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College Students Could Take Gap Year Over Covid-19 Uncertainty

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Excerpt from the Wall St. Journal article Never have the words gap year seemed more appropriate. Typically taken by a handful of students who want time to grow and explore before they start college—and who can afford to do so—it usually includes an international travel expe…
By Seth Barnes

Excerpt from the Wall St. Journal article

Never have the words gap year seemed more appropriate. Typically taken by a handful of students who want time to grow and explore before they start college—and who can afford to do so—it usually includes an international travel experience, an internship or participation in a wilderness program.

This year, interest in the option is exploding. There’s been a 60% increase in searches for the term “gap year” on Google since the first week of March in the U.S., and the question “What is a gap year?” shot up 180% in the last week of April, according to Google.

College counselors and gap-year consultants are being flooded with calls—mostly from parents anxious about courses going online and worried the quality of the education might not be worth the price. Most are still only exploring the possibility, since colleges haven’t yet announced whether campuses will open in the fall, or if they will reduce tuition if classes remain online.

Jason Sarouhan, a gap-year consultant at Northampton, Mass.-based J2 Guides, says the overriding question is what a year off might look like, given current travel restrictions and the impact of the pandemic on the economy. It could just mean taking computer coding classes online. While some international programs have canceled, many are only revising their itineraries. He is suggesting U.S.-based programs that involve farming or wilderness adventures, since they likely involve fewer interactions with other people. He is also helping students look at volunteer opportunities in health care and online internships.

“I’m crossing my fingers,” says George Ma, a senior at Princeton Day School in Princeton, N.J., who requested a gap year from UCLA. He had long wanted to take a gap year before the coronavirus crisis, but didn’t think it would be possible because his parents were against it. They told him he should go right to college and then immediately get a job.

Now that classes might be online, his parents view it as a viable option instead of as a disappointment. “It sounds more logical to them now—not so emotion-based,” he says. If accepted, he wants to work in a restaurant, hike sections of the Appalachian Trail, apply for a Wilderness First Responders certification, find an internship, and, if international travel permits, climb peaks in Mexico, Australia and Russia.

When George’s counselor, Thomas Jaworski of Quest College Consulting, called UCLA to ask about the university’s deferral policy, he was told the school is more open to granting gap years due to the virus. But it wants to see how many students accept offers of admissions, including those now on the wait list, how many request a gap year, and whether the campus will open in the fall. How Covid-19 has affected families medically and economically could also affect how it answers individual deferral requests, according to a UCLA spokesman.

Middlebury College in Vermont, which usually grants gap years for about 30 students a year, won’t change its policy and has no intention of putting any restrictions on the number it approves. “I suspect there will be students who want to take a breather,” says the college’s dean of admissions, Nicole Curvin. She also expects students who are feeling the financial impact from the Covid-19 crisis might request a gap year.

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World Race Gap Year is experiencing an uptick in applications.

Global U offers a program focused on entrepreneurship that starts in the US and goes overseas when restrictions are lifted.

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