Think twice about taking a gap year during the COVID-19 pandemic

A gap year with nothing productive to fill it with is a waste of time and opportunity

Ditching school in a pandemic won’t give students a dream vacation. Illustrated by Alex Vanderput/The Peak

By: Nathan Tok, Peak Associate

I am going to just straight up say it at the start: unless you have a well-thought-out, rock-solid plan, it is probably not a good idea to take a gap year from school just because of remote learning.

What does one do in a gap year, anyway? Gap years are usually about taking a break from formal academic work and trying to better ourselves in some other regard outside of school opportunities. This includes travelling, volunteering, or working. But taking a gap year to avoid the pain of remote learning during the pandemic is only going to waste students’ time and provide no additional benefit. 

None of the reasons one might usually have for taking a gap year are great options during a pandemic. Consider travelling for world experience, for example. It’s still a bad idea to travel right now even if non-essential or vacation travel was “socially acceptable” as some countries still struggle to get viral case numbers down. Not to mention the difficulties and restrictions visitors might have when visiting another country, such as quarantine periods and different ideas about pandemic safety. So any kind of “find yourself” situation isn’t going to be a fun or feasible way to spend a gap year.

These difficulties apply to overseas working or volunteering too. Sure, students might be able to find one or two opportunities, but is it wise or fair to people living in those areas to accept an outsider into their community during a pandemic? Besides that, unless you work in essential services, working nowadays is a lot like school: remote, if at all. Students won’t be able to easily make those all-important workplace connections and truly take advantage of the experience in an industry or job over Zoom. You might as well stay in school at that point.

It might be tempting to leave school temporarily to wait the pandemic out, but consider this:  we are already used to school. In difficult times, doing something we are already mostly used to doing is going to be much easier than starting something brand new — especially in an environment of lean opportunities. 

Of course, if you feel inspired to do something new, just learn a new skill at home. If you need some time to yourself to relax, please go for it.Continuing to work on their minds, interests, and skills during the pandemic are probably the best things students can do for themselves when confined to their homes. But we don’t need to take a year off school to do that. Just because school is harder remotely doesn’t mean we need to throw the towel in altogether. 

So although remote schooling is not the greatest experience a student could have, the alternatives we could potentially do in a gap year probably aren’t better, if they are even possible at all. We need to dig deep and find those reserves to keep working on ourselves and on the goals we’ve already committed to, in order to be ready for when the world finally reopens.