Should your graduating senior take a GAP YEAR?

gap year
Should high school seniors consider taking a gap year in lieu of COVID-19?

It’s not exactly been the year you envisioned for your high school senior.

Everything they’ve worked so hard for up to this point–prom, graduation, college–it’s all up in the air right now. Perhaps none of it will happen the way you both planned. What should your teen do now?

Your teen has been accepted to college, so that’s still gonna happen. Right? But what’s that even going to look like come fall?

Should they shift plans and take a gap year?

Many op-eds are circulating out there–like this one–recommending just that. And we totally get the reasons given for this “gap year-push trend”: the unknowns about whether classes will still be online; the unknowns about whether football games or college parties will be able to take place right away.

But still–we gotta disagree with this advice. STRONGLY.

We sympathize, for sure. But we know how colleges accept students and hand out scholarships. This gap year advice being thrown out online is, at best, not thought through all the way.

And at worst, it’s clickbait.

Our advice to high school seniors? Attend college this fall. But don’t commit until the very last minute. Most colleges are extending their deadlines until June 1st. Take this time now to negotiate your financial aid packages even further, to get the best possible deal from your schools.

As terrible as the COVID-19 pandemic is for our economy–with universities seeing the impact like every other business out there–this is the prime time to negotiate for more money. Colleges are expecting a drop in enrollment right now, and are panicking–they’ll be more likely to give you a better deal now than every before.

And they’ve got the funds to do so now. Next year, this will not be the case.

The way colleges are able to hand out gift aid rests entirely on the health of a school’s endowment structure…which rests on the health of the market. While we don’t have a crystal ball of course, we can all pretty much predict that the market is going to take hit due to this pandemic–hurting schools’ endowment structures (thus leaving them with less money to give students in gift aid).

Add that to the fact that next year, your child is going to have to compete with the entire Class of 2021 for those acceptance letters and reduced gift aid packages. (Remember, there’s no guarantee your child’s colleges will automatically defer their acceptance until 2021–so make sure you find out before seriously considering a gap year!).

And there’s no guarantee your child will receive gift aid either. Especially when it’s inevitably going to be harder for universities to give out money.

If your child has to compete for acceptance letters and gift aid packages with the Class of 2021 next year–things might not swing in your child’s favor. Especially if your teen’s gap year isn’t part of a larger, more meaningful plan. When colleges allow students to take a gap year, what they’re really looking for is a year spent taking educational growth–through meaningful work experience, travel, etc.

But how is your child going to easily find meaningful work experience with a job market shattered by the COVID-19 pandemic?

And if we’re still in a world too unsafe for in-person classes…how is travel going to be a safe option for your child?

So, at the end of the day, what we’re trying to say is think about this clearly, and from all angles. If your child was already considering a gap year…and has already secures a solid plan for that gap year (one that won’t be thwarted by COVID-19)…and their school of choice has already committed to them that this will not impact their admissions or gift aid package for 2021…then your child might be a good candidate for a gap year.

But if the panic of COVID-19 has you or your child suddenly rethinking their plans…don’t do anything hastily. Weigh all your options as they will realistically play out before making a decision.

A less-thrilling first semester of college (with fewer parties, 8a.m. lectures and other collegiate milestones) isn’t ideal, but it’s not going to be the end of the world for your child either. Especially when compared to a loss of gift aid or a secure spot in your child’s best college in the first place.