, here are some important factors to consider.
the gap year
Taking a gap year has been an increasingly popular choice for students who are either unsure of their college goals or those wishing to travel, volunteer or gain practical work experience. There are a variety of agencies that help students with their gap year options. Gap years can provide students with independence and maturity, teaching responsibility and acceptance through experiential learning: characteristics that will help them thrive in college. However, gap year programs are not exempt from the new sanitary measures, and may have reduced or cancelled programs. Students may find just as many difficulties and restrictions as they would if they had started their Freshman Year.
Even so, many parents are concerned that virtual college is not the best option for their teens, because of the missing social environment, lack of study abroad opportunities and expense. But it’s important to realize that these restrictions lie everywhere, and if a student defers, he or she might not be able to find an appropriate and fulfilling activity and end up just staying at home. Even though Freshman Year will not be ideal, the choice to defer could not only waste time but increase competition for the entering Freshman Class of 2021. If many choose to defer, the applicant pool could easily double. So the emotional cost of deferral could outweigh the inevitable inconveniences of this fall semester.
Navigating a virtual Freshman Year
Freshman Year is changing, but that doesn’t have to be a bad thing. We often hear that the college experience is what you make of it, so that means being able to adapt to changing conditions and take advantage of all resources. College faculty and administrators are using advanced technology in creative ways to try to maintain engagement in online courses. Online resources that already exist will soon be mastered, and new, enriching tools will be available to students as colleges complete their virtual shift.
It’s also essential to remember the resilience of this generation of future college students. They have successfully been able to use technology and innovation to stay connected, in the most trying of situations. It’s very probable that the virtual experience will be temporary, and in time, colleges will return to some semblance of normal. Most importantly, forgoing the deferral even though the conditions aren’t perfect, means that students can stay on track and not waste time, making progress toward their academic goals and not letting the virus get in their way.
When ultimately making a decision about whether to defer or not, the most important factor is the student’s priorities. It is, after all, an individual choice. But knowing that restrictions are not just limited to college, we believe it’s better to carry on with Freshman Year, and to make the best of it. We advise students to stay positive and know that their dream of Freshman Year will return one day, and to remember that the most difficult conditions often lead to the most surprising innovations.
Big college decisions in a changing world are not easy to make. If your student feels stuck, give us a call to schedule a free college counseling consultation today!
Neal Schwartz, Owner
College Planning of Westchester