Gap years provide intriguing opportunities for students impacted by COVID-era obstacles

Taking a gap year has become a more relevant option as many students don't want to spend their money on what they see as a muddied college experience. Photo illustration by Julia Pearl | Reporter

By Julia Pearl | Reporter

The option to take a gap year or defer admission has long been offered to students; however, with mounting pressure and obstacles as a result of COVID-19, there are more reasons for students to consider taking time away from school.

Jen McCrady, the senior director of enrollment marketing, said that deferrals have been different this year as compared to the past.

“It’s safe to say this was definitely a different year, and the reasons for deferring were definitely more varied than years’ past,” said McCrady.

She also said that because of various restrictions and school-related delays that other countries implemented to combat COVID-19, some international students faced many more challenges than in a normal year.

“COVID impacted our international students the heaviest because so many of them were just not able to even finish out their high school due to COVID,” said McCrady. “They either couldn’t obtain a visa or they had to take their final high school examinations in September since everything was delayed because of the pandemic.”

She said the reasons for deferring ranged from things like checking off bucket list item and mission trips to finishing training or waiting for campus life to be more normal.

While incoming freshmen faced the decision to defer, current students like Shafer, Minn., sophomore Indiana Smallman made the choice to take a year off.

Smallman said that the pandemic was a large driving factor in his decision to delay starting his sophomore year of college.

“It basically came down to money and what Baylor was doing on campus,” Smallman said. “It just didn’t seem like I should have to go through all the trouble with getting loans, and I didn’t want to dig myself deeper into the hole of student debt to take classes on Zoom.”

He said that while Baylor has been a good fit for him, online classes were not the form of education that suited him best. Smallman made the decision to unenroll well before the school year started, but Kansas City junior Sophia Spurlock had a different experience when she decided that taking this semester off was in her best interest.

“I am officially withdrawn from school as of two days ago,” said Spurlock on Thursday. “For me, I loved Baylor, but this school was just not a good fit. The transition to online was kind of the last nail in the coffin. COVID, obviously has been hard on everyone, and I just couldn’t be teaching myself all these courses. It was just overwhelming, and I decided it was probably time to try my luck somewhere else.”

Spurlock said she plans to use her time to prepare for upcoming medical school tests and find opportunities to build her resume.

“Once I get home, I have a lot of different shadowing opportunities,” Spurlock said. “I’ll work at a local free health-care clinic that we open up to the homeless of Kansas City. I’m going to be volunteering there on the weekends and doing what I can.”

Both Spurlock and Smallman said they do not regret their decision to take time away from school. However, both said they faced a lot of internal criticism when making the choice.

“Going into it, I felt like I was giving up like I was quitting — like I was giving myself a pass to be lazy,” Smallman said. “It’s definitely not quitting. It’s taking a look at life the way everybody else who isn’t a college student lives it. It’s being able to set your own schedule. It’s definitely a positive, and I don’t there should be a stigma with it.”

Spurlock said that support from her family is what helped her make the decision.

“I didn’t want to seem as if I’m letting my friends and family down or disappointing them because I’m taking time off,” said Spurlock. “Just talking to my friends and family has helped because they’re all really supportive of my decision, and they’ve been very happy for me because I am happy about my choices in life and taking this time off.”

Spurlock said that students who are considering taking time away from school shouldn’t let the stigma around delaying your education stop students from doing what is best for them.

“I’d say to anyone who is thinking about it, I would definitely
consider it,” Spurlock said. “What would you be doing during your time off and would it
help you grow as a person or help you in whatever future career you want
because if the answer to that is ‘yes’, then it’s definitely something
you should consider more.”