Gap year or virtual learning?

October 15, 2020 — by Shama Gupta and Christine Zhang

Months before beginning classes, the COVID-19 pandemic forced college freshmen to rethink their plans. For most, there were three options: Stay at home and attend college virtually, missing out on many of the social interactions that it would usually entail; move into dorms and attend virtual and hybrid classes; or take a gap year. 

While only a handful of alumni from the SHS Class of 2020 decided to take a gap year, most students who considered it were discouraged either because  their college didn’t permit it, or because they decided they didn’t want to be a year behind all their friends. 

Class of 2020 alum Felix Chen, for example, would have taken a gap semester if his college, the University of Southern California, had allowed it. 

“I felt like USC's high tuition wasn’t worth it for online classes,” Chen said. “I could achieve the same results by taking online community college courses and transferring credits over afterwards.”

Despite a petition with over 700 signatures in favor of allowing students to take gap years, USC ended up rejecting most requests for a gap semester because they required specific reasons such as medical conditions or military service.

If his request had been approved, Chen would likely have taken online classes through De Anza College for the semester.

In alum George Troyer’s case, however, his school, Loyola University Chicago, froze his scholarship and allowed him to defer his admission for a year. His parents were supportive of his decision to take a gap year.

“It seems pointless to rush into online college,” Troyer said. “My school canceled dorms, and online classes seem like a waste of education and money.”

Currently, he is focusing on his fitness, working at Jamba Juice and taking philosophy and environmental science classes at De Anza College. 

Alumna Nandini Thakur was also considering a gap year from MIT because she saw that all her classes were online and she wouldn’t be allowed to live on campus until spring.

“I wasn't sure if the online education would be worth the tuition,” Thakur said. “I just didn’t think this experience was going to be anywhere close to what I had been excitedly anticipating for years.”

However, unlike Chen, Thakur’s ultimate decision to enroll this fall was not because of school restrictions. 

“I didn't want to end up a whole year behind in my education while my friends had these new experiences,” she said. “I was hoping that only one semester of the year would be lost, which isn't that much in the grand scheme of things.”

Thakur also considered renting an apartment with other MIT students to replicate the feeling of living in a dorm. That way, Thakur said, she wouldn't completely miss out on meeting others. 

In the end, though, Thakur chose to stay at home and take online classes. 

Although the changing circumstances have forced students to take different routes, Thakur, Chen and Troyer are making the best of their situations and are happy that they are able to use their time productively — whether that means virtual learning or being patient until a more normal college experience is possible. 

“Freshman year is supposed to be fun, not stuck inside a dorm risking COVID-19 and going crazy because of online classes,” Troyer said. “Why rush into  that, you know?”



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