College Corner: Mind the Gap

College Corner: Mind the Gap

What to Know Before You Take a Gap Year from College Due to the Pandemic

This is a tumultuous time for everyone, universities included. No one really knows what classes will look like in the fall, and economic uncertainty may make tuition payments extra challenging for students and their families. With so much uncertainty, it's not surprising that many students are considering taking a "gap year". This includes high school seniors who have been accepted to college and are considering postponing their starting enrollment. A survey by SimpsonScarborough, a marketing research firm, found that roughly 20% of high school respondents say it’s likely that they will change their plans due to COVID-19. Another study conducted by Carnegie Dartlet revealed that confidence about college affordability among high school seniors is down.

If your student is considering taking gap year next year due to the pandemic, there are some important things you need to know before making the decision:

1. What is a gap year?

First off, let’s define what a gap year truly means. A traditional gap year means that a student commits to exploring something outside academics, such as volunteering, working at a job or internship, or traveling.

2. Not all colleges accept gap-year deferrals.

Some schools will grant a one-year deferral, either via a standardized institutional process or on a case-by-case basis. Generally, the way it works is students accept the offer of admission, pay a deposit, and then request a deferral that requires approval. However, some schools will require students to reapply the next year. Here is a list of colleges’ policies published by the Gap Year Association. Be sure to confirm the policy with the school.

3. Your financial aid package may change.

Some schools will hold financial aid and scholarships for deferred students while others will not. Keep in mind that even if scholarships are deferred, need-based aid is recalculated annually with the FAFSA, and the same applies for the CSS profile. This means that families will still have to complete the financial aid forms during the gap year using the required tax returns. Since policies vary from school to school, it’s important to ask about the financial consequences of deferring.

4. Earning college credit while waiting may not be allowed.

Many students will consider enrolling at their nearby community college while waiting for the traditional college environment to return to normal. If this is the case, you’ll need to reconsider because some schools may require students to reapply as a transfer if they take any college-level courses during the gap year. Reapplying as a transfer student can affect financial aid awards, as well as access to first-year/freshman resources. Remember the definition of a gap year—the student is agreeing to not take any academic classes during that year.

5. Make the gap-year experience meaningful.

For tips, take a look at the Gap Year Association’s planning guide.

The college landscape is changing, but you can stay positive and find ways to make it work in your favor. Depending on your circumstances, taking a gap year could be the right solution as long as you know what to expect when you return.

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