Why you shouldn’t take a gap semester this fall

It’s time to adapt

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(Judith Gibson-Okunieff/Daily Collegian)

By Maxwell Zeff, Assistant Op/Ed Editor

College students nationwide have one question on our minds: what will the fall semester look like? I’m sure many of us have considered the possibility of taking a gap semester. Do we really want to be wasting our precious college years in Zoom lectures? Wouldn’t it be better to return to college when everything is “back to normal?”

Here’s some advice: don’t take a gap semester this fall. College likely won’t be back to normal by the fall, the spring or even next year. This September, get an education, in whatever form college takes by then. Many Ivy League colleges even offer free online classes through Coursera and edX. These classes offer a highly accessible and affordable higher education experience to anyone with a laptop. Whether it’s learning through edX, taking your school’s online classes or potentially returning to a compromised version of college, all of these options are better than a gap year for most students.

First and foremost, some of us will face trauma so great in these trying times that school may be the least of our worries. To those people, I say take a gap year if it’s right for you. Only you can know what’s right for your emotional and mental health. However, many college students are considering a gap year right now just because they won’t get the college experience they hoped for or because they don’t want to deal with online school.

It is true that online education is not the same as the physical college experience. It’s not perfect by any means, and there’s many features of college involving networking and self-discovery that can’t be attained with online classes. Those losses are real, and I wrote an in-depth article on how students must be compensated for those losses. That being said, online classes are the most useful thing many young adults can do with their time. They offer a chance for you to grow and expand your mind in a time of intense isolation. Online education offers connections to hundreds of your peers, connections we are deprived of in isolation that are so crucial to our wellbeing. In comparison to how college was last fall, online education is, as my little cousin described his fifth grade online classes, “annoying and not fun.” But we have to understand that life isn’t going to snap back to normal as quickly as it unraveled into our current chaos. It could take years. During those years, we have to take what we can get. Online classes are better than nothing, and truthfully, online education has never made more sense than right now.

Thirdly, under normal circumstances, gap years can be incredibly beneficial in terms of personal growth, developing real life skills and working to help pay for the rest of college. However, the reality is that a gap year in coronavirus times is not comparable to any other gap year. If you take a gap year this fall, there’s a large chance you won’t be able to travel, you won’t be able to work and your personal growth potential may be limited. You have to ask yourself, what is the value of taking a gap year right now? The typical benefits of a gap year don’t apply in our current, dysfunctional world, and getting an education may be the best use of your time.

Though life won’t be back to “normal” anytime soon, it doesn’t mean your life should be on pause until it gets there. On the contrary, those of us who are able to adapt and thrive in this new world will come out of this pandemic better off than others. The first step in adapting to this new world is accepting it. Start learning how to make Zoom work for you. This is easier said than done, and students with financial hardships and learning disabilities will undoubtedly struggle more than others. Video conferencing is how much of the world is functioning, and it has the potential to be here long after the pandemic subsides. Gen Z has grown up with screens as a constant throughout our lives, a defining aspect of our generation, and now we’re relying on them more than ever.

I don’t mean to sound callous about the hardships facing millions of Americans right now. In the past month, many of us have lost loved ones, more of us have lost jobs and all of us have had our daily lives uprooted. We’re going through a dark period of American history, and it’s not over yet. Every one of us needs to adapt rapidly to this new world, and I fear those who can’t adapt won’t survive it. We may be acclimating to a new normal, or at least a new normal for the next few years.

Privilege takes on a whole new meaning in light of the coronavirus. Those of us with enough money for food are privileged. Those of us who are merely alive can consider ourselves lucky that this hellish game of chance has spared us. If you’re fortunate enough to be able to get an education this fall, do it. You owe it to yourself, and all the people who aren’t fortunate enough to be getting an education right now.

Maxwell Zeff is an assistant Op/Ed editor and can be reached at [email protected]