By Katherine Stievater
Life has certainly been exciting for Gap Year Solutions these last few months! As colleges and universities continued to announce their fall plans, I have had a deluge of students and families inquiring about Gap Years. It’s more like a constant drip now, but I anticipate that students searching for alternatives to online classes will still be looking for ideas even after classes have started. I thought as we turn the corner from summer to the school year, it would be useful to give a quick update on the world of Gap Years…
Once colleges published their initial plans back in June and July, many of them being online or hybrid, more and more students jumped on the idea of a Gap Year. Incoming freshmen kept asking about Gap Years as they were disappointed about their online learning experience during spring of high school senior year. As more colleges made announcements, even more students decided to pursue Gap Years after the May 1 decision deadline. I’ve even seen a small percentage of gappers wanting to take a second Gap Year. I love that students are thinking this way! Once you decide to take a step off the traditional path, you feel more empowered to make those decisions again and again, whether it is to take a Gap Year or other big choices.
Many of these students interested in Gap Years really hoped that international programs would run, and there was some cautious optimism early in the pandemic, but that eventually gave way to the reality of borders still being closed. All along I advised my students to have a Plan B if they were set on international travel, because it was important to have a backup plan. At the moment, there are very few international programs running in fall 2020 – I am aware of options in Ireland, Israel and Jamaica, and I know that Ireland is fully booked. I know that students are hungry to go away to different countries, but because so many borders remain closed and there is risk of contracting and transmitting COVID while away, I don’t encourage my gappers to do it quite yet.
As far as a domestic update, it’s gangbusters! I have been rooting for more U.S. Gap Year programs for years, and due to the need to stay within our borders, we are now seeing it happen. Some international Gap Year/education companies are creating U.S. programs, and I think it’s a silver lining of the pandemic. I think there is so much to see and explore within the U.S., so I am encouraging my students to consider these programs, many of which are in the Western U.S., Southwest, and the East Coast. The majority of these programs are in more remote locations or have an emphasis on spending time outside. In addition to helping with COVID risk, this could also benefit a lot of students’ mental health right now! I think it is an important time for students to get out of their homes and safely socialize with people their own age.
Overall, I have been so impressed with my students. They’ve been really upbeat, rolling with the punches, and resilient. These students want to make the best of the hand they’ve been dealt and take the year to grow and learn more about themselves. Even if COVID was a big factor in their original decision to take a Gap Year, I encourage them to put COVID aside as much as possible, and focus on their personal goals and interests, and what they want to get out of the year ahead.
Many families have been asking me about the spring. I wish I had a crystal ball, but I can only go off of what program coordinators and directors have communicated to me. I think international travel is definitely a possibility, but I can’t say anything is certain. International spring programs ARE planning to run, and are already filling up quickly. This is the earliest in the season that this has ever happened, as students want to lock up spaces on the chance that the programs do actually run. My advice for the spring remains that there is so much to see and do in the U.S. – organize the spring around the amazing opportunities here! I do support students’ desires for international travel, but again caution them to have a plan B.
With all this being said, my overall advice for students is to be realistic right now. I tell all my students to go after their dreams, but now add that they may have to do some reality checks too. We are living in a pandemic, and it is important to treat it as such. For students who are staying home during their Gap Years, I encourage them to explore their local area. Once a week, try one thing that you’ve never done in your local area – all it takes is a positive and open mindset to see some new things! I love this comment that one of my gappers posted on Instagram today, “I’ve learned that positivity is a conscious choice and does not require a certain set of conditions. The universe always has a plan, so live fully in the present with a grateful heart and peaceful mind.”
I wish all gappers the best of luck as they navigate this time!