Photo courtesy of Vanessa Louis-Jean and Angelique Gomez.

6 college students share their gap year plans

Undergrads want the traditional American college experience when it's safe to return to campus, not to pay $50k a year for online classes.

by Anika Nayak
21 July 2020, 3:24pm

Photo courtesy of Vanessa Louis-Jean and Angelique Gomez.

Coronavirus has dramatically taken a toll on education in the US. When the pandemic first hit, colleges and universities across the country gave students just days to pack up their belongings and return to their homes. Forced out of their adopted cities and states, many students would have never imagined that they would be away from campus for this long.

Now, as cases are spiking and social distancing practices are still in place nationwide, colleges have to adhere to intensive safety guidelines if they plan to reopen in the fall. Recently, Harvard University announced that they will institute 100% virtual instruction for the fall semester and bring only 40% of its 6,800 undergraduate class on campus. (They’re also increasing their tuition plus room and board to $72,356 per year). This plan is similar to those of schools like Princeton and University of Southern California, which also announced that all upcoming classes will be held online.

While the pandemic has impacted instruction and campus life, educational institutions are not making the transition easier for students. College tuition is not merely for classes, but also for an abundance of on-campus opportunities and for the entire experience itself. Many universities going fully remote are charging the same tuition -- which averages about $10,116 per year for public and $36,801 for private schools -- for virtual instruction with the absence of the other opportunities, which is simply not financially feasible for a lot of students. Moreover, students will not have access to work-study options and on-campus jobs that might ordinarily help alleviate the financial burden of a college education. And many are wondering, is it even safe to return at all?

With all this in mind, young people are rethinking their educational plans for the fall. Many students are taking gap semesters -- or even gap years -- to take a break from school and focus on themselves. Even though it may not be the best time to go back to school, these Gen Z students have other plans until it is safe to return to campus.


Andrew Roth, 21
Andrew is from Cleveland, Ohio and a student at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee.

Why are you planning to take a gap semester?
Online school is just not the same. The value of university to me is not just the education; it’s the people, the culture, the social life and the conversations. And honestly, I’m in no rush to graduate. I have one year left, would be graduating into an uncertain job market and have been making some exciting progress on my own startup. Based on this, my decision became fairly clear: a gap semester makes sense and saves money.

Briefly describe your plans for your gap semester.
This summer I tried to optimize my return on bad luck by taking what Covid-19 gave us, and brought together 30+ students from around the world to join me on my startup, Gen Z Designs. The past few months have been some of the most exciting of my life, and I plan on riding the momentum we gained from the summer into the fall semester and beyond. Beyond the startup, I anticipate finding a few weeks for personal discovery to understand what kind of direction I’d like to take post-graduation.

How do you think your gap semester will help you grow personally and professionally?
While this Covid-influenced gap semester may not be yielding the traditional “backpacking through Europe to find myself” type of adventure, I anticipate six months (maybe more) of startup life to provide its own professional and personal benefits. I’ve always experimented with entrepreneurship as a side hustle, and until this summer never knew what it would be like to be a full-time founder. The experiences from this gap semester will provide me with an unparalleled opportunity to pursue my goal of being a curious and creative leader in pursuit of knowledge, growth and sustainable positive impact.

What do you most look forward to when going back to Vanderbilt University?
The backlash against paying for online education at a university has revealed to me that the true importance of my university education comes from the interactions with the people, not the subject. After spending my last semester abroad and now prolonging the return to college life even further, I long for group study sessions in the dorm lounge, one-on-one office hours with my favorite professors and the opportunity to learn in person from some of the most brilliant minds this world has to offer. Oh, and a social life. It has been far too long without one.


Angelique Grace Gomez, 20
Angelique is from San Leandro, California and a student at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia.

Why are you planning to take a gap year?
Taking a gap year is a means of protection. My father is about to turn 60, is in remission from cancer, has diabetes and is a caregiver for mentally disabled adults, so he’s not in the best shape. Emory increased restrictions on how it’s going to operate this year, but the current nursing school plan is to have on-site labs and clinicals. After hearing how Georgia is handling mask usage and how some older students have tested positive for Covid-19 from working in Atlanta hospitals, I knew that it wasn’t safe for me to fly across the country and continue my track this year.

Briefly describe your plans for your gap year.
I’m working on building my artistic portfolio and LinkedIn and plan on taking a Google UX Design course when it is available. I'm talking with various companies/businesses and hope to pursue freelance work with them. I'm creating products on Procreate for my brand Trashcan Press and anticipate an Etsy shop launch for August 2020. I'm also seeking a coffee or boba barista job for fun!

