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Should you take a Gap Year during a Pandemic?

Updated: Mar 22, 2021

It's a hot topic of discussion between parents and their student children at the best of times, but what about now, in the midst of a pandemic, should you advise your child to take a 'Gap Year'? We talk to current gapper (and Selina's daughter), Mimi, to find out about the reality of taking a gap year in these Covid times...


To take a gap year or not to take a gap year? That has always been the question, and never more so than during a pandemic. The A Level results fiasco forced several people’s hands when they missed their university offers, but the rest of us have just had to commit to a decision (not something us 18 year olds are particularly good at) and hope that it was the right one.

I had always planned to take a gap year and was determined to stick to my guns even as I watched all my carefully planned adventures in South America slip away as it became clear we were in this for the long run. I thought my friends were crazy trying to go to university this year - after an underwhelming A Level summer, there wasn’t even the promise of a proper freshers week to spice things up!

A phone call with my best friend however, made me see things differently. She made the point that there are very few jobs right now for our age group, especially in the British countryside where she lives, and on top of this hardly any travel prospects. It’s all well and good to take a gap year because you don’t think university will be much fun, but who’s to say that a gap year will be any better? I started to wonder if I had made a huge mistake.

I didn’t have much of an option though - my university, Minerva Schools at KGI, is based in San Francisco, and even if I miraculously managed to get a visa, I was not exactly jumping at the chance to head to a Covid-riddled US state.

Instead, I took a deep breath and moved from Singapore to London, in search of work and a social life. Lady luck must have been looking out for me because everything seems to have fallen into place so far! I’ve moved into a flat with a school friend, have been lucky enough to start a remote internship at Natives, a student marketing specialist group, and have enough friends also in the city to have some fun with.

Whilst the first couple of weeks at university certainly looked fantastic, the majority of my friends are now locked down in their halls or have actually tested positive themselves. Many have ‘escaped’ and fled home so they can eat home cooked meals during isolation, rather than microwaved pot noodles. Some are desperately trying to defer, but it’s too little too late and they’ve had to resign themselves to the fact that the rest of first year is probably going to be a combination of online lectures, isolation and the occasional illicit dorm party.

I am obviously biased, but I feel the outlook is a little less bleak for us gappers. Whilst tightening restrictions on pubs and restaurants is putting pressure on those with jobs in the F&B industry, and the possibility of not being able to socialise indoors puts nannying jobs at risk, most of us have actaully managed to get at least a little bit of stable work and are starting to save up to go travelling if restrications are lifted. I remain hopeful about travel prospects - I just think it will be a bit different to your usual gap year backpacking trip.

Rather than hitting all the popular tourist traps at breakneck speed, we’ll be forced to spend longer periods of time in fewer places, giving us the opportunity to really get a feel for the country and its culture. You could argue that this is a good thing, that opening your mind to other languages and lifestyles, becoming more of a global citizen, should be what travelling on a gap year is all about - and I would agree.

Travelling is also going to be very dependent on back-up plans. What do I do if I get covid? How good is the medical care in that country? What if the country I’m in goes into lockdown? Covid has presented us with a whole new level of concern and structured programs offered by companies such as The Leap and Raleigh International are probably going to be even more popular this year thanks to the certainty they provide.

With the airline industry in trouble they have had to look more favourably upon consumers and provide cancellation options with no penalities, an advantage now to the intrepid traveller. At the same time, any travel plans will likely be very last minute. Nobody is going to book flights until right before they leave because the chances of things falling through are way too high to plan things months in advance. I feel it is going to be a very spontaneous year, which sounds great to me, but something I’m sure will make my plan-loving parents shudder (‘By the way mum I’m flying to Australia for 3 months next week, surprise!’ might not go down too well).

On the whole, I am still glad I chose to take a gap year. With the second wave in full swing, and my family in a different country to me, the next couple of months have a big question mark hanging over them. It’s terrifying but also intensely exciting - I have no idea where this year is going to take me, but I have a feeling it’s going to be good.


[Many thanks to Natives for their kind permission in reproducing this article which first appeared on Student Hut ]

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