A growing number of teens are considering delaying their freshman year of college.

IMG_3819With the plan for how to open for the fall semester still in flux at many colleges, more incoming freshman and upperclassmen are suggesting that they’ll take a year off, in other words take a gap year. But in a COVID-19 world, a gap year will look different.

Before COVID-19, students chose a gap year to travel, take a break after a stressful high school career, learn more about potential career paths or simply mature and become better prepared for college. Now, with international and some domestic travel restricted, teens have different reasons for wanting time off before starting or going back to college. The most common reasons now are:

  • The economic impact of COVID-19 on their family makes college unaffordable right now.
  • College online isn’t what they signed up for.
  • They don’t want to pay full price for a smaller college experience.
  • Living on a residential campus feels too scary without a vaccine or viable treatment options.
  • Their career plans have changed in light of the pandemic.
  • Their study abroad plan likely won’t happen.

If your student is seriously considering taking a gap year, here’s some guidance on their next steps.

Check a college’s guidelines If your high school senior has accepted an admissions offer from a college, they’ll need to ask that school if they can take a gap year. Some institutions allow a limited number of students to defer starting college without detailed reasons. Others require a description of what a student plans to do during that year. If your student doesn’t receive a deferment, they’ll need to reapply for admission.

Find out if your teen’s college offers their own gap year program because if it’s a credit-earning program, those credits transfer in with your student.

Depending upon the college, defering risks losing a financial aid package. Merit scholarships and grants have a better chance of being carried over. Need-based aid will require an updated FAFSA, using your family’s 2019 taxes. Students whose families have been negatively impacted by this pandemic economically can hope to receive additional aid based on these new circumstances.

Some colleges allow students to take a year off but stipulate the student cannot take credit-earning classes at another institution, such as a community college. For other colleges, gappers can earn credits, but they’ll now enter their school as a transfer student instead of an incoming freshman, possibly impacting their financial aid.

Current college students should contact their academic adviser to discuss their decision and access the forms necessary to take a leave of absence, withdraw or disenroll from their school. Their adviser can guide them on some gap year options, and explain how to smoothly return to campus when they’re ready.

Research gap year options Figuring out what to do during a gap year depends on your teen’s reason for choosing one. If it’s to earn money to save for college or help out your family’s struggling finances, then they’ll need a paying job or internship. Both in-person and remote options exist. A new opportunity is as a contact tracer. With so many states short on contact tracers, this job, done remotely by phone, email or social media, works well for a recent high school grad or college student.

Other job options include stocking store shelves after hours, food delivery for a restaurant or service like GrubHub or DoorDash, tutoring students (younger or peers) online, becoming a shopper for a service like Instacart, landscaper or house painter (outdoors), among others. When looking for a paying job, your student should determine how much money they need to earn and if they want a connection to their future program of study or career path.

Volunteer opportunities exist, as well. Many in your own community. Your student can assist their local food bank with packing or delivering bags of groceries, shopping for elderly family or neighbors, making phone calls for a political candidate, reading online to the kids of friends and family, or tutoring online for free, for starters. Brainstorm more ideas.

Internships or mentorships might be harder to come by due to social distancing but new opportunities for online versions of both are growing.

For creatives, a gap year can mean finding online instruction in their particular artistic field or spending more time practicing and working on their art, developing and improving their skills. This is an opportunity for artistic students to boost their portfolio.

Teens with a global focus can sign up for online foreign language classes or programs.

Travel abroad appears unlikely in the near future but other gap year options still exist. Your teen can learn about formal gap year programs through the Gap Year Association. AmeriCorps, Year On and Service Year Alliance are a few of the organizations adapting their programs to work with COVID-19 restrictions.

Keep in mind Before your teen finalizes any decision, discuss how they’ll feel if their campus opens up in the fall. Or if classes remain online. Can your student afford to take a gap year? Can they risk losing some or all of their financial aid if they defer for a year? Is a formal gap year program in your family’s budget? Will adding a year to finish college and delaying the start of their career negatively impact your student financially in the future?

Decision made Once your teen has committed to taking a year off, they must contact their college’s admissions office and formally rescind their acceptance. Next, they can begin working on their gap year plan, signing up for a program if they choose that route. Read the program’s refund policy carefully before allowing your teen to commit.

A gap year isn’t what it used to be, but for some students, it might be the right option in this time of uncertainty due to COVID-19.