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gapyear-01
Credit: Alana Kelly

On June 25, Penn announced plans for a hybrid model for the fall 2020 semester. Remote classes, social distancing guidelines, private bedroom housing, and limited dining hall access are a few of the significant changes outlined in the plan that will inevitably alter the way traditional student life takes place at Penn, making a gap semester or year all the more appealing

Since incoming college first years are at a key transition stage of their lives, they should highly consider taking a gap semester given their inability to receive a complete college experience under present circumstances.

Traditionally, students take gap years in order to carve out the time and space for learning more about themselves before embarking on their college journey. Gap years allow students to gain valuable career experiences, better equip themselves to enter college, and provide eye-opening revelations about themselves and their view on the world. 

Conventional ideas on gap years revolve around some form of global traveling, although the pandemic makes the likelihood of that incredibly slim. Despite COVID-19 restrictions on gap year plans, there remain plenty of worthwhile gap year options for students — anywhere from local volunteer work to picking up an online coding course. This is a particularly good option for international students who not only face significant travel restrictions, but also, in attending school in the U.S, will likely enter a more dangerous health predicament compared to their native country. Gap years are not just a viable option, but one that should be preferred in lieu of the hybrid model. 

The most compelling reason why incoming first years should consider taking a gap year is given how drastically altered college life will be. The foundation of any college experience is the people on campus. It’s in the relationships and friendships — from the newly-formed acquaintance to the heated political debate with your roommate to the laughs shared across the dining hall table. That is what builds the memories we remember our college years by.

Under the hybrid model, creating and experiencing these kinds of intimate, in-person friendships will be hindered due to social distancing guidelines, which will limit the ability for large-scale community gatherings like performing arts shows, dining halls, or game rooms in dorms. This is a big loss for those seeking to build friendships at Penn. Now that all club activities are encouraged to be virtual and limited in size, the chance for new students to find a new community at Penn will be tough — simply because of the logistical and practical difficulties that inherently arise from isolation efforts. 

With nearly all classes turning remote, key components of a Penn education will inevitably disappear. The elimination of unique, in-person class experiences takes away students’ abilities to engage in spontaneous intellectual discourse, and social distancing restrictions prevent large-scale, innovative collaboration from happening organically. Students this fall semester face a reduced academic experience that simply doesn’t make it worth the cost of tuition. Penn will not be able to live up to the excitement and vibrancy which is unique to on-campus college experiences when it comes to both community and academic promises.

Despite an incomplete fall college experience, Penn has not reduced the cost of tuition. Rather, Penn decided to raise tuition by 3.9% in the face of mounting budget deficits. If first years don’t face any financial restrictions, then they shouldn’t spend money on tuition for a semester that doesn’t warrant the cost. 

Incoming first years have the luxury of time on their hands as individuals in mid-transition from one stage of life to the next. Enrolled students face various limitations that make taking the semester off unfavorable, such as needing to take certain time-sensitive classes, desires to graduate on time with already established Penn communities, or post-grad plans that are already set in stone. 

If the full college experience is so dramatically lowered from a social, community, and academic perspective under the hybrid model, why rush to attend school next semester if the opportunity and option to take a gap year exists? 

Credit: Alec Druggan

LARK YAN is a rising College junior from Toledo, Ohio studying Health and Societies. Her email address is larkyan@sas.upenn.edu.

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