Insight

Class of COVID High Schoolers and The “Forced” Gap Year

With the advent of remote internships, Gen Z high schoolers have the ability to differentiate themselves by gaining corporate work experience to boost their college applications, even as COVID19 delays their higher education plans.

Tamara Mathias
February 2, 2022

In normal economic times, just 1% to 3% of high school seniors take a year off before enrolling in college. But today, more students in the high school Class of 2020 may be considering delayed enrollment due to concerns about health, financial constraints, or online instruction.

One in ten US high school seniors who were planning to attend a four-year college or university prior to the pandemic have already made alternative plans, according to research firm Simpson Scarborough, which recommends that higher education should plan for a 10% decline in first-time, full-time enrollment.

The vast majority of students who are re-evaluating their decision to attend college this fall blame COVID-19 for ruining their plans to attend a 4-year residential institution. Nearly half plan to attend a community college and about a third plan to enroll in an online college. The remainder may not go to college at all, the report says. 

Joe O'Shea, Dean of Undergraduate Studies at Florida State University and author of the book Gap Year: How Delaying College Changes People in Ways the World Needs, notes that students taking gap years this year are looking for virtual experiences that will help them network and immerse themselves in service, internships and other forms of experiential education. 

“If a student is simply trying to take time off—without a clear plan for the year—because they are uncertain about having some or all of their college classes online, I would caution them to think about the decision,” he said.

“Given the changing nature of the pandemic, it’s very possible that gap year plans, such as travel, internships, or service opportunities are upended…

The need for students to be purposeful, deliberate and manage risks in their gap year planning is especially heightened this year.”

O’Shea notes that organizations which specialize in gap year education are particularly well positioned to provide students with structure by setting learning goals, encouraging guided reflection and giving them support throughout.

Scott O’Neill, interim director of Marketing Undergraduate and Recruitment at the University of Waterloo in Canada, recommends that students mulling a gap year due to COVID19 purposefully pursue experiences that are relatable in some way to their intended field of study. 

“Given that the majority of our admissions are to co-op programs, employability looms large in admissions decisions. For students choosing to take a gap year with plans to apply for Fall 2021, an externship would be one way to productively invest time and effort during that year,” he said.

“It is just as important to figure out what you don’t want to do, in addition to getting experience doing the kind of work you do want to do.


Attending university has grown more competitive and expensive over the years. As employers increasingly place premiums on candidates who are able to demonstrate work or research experience that directly correlates to the job on offer, students are now considering alternatives to a fully fledged college degree and opting instead for “micro” degrees and online courses to demonstrate their academic aptitude. These digital certification qualifications help individuals demonstrate proficiency in a particular industry area or skill and tend to be short, low-cost online courses.

It stands to reason that micro-credentials become more popular as COVID19 hurts the economy because many students can no longer afford to attend college merely because it is the natural next step in their academic career.

With the advent of remote internships, Gen Z high schoolers have the ability to differentiate themselves by gaining corporate work experience to boost their college applications.

And the COVID19 pandemic has just opened up a wealth of work-from-home options for under 18’s.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Tamara Mathias

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