Should I take a gap year or go off to college during a pandemic? That’s the question for many students during COVID-19.

A recent survey found that 16% of high school seniors planned to take a gap year instead of heading off to college or taking classes online this fall. In a pandemic-free world, less than 3% of graduating seniors planned to take a gap year off.

Many parents may be experiencing mixed emotions at this moment. Some are relieved their teen decided to take some time off and are thankful that tuition isn’t due for the time being. Others have significant anxiety about what exactly will happen over the next 365 days. For some, it’s a little bit of both. It isn’t like normal job or volunteer opportunities students would typically do in a gap year are readily available. Plus, travel is certainly out of the question. 

It has been said that the best defense is a good offense. Taking a proactive approach to having your teen under your roof for an additional year (or just a semester) can help prevent unnecessary drama and tension in your home. You’ll definitely want to have clear discussions about boundaries and expectations if you want to avoid constant disagreements and resentment. Here are some thoughts to get you going.

Make time to talk about how they are doing.

A lot of young people are experiencing a ton of emotions about so many rites of passage not going as planned. Not going away to school is just one more thing to add to the list. Being supportive and allowing them to process their thoughts and feelings can help make space to move forward. Having those conversations can also help you see if they might be struggling. They may even need help managing anxiety or depression during this uncertain time.

Ask your son/daughter to come up with a plan for the year.

They should be able to clearly articulate their goals as well as how they plan to accomplish them. And, if their plan is going to require financial support or other resources from you, they need to be able to show you what those are.

The Edge Foundation encourages students taking a “COVID-constrained” gap year to consider incorporating some of the following suggestions from College Transitions and others into their plans:

Volunteer for a political cause or candidate.

2020 is an election year with many important national, state and local races. Students taking a gap year during the pandemic could make calls/assist with a candidate’s social media outreach from the safety of home. They could also volunteer to work the polls. Since so many older poll workers are needing to take a break due to COVID-19, the timing is perfect.

Get help from a mentor.

If students are unable to attend college in person, this could be a good time to tap into networks of those who can advise them about college and career goals. Global Citizen Year is one organization that helps students tap their parents’ networks or send emails asking leaders in fields of interest if they’re available for a 15-minute Zoom chat.

Take online, college-level courses.

There are plenty of good (and sometimes FREE) courses in virtually every area of study. These courses can help students explore and deepen their knowledge in their area of interest.

Do work for a community nonprofit.

Many local charities and nonprofits are facing staffing shortages to help serve community needs during this time of crisis. If this work involves working directly with people, students will need to follow public health guidelines about protecting themselves from exposure to the COVID-19 virus.

Work locally for an essential business.

Over 60% of American families have already experienced a reduction in income. Working while following CDC guidelines can help students earn and save money to help with future college expenses. 

Learn a foreign language online.

Using an online platform like Duolingo can help your young adult sharpen their foreign language skills. Learning another language can be useful in college and beyond! Bilingual individuals enjoy a greater array of opportunities. Plus, they make more money, on average, than their monolingual peers.

Make sure you’re on the same page when it comes to rules and expectations.

It’s not helpful to leave it to their imagination what you expect of them during this time away from school. Be clear about what treating your home with respect and observing your rules looks like. Especially in light of COVID-19, discuss your thoughts on having friends over, socializing with others and then coming back home. You’ll also want to talk about helping with chores and laundry, helping themselves to food whenever, any limitations on nighttime hours or activities, etc.

Do you have expectations of them financially?

Will they pay rent? Do you expect them to do certain things in exchange for living under your roof? This is particularly important for the development of their sense of responsibility and independence. It is also practical, as household expenses will certainly climb.

While your teen may not have actually transitioned out of the house yet, he/she most likely believes that in a non-COVID-19 world they would be out on their own and functioning more like an adult. This is totally normal. Their expectations for living at home during a gap year or semester may be very different from what you have in mind, though. Since they are still progressing through their transition to adulthood they may not consider how their actions impact everybody else. As their parent, you have a unique opportunity to help them navigate all of these things while they find their way. 

Photo by Liam Anderson from Pexels

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