How do you think your gap year will help you grow personally and professionally?
I’ve had a love for healthcare for a long time, but a passion for art for even longer. Quarantine has given me the opportunity to learn about digital illustration, which I never gave myself to learn because I was so focused on STEM classes. Since I thought that art was only a side hobby, I only networked with people with hospital experience. Now that I’m focusing on art as a potential career path, I hope to connect with creatives to see how I can merge these two interests together.

What do you most look forward to when going back to Emory University?
I look forward to working in the hospital without a pandemic! I also want to participate in externships and alternative service breaks in the South when it’s safer to go back. After not having in-person interaction with my Emory friends for a year and a half at that point, I look forward to hugging them and exploring Georgia with them.


Hamza Alsamraee, 17
Hamza is from Centreville, Virginia and an incoming student at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois.

Why are you planning to take a gap year?
From the obvious hindrances on social life to the more subtle issues surrounding the difficulty of networking and finding opportunities virtually, it seemed like I had no option but to take a gap year if I wanted to make the most out of my college experience. As someone who is very invested in school and wants to make the most out of the resources available to me, I found it hard to dive into a commitment of a full virtual experience; especially considering I am planning on pursuing a hard science-concentrated education which requires much hands-on involvement. In addition, it seemed that it is the best option given my deep involvement in a lot of personal projects and extracurricular activities.

Briefly describe your plans for your gap year.
I want to use this time to explore myself and to develop my maturity in all aspects. Oftentimes I get too hung up on school and academics, so I really hope to use my gap year to expand my scope of interests and to explore ideas I would not have if under the time-crunch of a rigorous undergraduate education. Some plans I have include publishing a second book, fostering a stronger community through my STEM pages, Daily Math and Stem Bae, that already have over 100,000 members, maximizing the value of my tech internship, having fun spreading my love of science at my job at the Air and Space Museum, and reading a whole lot! I also plan to work on the Coronavirus Visualization Team’s social media initiatives and help direct the marketing front at Panel to the People.

How do you think your gap year will help you grow personally and professionally?
I hope this gap year manifests itself in a more full picture of myself. I want to put my goals, interests and values all in perspective through exploring myself. Each day, I learn something new about myself. I want to keep that going, and I hope that this will help me grow as a person in all facets of my life and better prepare me for the next four years that will be one of the most defining in my life. Beyond the personal, I hope to utilize this gap year to complete a lot of initiatives I would not be able to. From teaching myself important technical skills like different coding languages to following through with personal project ideas I’ve had for quite a while, I hope my gap year sets my professional career up.

What do you most look forward to when entering Northwestern University?
Honestly, the people. The vibrant in-class discussions, the fun of being in a tight-knit community, and the chance to grow alongside those who might become my life-long friends. Perhaps that’s why I felt so strongly about taking a gap year -- I do not think the community aspect of college will fully manifest itself in a virtual setting.


Lucy Chatfield, 20
Lucy is from Lincoln, Massachusetts and a student at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C.

Why are you planning to take a gap semester?
Before coronavirus hit the US, I was already considering taking a leave of absence from Georgetown in the fall to work on a political campaign through November. I was hoping to travel after the election. Once I was sent home in March, I reconsidered as I didn't love the idea of working remotely on a campaign and desperately wanted to go back to campus. But as it seemed less and less likely I would be able to return (or lead a normal college life if I did) I planned to take a semester off and travel to New Zealand for a number of months. My mum grew up in New Zealand, and I’ve always wanted to spend time in the country or study abroad there. Because I have citizenship by descent, I’ll be able to.

Briefly describe your plans for your gap semester.
For the first few weeks of the “semester” I plan to stay at home in Massachusetts and continue working my summer job as a lifeguard, to save money. Then I’ll fly to New Zealand and quarantine for two weeks. Beyond that, my plans are hazy! I’m thinking about getting a job in waitressing, bartending and/or retail to save up even more to be able to road trip and backpack throughout the country. I’m nervous yet excited for the adventure!

How do you think your gap semester will help you grow personally and professionally?
I have no idea if this semester will help me grow professionally, but I’m sure it will personally. Moving to another country alone is absolutely out of my comfort zone, but I’m learning to embrace the uncertainty and the adventure of it. I’m sure I’ll learn a lot about myself, and about my mother’s country as well!

With the uncertainty of how long this pandemic will last, do you think there may be a possibility of you taking a full-on gap year?
Definitely. It seems unlikely that I’ll be able to return in the spring, or that with the restrictions, I’ll want to. I’d love to be able to stay in the country, “study abroad” at a university in New Zealand and apply those credits towards my Georgetown degree. But if that’s not possible, I’d definitely consider taking a whole year off.

