By Dr. Jarrod Sadulski
Faculty Member, Criminal Justice, American Public University
The coronavirus pandemic has dramatically changed the way of life for most Americans. Following large-scale quarantines around the nation and in light of the phased reopening of the economy, college students are considering when they should return to school.
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Many colleges’ reopening plans for the fall semester remain uncertain as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. As a result, an increased number of college students are thinking about taking a gap year in light of the current public health situation.
This trend is especially notable for first-year college students and high school graduates from the spring of 2020. Students in this year’s graduating class underwent various challenges associated with graduations being canceled or held virtually.
For example, the timing of the coronavirus pandemic in March occurred around many students’ spring break, which left many educators unprepared to make the prompt switch to online learning. Technical issues, computer access issues and learning in the online format was challenging for many students. For graduates, plans for graduation ceremonies were canceled, which was disappointing for those students and their families.
Some High School Seniors Are Considering a Gap Year Instead of Starting College Right Away
A survey conducted by the higher education market research company Art & Science Group revealed that one in six high school seniors are seriously considering changing their plans to attend college. Of the students who participated in the survey, 16% indicated that they will take a gap year instead of attending college following high school.
Gap years between high school and college are relatively common. But this year, gap years are resulting from safety concerns involving on-campus class attendance or the uncertainty of whether or not a college will offer on-campus classes.
In the past, gap years had a personal growth or learning component that made them more appealing than the postponement of earning a college education. For example, gap years typically involved taking time to travel abroad, internships, pre-career work or volunteering opportunities.
However, the coronavirus pandemic will probably continue this fall, and many international borders may remain closed. Even if those borders open, there is an increased risk to travel abroad until the coronavirus pandemic is completely over.
Taking a Gap Year Has Consequences
There are potential consequences to taking a gap year. For students who either take a year off while enrolled in college or postpone college after high school, they could experience financial or other challenges upon returning to college the next semester.
For instance, a gap year places students a year behind in their education. Similarly, students who have taken a gap year lose momentum and find it difficult to get back into a regular schedule. In addition, a gap year may result in additional expenses that may make returning to school more difficult. These expenses may relate to the activities that are conducted during the gap year, which can result in debt or other financial obligations that costs money that could have been used for completing college courses.
Taking Time Off Also Impacts Financial Aid
For currently enrolled students who are considering taking time off or a gap year, there may be financial aid implications. As a result, these students should consult with their financial aid office and academic advisors prior to making this decision. For those students who have student loans, taking time off may impact loan payments that are typically deferred when students regularly take classes full time.
The Benefits of Taking Online Classes
In light of the wide-ranging impact of the coronavirus on education, it is understandable that there is uncertainty regarding how and when classes at traditional brick-and-mortar schools will resume. Students may also be deterred from taking college classes if they had a negative experience last spring, when colleges and universities abruptly shifted to online classes as a result of coronavirus shutdowns and the resulting restrictions.
In both of these cases, pursuing a college education at a reputable university who has been providing quality online education for years may be a good solution. Earning an education this way reduces the costs associated with room and board at traditional brick-and-mortar schools. Also, students are able to reduce their risk of coronavirus exposure by taking online classes, which can be completed from the comfort of their homes.
For many students, the coronavirus will have a major impact on college students’ return to school. But from my experience in earning my graduate degree from American Military University, I have found that obtaining my college education online was a rewarding experience.
About the Author
Dr. Jarrod Sadulski is an associate professor with American Public University in the School of Security and Global Studies. Jarrod was selected as the Coast Guard’s Reserve McShan Inspirational Leadership Award recipient for 2019. He has engaged in speaking engagements in the United States, Europe, and Central America on the topic of human trafficking, local law enforcement’s response to domestic terrorism, and promoting resiliency from police stress. Most recently, he presented at the 2019 International Human Trafficking Conference. His expertise includes infrastructure security, maritime security, homeland security contraband interdiction and intelligence gathering.
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