Should my child take a gap year before college in 2020 or 2021? Good question.
This is not the college admissions cycle that you or your child ever could have imagined. Sure, putting together the strongest application possible was always part of the plan to getting into college (and still is), but what wasn’t part of the plan were canceled SAT/ACT administrations; an online/hybrid final year and a half of high school; no in-person college campus visits; and the possibility that even in fall 2021 not all colleges will be allowing students back on campus.
In short, the COVID-19 pandemic has many families reevaluating their child’s college plans — not the if, but the why and when. And that’s not a bad thing.
Thinking about the value and purpose of a college education is not something new to this year’s class of college applicants. It’s something that’s been building for a while and has been accelerated by what’s going on. McGraw-Hill’s Future Workforce Survey from 2018 found that only 35% of traditional college graduates feel higher education prepared them for the workforce.
The silver lining is that now, thanks to COVID, this trend has accelerated and high-ed will never be the same.
Should My Child Take a Gap Year?
College is one of the biggest investments that families make, and yet many students spend much of their time in college figuring out what they want to do. There’s a good case to be made for some deep introspection by future college applicants and their families.
In a recent Pulse survey of 16-20-year-olds, Kaplan found that in light of recent events, 42% noted that they are now considering alternatives to undergraduate college for their next steps in professional development.
Here are five reasons why such an alternative might make sense for your child:
- Your Child Doesn’t Know What to Study and What to Do After Graduation
There’s something to be said of entering college knowing exactly what you want to study and what you want to do after–think about the time and money you might save–yet there’s very little time between high school and college to explore career interests. A survey from the US Department of Education found that 30% of undergrads change their major at least once within three years of initial enrollment. Another data point shows that 40% of bachelors’ degree holders would study a different major if they had to do it all over again.
Many schools are determined to re-open campuses, yet without a vaccine and adequate testing protocols in place, many students and parents are concerned about safety. In fact, in the past few weeks alone, some colleges have backtracked on their plans to reopen. If you have a student with pre-existing conditions, now may not be the best time to be back on campus, even with safety precautions. A new survey from SimpsonScarborough finds that three out of four freshmen say they are very or somewhat concerned they’ll contract the coronavirus, while only 34% of students say they’d feel safe living in a residence hall.
- A Change of Pace
After an intense four years of high school, many students want to hit the pause button and be out of the classroom for a bit. In normal times, this might mean travel. But given the situation, that’s not an attractive option at the moment. If your child is going to press pause, make sure they have something worthwhile to do in the meantime–more on that in a minute.
- The Traditional Freshman Experience
There are few coming-of-age experiences more glorified on TV and in the movies than your first year of college. It’s something many teenagers look forward to for years. But in fall 2020 and maybe in fall 2021, freshman year will look very different. Your child may only get to know your fellow frosh through Zoom; there will be no mixers of parties; and they’ll learn in their house or dorm room instead of a lecture center. For many students, the lack of the traditional social life is reason enough to postpone enrollment until things normalize.
- Online Learning
While online learning has improved by leaps and bounds over the past decade and many students love how engaging and lively it can be, learning through Zoom or another platform isn’t for everyone. Not every student, for example, has access to high-speed Internet, so access is an issue. Additionally, not everyone has a quiet, safe space that’s conducive to learning. And some students strongly prefer the in-person environment, something they have grown accustomed to over their educational experiences. We’ve also heard from parents that many are unhappy that tuition is the same for an online education as it was for an in-person one. So for some, waiting for a return to in-person instruction or at least a hybrid model may be preferable.
But with the economy struggling, unemployment still in double digits, internships hard to secure, and most countries off-limits to Americans, what’s a high school graduate to do? It’s something we’ve thought a lot about at Kaplan, which is why we recently launched Boost, an innovative, online pre-college program to help students who are looking to bridge the gap between the college experience and work readiness.
Again, the McGraw-Hill study found that a majority of college graduates say they don’t feel prepared for their first job. Boost reimagines career planning by focusing on personalized exploration, marketable skills, and learning-by-doing. Students will get help evaluating their own strengths, get a better understanding of what types of careers are out there, gain experiential learning through work projects, and enter college with a plan that helps them start their career path.
Kaplan has partnered with companies like Google to provide students with the opportunity to learn directly from professionals. We’ve also partnered with the world-renowned assessment organization Myers-Briggs to help students assess how their interests can translate to increased college readiness and career success.
We’ll leave you with this: If your child is thinking of taking some time off between high school and college, make sure they make the most of it during these trying circumstances. They should finish any kind of gap year feeling more confident, smarter, and readier for both college and the world of work.
About the Author
Entrepreneur-in-Residence at global education company Kaplan, Megan O’Connor enjoys solving complex problems with a societal impact, especially related to education or the future of work. As the founder of Clark (acquired by Noodle), Megan set out to provide educators with the economic opportunities they deserve by giving them tools to start tutoring businesses.