While some students typically opt to take a gap year before entering college, Penn saw a large increase in the number of students on gap years in the 2020-2021 school year.
Among the 200 students who took a gap year, many were set to become members of the Class of 2024 but, not wanting to begin their college career in a remote setting, elected to take gap years. After taking a year away from school — whether spending the time traveling or working — many of these now members of the Class of 2025 said they are optimistic about the upcoming semester.
Incoming College first year Lorraine Ruppert said she decided to take a gap year because of her experience with online classes during the last few weeks of her senior year of high school.
“After doing online school for a few weeks, I didn’t think that that was the best environment for me to grow and develop as a student,” she said.
Ruppert said she spent a few months last year working at Pennsylvania Youth Climate Strike — an environmental education center in Philadelphia — and is currently interning and visiting family in Taipei, Taiwan. She added that the experience of living in a city allowed her to further develop her career goals to focus on the intersection of environmental studies, her intended major, and urban studies.
Ruppert said even though she was not taking classes, she was able to maintain a sense of closeness with the Penn community by keeping in touch with members of the Class of 2024.
“I have a few friends from my high school that are going to Penn and were supposed to be [in the] Class of 2024 with me that I decided to take a gap year with,” she said. “We’re in constant communication — I’ve been checking in with them every few months throughout my gap year.”
Incoming Wharton first year Rachel Zhang said she decided to take a gap year because she also preferred to learn through in-person instruction.
When she first committed to Penn at the end of her senior year of high school, Zhang was curious about how she could connect her interests in government and political science within the Wharton School's curriculum, she said.
During the first half of her gap year, she worked as a national delegate for Sen. Bernie Sanders during the 2020 Democratic National Convention and a local electoral campaign. Zhang also started a nonprofit organization in her hometown of Rochester, Minnesota to promote civic engagement, which made her realize that she had an interest in social entrepreneurship.
Zhang said she dedicated the second half of her gap year to traveling, noting that she is currently on a road trip with other Penn gap year students and previously spent a month working on a farm in Oahu, Hawaii.
“While there is some stigma around taking a gap year, I felt like I experienced a lot this year that I wouldn’t have been able to in any other situation,” Zhang said.
Incoming Engineering first year Ben Sailors said he was initially unsure about taking a gap year, because of the limited travel and work opportunities due to COVID-19.
After the University announced that students will no longer be able to return to campus for fall 2020, however, he reconsidered taking a gap year because he felt he was unable to justify the cost of tuition for online classes. He said conversations with family members and professors from the PennCAP Pre-Freshman Program helped him make the decision to ultimately take a gap year.
Sailors said he spent his gap year interning at Robinson Fin Machines, Inc. — an industrial research and development firm — noting that his gap year was a “net positive experience” because he was able to learn about research processes that can be applied to material science engineering, his intended major. He added that the experience helped him refine his career goals and explore other types of engineering careers.
Sailors said he feels optimistic about the upcoming fall semester because, like Ruppert, he was able to maintain community with other Penn students during his gap year, adding that one of his friends in the class of 2024 ended up becoming his peer advisor.
“Some people were telling me I wouldn’t want to go back to school, but that couldn’t be further from the truth,” he said. “I feel very prepared [for] Penn, just because I’ve had the past year to do research and find what I’d like to delve into.”
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