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gap-year-penn-2025
Credit: Felicity Yick

That Tuesday turned my life upside down - and probably yours too, since you're reading this. A week was very little time to digest the new circumstances and plan for the fall semester, but the deadline to apply for a gap year is set at the end of today, Tuesday the 18th, and decisions need to be made.

For me, taking a gap year was actually the only way to arrange my housing, but it's still all I've been thinking about in the past week. Hearing others' perspectives would have been beneficial, and while there's no one decision-making formula that works for all, the least I can do is share my thoughts.

First and foremost come financial considerations. Like it or not, you need to be able to afford a year off - or, in cases like mine, attending Penn. Whichever way it is for you, think about this one carefully and as broadly as you can - for example, would this year's reduced tuition be a relief for your family?

Another important aspect is academic considerations. How do you feel about online learning? Don't get me wrong: it enables a lot, and you'll also likely be in charge of your own schedule a lot more due to the asynchronous components. But you don't owe it to anyone to start college now, especially if you feel your academic experience would be sub-par.

The flip side of the coin is how a year off will affect your academic preparedness. After an initial gap year, I received an inexcusably low score on the math placement test, considering I used to compete in math competitions. If you don't plan on taking courses during your gap year, it will likely take its toll on your academic abilities.

Speaking of gap year arrangements, keep in mind that a gap year shouldn't mean a year of not going to school, but a year of doing this or that. What would you be doing? An internship, a project you've wanted to do, or conducting research? Working on the elections, writing a book, exploring your spirituality? It doesn't have to be anything grandiose, but it has to feel important to you.

The one aspect that's the most uncertain and causes a lot of anxiety, at least for me, is social life. Think for a moment, and be honest with yourself: how will your social life look like in different scenarios? Do you feel comfortable making friends over Zoom? Could you meet other Penn students in your area? I myself probably wouldn't care much for socializing online when I have the option to actually see people in person here where I live, which would disrupt my integration to the Penn community.

Then come the practical issues. Time zones complicate things for international students. You'll be one year older next fall - for me, this means being almost 22, and even if plenty of people are taking a gap year now, I'm still concerned about connecting with other first-year students next year. Besides, I got the perfect schedule and some of the classes won't be offered next year. These kinds of things matter too, whatever they might be for you.

And finally, I want to bring your attention to everything you'd gain from taking a gap year. Having a year just for yourself is a great investment, and the insights you get might be crucial in shaping the rest of your life. Having taken one gap year already, I strongly encourage anyone considering it to go for it - if you have some sort of idea about what you'd be doing.

There are probably more sides to this, especially if your situation is special in one way or another. However, if you have considered all these things, you should have a pretty good grasp of your options and their pros and cons. As my advisor said, now it all depends on how you weigh those different aspects.

Whatever you choose to do, next year will bring about things that are weird and disappointing, but also ones that are new, exciting, and rewarding. My gap year program began yesterday and granted, adjusting to not starting college is a bit of a struggle. But really, what's the worst that could come out of this year? It feels like a huge decision now, but it's not worth stressing over as much as I did. Just follow your gut and enjoy the ride, wherever it may take you.

TERHI NURMINEN is an incoming College first year from Finland taking a second gap year in Sweden. Her email address is terhi@sas.upenn.edu.

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