The reality of COVID-19 has college students across the country planning to skip the upcoming school year, with some citing worry over personal finances and concern over online classes. Many students and their families lost income amid the pandemic, making it tougher to pay tuition and other educational expenses. And while college administrators are planning reboots that reduce the potential health risks of starting school this fall, students aren’t excited about the proposed instructional delivery options. Taking hybrid and online classes are unappealing to those who signed up for a traditional college experience.
But financial roadblocks and less-than-desirable learning environments may not justify putting your education on pause this fall, especially when considering some of the drawbacks. Let’s look at a few problems you might encounter if you take a gap year and skip college enrollment this coming semester.
Problem #1: No One Knows When or If We’ll Get Back to “Normal”
Lively student unions, packed dorm rooms, and full lecture halls are a thing of the past, at least for now. Whether we’ll return to a typical college experience anytime soon is seeming more unlikely. Even the possibility of having millions of students crisscrossing the U.S. to return to campus by spring isn’t guaranteed. Some would describe that scenario as an epidemiological nightmare in the making. But, waiting it out could mean unnecessarily delaying your education, especially when colleges and universities are bolstering their online instruction offerings for new and returning students.
Problem #2: The Typical Gap Year Benefits are Fewer
When students think of a typical gap year experience, it usually includes working a full-time job, traveling abroad, or exploring potential career interests. This year, those options might be off the table. Even though the unemployment rate declined to 11.1% in June 2020, finding full-time work may still be challenging. This is still nearly three times as high as it was in March 2020. Even then, unemployment rates were already creeping higher when compared to the prior year. Don’t forget that COVID-19 travel restrictions are still in place in many parts of the globe, and many in-person internships are being converted into virtual ones.
Problem #3: Re-Admission May Be an Issue
Whether you’re considering taking a semester off or the entire academic year, understand that each college has its policy for approving leaves of absence and re-admission. Some may be more lenient than others due to the coronavirus crisis, but that doesn’t mean returning to school will be easy. With an approved leave of absence, you can stop attending school for a maximum of 180 days within a 12-month time frame. But withdrawing from school or failing to return from your leave could have unwelcome consequences.
Colleges and universities are not required to re-admit students, even if they meet the requirements for re-admission. Each school and program is different, but know that some colleges may require you to:
- Apply for re-admission and pay a fee
- Meet updated re-admission requirements
- Comply with revised graduation requirements due to changes within the program of study
- Complete additional coursework based on changes to a program’s graduation requirements, thereby increasing the total cost of your education.
Contact your school for details on their specific re-admission requirements.
Problem #4: You Could Be Forced to Start Student Loan Repayments
Most student loan programs allow students a six month grace period before borrowers must make their first principal and interest payment. However, federal and private student loan grace periods differ by loan type and lender. Some student loans have shorter or no grace periods before you must begin repayment. Speak with your loan servicer or school’s financial aid office to confirm how this would apply to your specific situation. The length of time you stay withdrawn or are enrolled less than half-time will influence which loans you must start repaying and when.
Did You Know?
The cost of borrowing money for college is at an all-time low. Federal student loan interest rates for the 2020-21 academic year have dropped to 2.75% for undergraduate borrowers. This historically low-interest rate applies to Federal Direct Subsidized and Unsubsidized student loans. Graduate student borrowers can secure Direct Unsubsidized Loans at 4.3%. Parents of undergraduates and graduate students can obtain Direct PLUS Loans at 5.3%.
Add the automatic administrative forbearance that has put student loans at 0% interest and pauses payments thru September 30, 2020, and it seems like taking a gap year right now would be less than ideal from a financial perspective. Even private student loans are setting record lows of 2.99% variable APR or 4.99% fixed APR.
Pausing your education because you feel COVID-19 is undermining your college experience can create more problems than it might solve. However, the emotional and mental health benefits of taking a break from everything might be the best choice for some individuals. Carefully weigh your options and potential consequences before making a final decision. Only you know if taking a gap year is the right thing to do in your particular situation.