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'Put my mental health first:' Here's why some students are taking a gap year

With the pandemic changing the look of many sectors including higher education, many students have considered taking the year off instead of taking online classes or returning to campus.

Nearly 1 in 5 high school seniors said they’re considering changing their plans for fall 2020 due to the coronavirus outbreak. Taking a gap year was the second-most popular option after enrolling in a part-time degree, according to a survey of 1,117 high school seniors conducted by Art & Science Group.

But taking a gap year may have negative financial consequences in the long run, according to an analysis by the New York Fed. At 25, those who have taken a gap year earn around $3,000 less than their peers, the study found.

We talked to Gemma Marshall, an 18-years-old who’ll be attending Drexel University and Nielmar Damot, a 20-year-old attending Rizal Technological University in Mandaluyong, Philippines. They both have made the decision to take a gap year in 2020 and are sharing their thinking behind the decision.

High angle view of male professor teaching young multi-ethnic students sitting on amphitheater steps at community college campus
Nearly 1 in 5 high-school seniors said they’re considering changing their plans for fall 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic. Photo: Getty Creative

Cashay: Why did you decide to take a gap year? Was the pandemic a big factor?

Gemma: I decided to take a gap year until the fall of 2021 due to not only personal family reasons. I’ve decided to put my mental health first. COVID-19 also played a role in my deferral as I’m immunocompromised and it would be dangerous to not only myself but my friends and family who are at risk as well.

Most of my classes would be moved online and I have dyslexia and ADD [attention deficit disorder], which makes it difficult to learn that way. Also, the fact that tuition is remaining the same despite classes being online is a bit ridiculous for my family’s financial situation.

Nielmar: I decided to take a gap year because, for me, I couldn't do well in online classes. Yes, I do have gadgets and access on the Internet, but that doesn't mean that it'll be effective for me to study all the stuff in my course. I mean, as a student, I know that I'll do better in a classroom setting.

And yep, the pandemic was really a big factor for this decision of mine. Not to mention that I lived in a country (Philippines) wherein the government wasn't prioritizing the pandemic at all.

Gemma Marshall, an 18-years-old who’ll be attending Drexel University. Photo: Courtesy of Gemma Marshall

Cashay: What did you think are the pros and cons of taking of gap year for you?

Gemma: I think the biggest pro of taking a gap year, for me, is that I can take a year to try to understand my place in the world. I can experience new things and become my own independent self.

The biggest con is that, while I stay in Massachusetts, I have friends leaving for college as well as friends I’ve already made at Drexel. It’s going to be difficult to catch up with the people next year who have already made new friends and know the area well. Another pro is that I can visit my friends at college whenever I’m free from work.

Nielmar: I think some of the pros of taking a gap year are it'll be a breath of fresh air after spending what feels like my entire life in full-time education and I can use the time to learn different things that can't be taught in school. However, there are also cons like I'll be delayed from graduating and I think it'll be hard for me to get back in the habit of studying.

But here's the important thing: Education is a journey, not a race. So choose what's best for you.

Cashay: Does that affect your financial aid or scholarship? How are you going to deal with that?

Gemma: One of the biggest deciding factors that went into taking a gap year was whether or not my financial aid was going to carry into 2021. Luckily for me, all Drexel scholarships I was awarded will, in fact, carry on into next fall.

This was huge for me because despite having to reapply for financial aid this year, I still have most of the money I was offered in the first place. I do plan on applying for plenty more aid this year, thanks to all the free time I’ll have. That was one of my mom’s requests, was that I continue to apply for more scholarships on my off-year.

Nielmar: Yes, it will. And it really has a big impact on my student life. So I plan to apply for reconsideration after I get their required GWA in the next academic year or semester.

With that said, I'll study hard even more, so I can get back my scholarship. That's why I really need to earn some money right now, so it's not that difficult on my part.

Nielmar Damot, a 20-year-old attending Rizal Technological University in Mandaluyong, Philippines. Photo: Courtesy of Nielmar Damot

Cashay: What are you going to do in your gap year?

Gemma: During my gap year, I have a lot planned. Starting off, my boyfriend and I are moving into an apartment together and I’ll be able to find a job nearby. I want to travel as much as possible, so the job will help me save a lot of money for just that.

I also plan on expanding my knowledge of the music business. I do interviews of bands for a non-profit music magazine called “Legends of Tomorrow” and I want to be able to add to my resume through that. I also plan on delving into music booking. Despite not going to school to study it, I’ll be able to learn a lot through the experiences I face during my gap year.

Nielmar: Um, to be honest, I don't have plans yet because we're still in the middle of a pandemic. However, I'm planning to apply for part-time jobs to earn some money that can help my study next academic year.

Besides that, I think I'll focus more on my writing life — I mean, I'm planning to finish some of my novels while taking a gap year. And maybe read all the books in my reading list and binge-watch some films and series.

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Cashay: Are many of your friends doing the same?

Gemma: Only one other person I know is taking a gap year from UVM to travel alone to Utah for the year. She’s actually the one who planted the seed in my mind that it was a good idea.

Nielmar: Not really. Most of my friends decided to continue their studies because they all wanted to graduate on time. And I respect their decision.

Cashay: Did your parents support your decision?

Gemma: My parents did support my decision because, in the end, they just want me to do what’s best for myself.

Nielmar: To be honest, no. They're really disappointed, especially my mom. She actually wanted me to enroll for this year because she doesn't want me to be left behind. But after explaining my decision, I guess she kinda approved it. I hope so.

Denitsa is a reporter for Yahoo Finance and Cashay. Follow her on Twitter @denitsa_tsekova.

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