What do you most look forward to when going back to Georgetown University?
I look forward to reconnecting with all of my communities on campus. The Biology department, the Environmental Studies program that I work for, the clubs I’m involved in and the annual dance showcase I participate in! I’m also involved with climate justice organizing in the D.C. area, and I’ve really missed getting to see and work with all of those wonderful people.


Vanessa Louis-Jean, 18
Vanessa is from Blythewood, South Carolina and an incoming student at the University of San Francisco in California.

Why are you planning to take a gap semester?
Initially, what prompted me to take a gap semester was the fact my college classes were all remote, yet the tuition was not lowered. I understand their reasoning for doing remote learning and not letting students be on campus in the fall, but charging the same price as before did not sit right with me. It baffled me that a format that was not as effective and promising as in-person could still be priced the same. So, my family believed the best choice financially was to defer my enrollment until the spring in the hopes that it will be safe to resume classes in-person. I plan to still take a few classes at my local community college to stay on track to graduate in summer of 2024.

Briefly describe your plans for your gap semester.
Since I won’t be able to start my freshman year of college at University of San Francisco, I'm using this time to take local online classes and continue to work on finding my true passions in life. This year has been so unpredictable in more ways than one, so I'm curious to see how my passions will grow. I will most definitely use this time to be experimental and truly figure out what I want to do as my career. Currently, I do not have a structured plan for this gap semester, but I do plan to get to know myself better, and learn some skills such as video editing, social media management and freelancing.

How do you think your gap semester/year will help you grow personally and professionally?
All in all, this pandemic so far has helped me grow dramatically. I have learned so much about myself in terms of conflict, adversity and disappointment. The only definite professional goals I have are to gain certifications that will make me a marketable candidate in the future. A gap semester will be a great chance for me to continue to work on my self-growth, self-esteem while also making sure I enjoy the little things in life and giving myself mercy. But, the majority of my goals fall on personal growth and learning to live life in a different world.

With the uncertainty of how long this pandemic will last, do you think there may be a possibility of you taking a full-on gap year?
For me, probably not. But in this day in age, you never know! My goal is to still graduate in the summer of 2024, regardless if my school campus opens back up again or not. If my school reopening arrangement stays the same in the spring, my plans will have to change, whether I should transfer to a cheaper school for remote learning or continue to attend my first choice school.

What do you most look forward to when entering University of San Francisco?
Since I am an incoming freshman, I am looking forward to living the traditional college life! The school I plan to attend is across the country, so getting to explore the San Francisco scene will be so exciting for me. Educationally, being able to join clubs that fit my interests, while also being able to convene in person to work on projects and organize the student body will be something that I can't wait to get back to.


Victor Ye, 18
Victor is from Hacienda Heights, California and an incoming student at University of Southern California in Los Angeles.

Why are you planning to take a gap semester/year?
I originally planned to take a gap year not because of the Covid-19 situation, but because I had been given a fully funded scholarship by the US government to study Arabic in Morocco. I was hoping to move to Africa in mid-September; however, those plans have been cancelled. In addition, my university aimed to have most students take courses online from the comfort of their own home. I did not believe it’s worth the financial cost to pay thousands and thousands of dollars for online courses because college is more than just the classroom components: school life, extracurricular activities and the community of like-minded individuals! Students should take a gap year to jump on once-in-a-lifetime opportunities that will provide invaluable insights on their individual interests and passions, and challenge themselves to dream big and make their goals a reality.

Briefly describe your plans for your gap semester.
I plan to continue working on the side projects I started since the quarantine started. I founded a national youth-led history podcast that aims to redefine how history is being taught inside the classroom, and hope to publish the episodes starting in September or October. I have also been leading a vacation planner startup over the past couple of months and hope to release beta testing in the fall of 2020. At the moment, I am open to explore various options and live spontaneously -- being able to jump from one interest to another during my gap year will really help my personal development and understanding of my passions. If the coronavirus situation clears up, I hope to be in Morocco for the spring semester and continue my studies in the Arabic language before heading to USC!

How do you think your gap semester will help you grow personally and professionally?
I believe that my gap year is a chance to rediscover my priorities and purpose in life, at a time when the world is changing so rapidly and young people really have the resources to be at the forefront of social change. Being able to alleviate the worries of academic courses will keep me focused on my short and long term goals. I know that to grow personally and professionally, I must be open to learning new skills, speaking with new connections formed through LinkedIn and creating habits of positivity and productivity that will last a lifetime. As someone who is interested in international diplomacy and global business, it is crucial that I communicate with people from all backgrounds and cultures to better understand how to create a world of peace and prosperity.

What do you most look forward to when entering University of Southern California?
I am most looking forward to cultivating friendships that will last a lifetime and taking advantage of the entire college experience -- joining club organizations, attending seminars led by powerful people and embracing the Trojan spirit!

college students
gap years