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Consider These COVID-19 Gap Year Ideas

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Are you a recent high school graduate planning to take a gap year? Or maybe you're a rising high school senior thinking about taking a gap year in 2021-2022 because of the uncertainty of COVID-19's continuing effects on college. Or, perhaps you're just thinking about gap years in general.


Education news is filled with stories about students taking gap years. A June-released survey found that 43 percent of high school seniors who haven't yet committed to a college are considering a gap year. That's because students are willing to wait for a full "college experience" and don't want to pay for Zoom classes or experience deserted campus life.

It's not hard to understand why new high school graduates accepted to college are choosing the gap year option. The pandemic-influenced conditions required on college campuses this fall for returning students may be harsh and restrictive. That college experience, mentioned above, for residential students has, in some cases, been reduced to a kind of "solitary confinement with benefits" situation, and many students are seeking alternative options.

Get to Know These Gap Year Options

For some first-year collegians facing an online-only, nonresidential plan, the thought of a "freshman year in my bedroom" might just be too much. That's where the gap year comes in, if you can get approval from your college to do it while maintaining a guarantee of return a year from now. Some colleges, Princeton University, for example, will have a lottery for gap year returnees and others taking leaves of absence, so it pays to check the details of gap year policies.

If you can acquire a gap year with no-to-few strings attached, you'll have to decide what to do during that year. Some ideas are obvious, others are creative, and some are new. If you search the web for "things to do during COVID-19 gap year," you'll find a lot of inspiration. Even without travel, you can earn money, expand your knowledge, get connected and advance your career. Here are some examples of how to do that from various sources:

Start a Business or Work on a Major Project

This is a great time to try out new things — call it a "risk-free trial" on things that have always interested you but you haven't been able to prioritize.

Here are a few ideas:

  • Are you passionate about kid's access to arts programming? See about developing a campaign to raise money to purchase instruments for your local public school.
  • Have you been working on your coding skills? Work with a local small business on a project.
  • Started making your own jewelry? Whip up an Instagram account to sell your creations.
  • Have a home renovation project that has been staring you down? Tackle that!
  • Start a painting, lawn maintenance or child care company. There are so many free supports for youth entrepreneurs, like the League of Innovators.

When I was a new high school graduate, I used my pre-college summer to make money teaching tennis. If you have sports skills, whether soccer, basketball, baseball or any competitive or recreational talents (even a chess or video game passion), you may be able to work privately with individuals or small groups. Many publicly funded recreation programs have been canceled due to the pandemic, so parents may be looking for some kind of organized activity to occupy their children across the summer or in the fall when schools have been delayed or shifted to online. Of course, you'll have to follow the required COVID-19 safety regulations where you live.

Volunteer for a Political Candidate

With 2020 being a presidential election year, there are countless races of great national and local importance in which you can become involved. You could make calls or assist with a candidate's social media outreach from the safety of home, or you could volunteer to work the polls. It's very likely that an army of young people will be needed to replace many veteran poll workers who are typically elderly and thus at highest risk for COVID-19. At age 18, this is a position that you are eligible for in most counties across the United States.

Volunteer in Your Local Community

Even in the best-case scenario, there is a high probability that international travel restrictions will remain in place for a while, likely still leaving volunteer opportunities closer to home as the best option … but a broader array of community service endeavors would be on the table. Those interested in the medical profession could once again seek out volunteer positions in hospitals or health clinics and there would be a reduced health risk to working in other settings like shelters, food pantries, soup kitchens, etc.

The Gap Year Association recommends four key components for making a year off before college worthwhile:

1. Service work or volunteering,

2. Internship or career mentorship,

3. Some amount of paid work, or

4. Something creative, so that the year is not over-scheduled.

For a fee, several companies offer gap year programs that provide students guidance and mentorship … Since many of those programs take small cohorts, they might find it easier than colleges to create in-person opportunities while still following social-distancing rules

One of those companies that offers a formal gap year program is Kaplan. "Boost" is an online booster program designed to provide pre-college age students with career exploration experience to enhance career preparation. Students will learn about "real-world" work in the technology, healthcare and business fields as part of a 12-week online program of self-paced activities, live group sessions, and one-on-one meetings with a mentor.

I was interested to see that current surveys show that only 35 percent of traditional college graduates feel higher education prepared them for the workforce. This was my experience when I graduated from college. My first job was unrelated to my college major and the skills I needed to work that job came from OJT (on-the-job training).

The 20-hour-per-week Boost program offers live instruction, on-demand sessions, customized study, work-life experience projects, live interviews with professionals, and so-called "pulse checks" as students' interests evolve. I was also pleased to see that Kaplan has committed to awarding full tuition assistance to 20 percent of its students who demonstrate financial need.

Consider the Gap Year Pros, Cons

Finally, regardless of what you may be facing on (or off) campus for Fall Semester 2020, you should consider some pros and cons of gap years. Here's a list from Scholarship Hub. See details for each pro and con here.

PRO: It gives you time to pursue other passions.

CON: You risk losing your academic momentum.

PRO: It gives you the opportunity to work and get money behind you.

CON: You risk wasting a lot of valuable time.

PRO: It could look impressive on your CV.

CON: It can be very expensive.

PRO: It can be a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

CON: You will be a year behind.

PRO: Life experience can make you better prepared for college.

CON: It's a risk.

You may have already committed to a gap year. However, if you haven't, consider the information above. It may help you make your decision.

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