Due to COVID-19, Marlborough’s recently graduated class of 2020 is facing many unexpected changes surrounding the first year of college. Most students will be taking classes online during their first semester, if not, the whole year. Additionally, many students who do get to go on campus, will be placed in solitary dormitories. Because of these circumstances, last-minute decisions to take gap years are proving to be common.
Bella ‘20, who was planning on leaving for Duke University, decided to instead take a gap year. She will spend six weeks in the Galapagos Islands during the fall, working as a ski instructor during winter and possibly go to France if travel restrictions lift in the spring.
“It was a week-long agonizing decision. I made the decision five days before I was supposed to leave for North Carolina, so it was pretty last minute and crazy,” Bella said.
Similarly, Caroline ‘20 did not expect to push back her first year at Dartmouth College. Freshmen at Dartmouth are permitted to live on campus before Thanksgiving and after March, but during the time in between on campus living is prohibited.
“I wasn’t going to get much time on campus as it was, and even during the on [campus] terms, my classes would be taken from my single dorm room, which is not exactly the college experience I was expecting,” Caroline said.
Caroline will be spending this fall attending a program in the US Northwest with other gap year students, camping, backpacking and studying both environmental conservation and immigration rights.
There are a variety of opportunities for students taking gap years. Sophie ‘20, who is enrolled at Tufts University, will be spending this year doing a research fellowship at Ms. Magazine, helping to fact-check articles for the print issues. in addition to writing for their blog. She is also planning to take a couple of local classes to explore her academic interests and digitally engage in this year’s presidential election.
“As someone who has always been very undecided in regards to my potential major, I think this year will give me more time to narrow down my interests before I start enrolling in classes or spending time on subjects that aren’t a good fit,” Sophie said.
Some students also feel gap year opportunities were necessary to make up for the lack of in person benefits that online school entails.
“I don’t know what I want to major in, so college was the place I wanted to take a lot of different classes and figure that out. I didn’t feel like I could do that with online school in the same way I could do in person,” Bella said.
However, for some, planning to take a gap year was not the easiest decision to make.
“At first, when I didn’t know of many other people who were deferring, I was worried about feeling alone or isolated from my peers who were going ahead with their freshman year,” Sophie said.
Yet with the pandemic causing a large number of freshmen to defer, a gap year may lead to a less isolated freshmen class in 2021 if COVID-19 is controlled.
“I realize that my friendships can survive, me being home for the year, and once I actually start college, I will be able to integrate into a whole new class and likely have fewer restrictions on socializing,” Sophie said.
Gap years offer a flexible schedule for experimentation and allow students to stray from a conventional agenda.
“The best part of it is I feel like I have more control. If, for example, the ski resort were to close down because of corona, at least I could move back home and start another project or take an online class or try and find another job versus if I was at college, I would have no control over my own life,” Bella said.
There has evidently been an increase in students taking gap years this year due to COVID-19. Many students never imagined taking a gap year, but are now taking the time to rethink, plan and adjust their lives.
“I don’t know if everything will be normal by next fall, but at least I will have had one year to figure it out,” Bella said.