The Covid-19 pandemic was incredibly challenging for college students and when schools shut down and went to remote classes, many students chose to take time off — a gap year or even a gap semester — instead.
Postsecondary enrollments dropped 2.5% in the fall of 2020, nearly twice the rate of decline from a year earlier, according to the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center’s December 2020 report. The NSCRC said the primary driver of that decline was a 3.6% drop in undergraduate enrollment.
Many students could no longer afford to enroll. Others didn’t want a diminished college experience as coronavirus forced most universities online and internships, jobs and study abroad opportunities were canceled. Others were simply burned out from the stress of the pandemic.
“My family was in a credit crisis … so there were a lot of questions about our livelihood, what’s going to happen to my grandparents [in China]. So there’s a lot of stress in the air,” said Lily Liu, an international student from China in the Stanford University Class of 2022 (formerly ’21). “As the only child in an immigrant family, I think it was really important for me to be able to dedicate my full attention to my family,” Liu said.
Lily Liu, an international student from China attending Stanford University, was supposed to be studying abroad in Paris when the pandemic hit. Instead, she took a year off and moved back home.
Source: Lily Liu
Nicolas Montoya, a student in the Harvard College Class of 2024 (formerly ’23), said he found it hard to adjust when campus was closed and students were sent home.
“I chose to take a gap year mainly because I didn’t have the best experience with the spring semester of 2020, when we decided to go virtual. Being [a] first-gen [college student], it was really hard to find work-life balance and find a place to study at home,” said Montoya.
Marco Balestri, an American History major at Columbia University, had been studying abroad in Buenos Aires, Argentina and was there for less than three weeks when the pandemic hit and all students were sent home.
“I had not started the semester there and decided to withdraw from school for the semester just because I really could not think of the prospect of doing five months of online school,” Balestri said.
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Gap years are common as some high school students take a year off to travel or volunteer before college. But that increased dramatically with the pandemic as many incoming freshmen, when faced with the prospect of starting their college life online, opted to take time off instead. Freshman enrollment in college fell 13.1% in the fall of 2020, compared with a drop of just 1.4% in the fall of 2019, according to the NSCRC.