[Planning for a Gap Year. Credit to Pixabay]
The Covid-19 pandemic has fueled a trend of taking a “gap year”: a period when students take a year-long break before or after college to engage in numerous educational and developmental activities. Despite the conventional perspective that taking a break is a waste of time, taking a gap year has shown to be a valuable way to invest in one’s personal growth by discovering new interests, talents, and more.
Recent surveys have revealed that the number of students willing to take a gap year has grown significantly after the pandemic. For instance, according to an article by Boston Globe, “twenty percent of Harvard’s first year students are opting to defer their admission”; a number three times larger than the normal number. At MIT, “8 percent of students are deferring admissions -- up from 1percent in normal years.” In fact, up to 40 percent of students in the United States are considering taking a gap year.
So, why are more students deciding to take a gap year? The two main reasons can be categorized as either personal or educational. Due to the pandemic, many students lost motivation to study as they faced an academic “burn-out”: a form of exhaustion caused by stress. Covid-19 was a burden on everyone, including students. With a loss of motivation to pursue their education, many students decided to take a break from studying to explore different activities and interests to re-energize themselves in an attempt to increase their academic motivation.
There are also educational reasons behind taking a gap year. If used wisely, a gap year can be a tremendous addition to a student’s CV. They can develop numerous practical skills through engaging in real-life work and experiences, and can learn more about their potential future professions through jobs and internships. Moreover, for students taking a gap year before submitting their university applications, a gap year can provide significant material for application essays, personal statements and recommendation letters, increasing their chances of getting into a better university.
Due to the unpredictable restrictions and unfamiliar learning situations caused by the pandemic, students have been hindered from pursuing many educational activities. Hence, many students felt as though that a gap year would provide them the opportunity to catch up on what the pandemic had set back.
However, experts have revealed some concerns regarding possible dangers of this newfound interest in taking a gap year. “Having an unplanned and unstructured gap year that essentially equates to a ‘leave of absence’ can be detrimental to students,” says Joshua Kim and Edward Maloney, authors of Learning Innovation and The Future of Higher Education.
It is important to be intentional with your goals and objectives the one year that you have, because before you know it, it will be gone. If you spend the year without a clear purpose, you may find that you have wasted a one valuable year of your life doing nothing constructive. Moreover, a gap year can also be detrimental to students if it becomes counterproductive as they may lose momentum and decide not to attend college all together.
What can students do to prevent this potential dangerous outcome? It is necessary that students outline their exact motives and goals for how they will spend their gap year. There are various activities that students can participate in. They can explore possible career paths through short-term training programs, internships, and other experiential learning opportunities. For instance, there have been recent ideas about building “Corona Corps”, where students “would be trained in modern handheld technologies…and could become apprentices for jobs in key parts of the supply chain we now deem essential.”
Other programs students could contribute to are “tutor corps”, where high school graduates can serve as tutors for k-12 students. Students can also go for something more simple, such as working a simple part-time job in a cafe or restaurant to learn real-life skills, or applying for a job in a business or sector that is related to their career path. All of these job options can help students to develop necessary skills and explore their futures in a real-life context.
For others struggling to find such activities, they could also spend the time volunteering and at organizations. There are so many charities in which one could go and volunteer at, depending on what issue they are passionate about. They can also do acts of service indirectly; for instance, if you are a photographer, you can donate your photos of nature to a climate action group to use in their marketing campaign. If you have a talent in designing or computer engineering, you can design an app where people can estimate the amount of electricity one uses in their house to help reduce energy use.
Any and all actions that you choose to take during your gap year can be valuable for yourself and for society. Hence, the pandemic-induced gap year trend is a positive step for students towards self-development and discovery that, if used efficiently, can be used valuably for all students unsure of their future paths.
Karen Lee firstname.lastname@example.org
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