To do a gap year or not do a gap year, that is the question

As the new 2020/21 academic year fast approaches, students, universities and parents are being forced to contemplate some hard choices. With higher education institutions gearing up a mixture of online and small group physical lectures/ tutorials, on top of special socially distancing arrangements off the back of the COVID-19 epidemic.

This rings especially true for students who were due to be enrolled at universities for the 2020/21 academic year. A survey conducted by Art & Science Group found that as much as 16% of would-be college freshmen in the US are now drawing up plans for a gap year. To put that into perspective, a normal year would see that number at just 3%.  This is on top of indication from more than a quarter of students who are unsure whether they will return to their enrolled institutions for the new academic year in the Fall, according to a recent study by Top Hat.

In the UK, similar sentiments ring true. The Times, a British daily, reported that one in six students are looking to defer their studies. 

A lot of the trepidation comes from the lack of value most students find in online lectures. Universities across the world are trying to get the balance right. Ian Holliday, Vice President for teaching and learning at The University of Hong Kong set out his COVID-19 plan for the 2020/21 academic year, where there will be a mixture of both face-to-face teaching as well as online. This means that your peers will not be physically in the same lecture at the same time as a full cohort; students will be split between online and face-to-face lectures/ tutorials on rotation.

Should I take a gap year?

With so much uncertainty people are starting to ask the question as to whether they should take a gap year. Fearing ambiguity and unconvinced about online learning, many are looking to make that significant shift in plans. 

No doubt, taking any decision in this direction will not be easy for any perspective student, the best advice that we at Causeway Education can give is:

  • Check the university website for the latest information. Most universities have been pretty good at keeping both its current and perspective students up to date with the latest information
  • If you’re a fresher who already got accepted to start at the 2020/21 academic year, reach out to your admissions office and ask whether a deferral is possible.
  • Think about whether you truly benefit in putting university off for a year from a monetary standpoint, increased competition the following year(s) and having something truly rewarding to do in those 12 months.
  • Plan ahead and calculate. See the last section of this article for further detail.

Whilst various universities, depending on the situation on the ground in relation to COVID-19 and any policies implemented by the government, may see varying plans that could change in a heartbeat.  

I can’t travel on my gap year, what can I do?

Gap years for many young people has been a time to travel the world, broaden their horizons, immerse new culture and hopefully get inspired to take home. Yet, like Universities, air travel will very much still run on a limited schedule. 

However, that doesn’t mean that this moment can’t be changed to one of opportunity. One of the best ways to take full advantage is to do a professional qualification that could actually help you as an insurance policy for later in life. In terms of which qualification to achieve and course to do, look at the field that you plan on studying in in University. If you’re looking for exposure to business and your dream is to work in a hedge fund, The Licensing Examination for Securities and Futures Intermediaries could be something you challenge yourself with. You may think that this idea is too ambitious, but with no pre-requisites and the ability to read up on it, this will put you way ahead of your peers once you do start university as well as be well positioned for a internship or job once you graduate.

For those looking to do a discipline like English, humanities and social sciences think about a teaching certificate such as a CertTESOL that you can always use on a dry day, especially in Asia where native English teachers are always in demand. If done online, the course can be completed in a matter of weeks, whilst a more rewarding hands-on in-house experience may still be possible. 

Then there are those who can start an entrepreneurial passion or hobby such as starting a business. There have been success stories of young and talented Hong Kongers making a name for themselves even before they’ve graduated secondary/ high school. From an app that allows you to book a van for the delivery of goods namely GoGoVan to a shirt printing business that a lot of big corporations have bought into. With perseverance, everything is possible and there’s no better time than now to take a dive into the deep end. This is a game of hard work and patience with the potential rewards being huge.

Whilst air travel is largely an endangered species, albeit temporarily, you can still immerse yourself in a new language and explore culture along the way, all from the comfort of your own home. With a plethora of choices from premium language experts to free YouTube tutorials, there is no better time to start. You could even be strategic about it and choose to brush up on a language that may help you thrive in a future career. 

An increasingly popular option for a coronavirus gap year is volunteering your time to charity and related causes. There is nothing more rewarding than distributing soup to the elderly, giving out masks for the needy and vulnerable, putting a smile on children from less privileged backgrounds who have suffered more than most in this pandemic. From Operation Santa Clause to Ronald McDonald House and everything in between, Hong Kong is a hub for charities in Asia so why not take the opportunity? If the moral argument doesn’t convince you, this will also be a positive for any future higher education and job applications. 

Yet, not everyone will be able to afford the luxury of sitting out a year, especially with the economic pressures that have even wiped the savings of the middle class. One alternative trend that’s picking up speed is a switch to part time study. However, we must point out that not all universities offer part time undergraduate courses. In Hong Kong, for example, they are offered in community colleges such as HKU Space and The Open University of Hong Kong – ultimately making the degree less prestigious. 

If I take a gap year are my chances of getting accepted into my first choice University better?

For prospective students that do plan to take a gap year, this may make getting into a higher education institution for the following academic year of 2021/22 a lot more difficult. Most universities simply do not have the capacity and resources to take on a double cohort. In an ironic way, perspective students that had disappointing results and may have missed the cut if it were based on the criteria and competition of previous years, would find an opportune moment to enroll in the 2020/21 academic year. Whilst deferrals are usually possible, it would be a stretch for institutions to grant deferral approval for everyone over the same period.

With some universities becoming desperate for students (as enrollment is a big part of their business model) and dishing out unconditional offers, especially with the cancelations of SATs, A levels and IB Diploma exams, it almost seems to good to miss out on. The key calculation is whether this is your best chance to get into that dream university and are prepared to sacrifice a few months of teacher-student contact for the cause. 

However, there needs to be caution, especially in relation to UK higher institutions. The UK government is currently looking at student caps to prevent less prestigious universities from being hollowed out, thus limiting prestigious universities from filling the international student void with domestic enrollments. Still not fully confirmed, but very much expected off the back of the current government moratorium, which has put a temporary cap.

Finally, there is unanimity on one thing – no-one knows what’s going to happen for certain. This reason alone may put many in the incoming cohort of freshers off from starting in 2020/21. For those who are absolutely adamant that they will start their college life in 2020/21, embrace it and take it on your stride. Coronavirus or not, the University experience is priceless.

Need advice? Looking for someone to talk to about this? Reach out to one of our experienced education consultants today!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *