With an increasing number of people getting vaccinated, many colleges say they plan to reopen for full-time, in-person learning in the fall. Nevertheless, some of the restrictions that have been suggested for campuses — masks, frequent testing, social distancing — will not be ideal for high school seniors who dream of a typical college experience. Some are considering taking a gap year — typically a year taken off between high school and college. 

Even beyond the uncertainties of the coming fall, deferring college for a year might lead to long-term rewards. Six interviewees, ranging in age and experience, reflect on what they learned during their gap year of 12 (or more) school-free months, in the hope that it might help those who are currently considering taking gap years. 

Frances Vonada, 19, graduated from Bishop Blanchet High School, plans to start college in the fall

Gap year: 2020-2021

Why did you take a gap year and what are you doing?

My decision was based on just waiting out COVID and all that uncertainty … Because of quarantine, I couldn’t travel, so my goals were more personal. I wanted to work on my music skills, and I wanted to apply to a couple of new schools. 

What advice would you give someone who is planning to take a gap year?

Go in with some sort of plan … I went in with a vague “oh, I’ll do piano,” but just have an idea of something you’re going to do. You want to get something out of this time. 

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Are you glad that you took a gap year?

Yes. This year has been me figuring out myself … I got to go back and really think, “Is this what I want to do, is this the path I want to take?” It is useful just to take more time to reflect.

Sonja Lerner, 20, graduated from Nova High School, currently taking a leave of absence from college

Sonja Lerner (Iris Lerner)
Sonja Lerner (Iris Lerner)

Gap year: 2018-2019

Why did you take a gap year and what did you do?

I was so burnt out after high school … I needed that time off to just figure out what my priorities were. I had a family friend who was pretty well-off. And she, for my graduation present, said she would take me to the country of my choice … We ended up visiting Burkina Faso and Morocco, and then for the next six months, I traveled on my own, through Western Europe and Eastern Europe, and then to Southeast Asia and India.

What was it like to travel on your own?

You meet a lot more people. You have to meet people, if you’re going to not be alone all the time. So you really have to connect with that gut instinct: “Oh I don’t want to be here right now; this is a bad situation.” … You have to put your safety first.

What did you gain from your gap year?

I had just the money I had saved — $7,000 — and that was for my whole trip. So I learned how to make all the calls on everything. And I did a lot of self-exploration.

What advice would you give someone who is considering whether or not to take a gap year?

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I’ve started thinking critically about my gap-year experience, thinking about going to a place as a person of privilege, with income. … Before you go into all these communities, consider what your impact is going to be. 

Kai Milici, 23, graduated from University Prep, senior at Middlebury College

Kai Milici (Tom Balfour)
Kai Milici (Tom Balfour)

Gap year: 2016-2017

What did you do during your gap year and why did you take one?

I did a program called Global Citizen Year … I went to Ecuador, lived in a small town in the north of the country, took Spanish classes. I just felt like it would just be a great opportunity to spend a long time in a new setting. 

How did your gap year shape your future plans?

I worked at a local credit union where my host mother worked … That definitely instilled in me an interest in economic development that I have carried with me throughout college and that I plan to pursue after I graduate.

What are the benefits of taking a gap year?

Aside from the emotional maturity that I gained … it can give you a leg up — even if you’re a freshman in college applying to an internship — if you were in these places no one else has been to and saw things in action.

What is a common misconception about gap years?

Gap years are stereotypically seen as for very privileged students. Global Citizen Year, specifically, actually offers full financial aid; I was on a scholarship. Financially, that program is really accessible. 

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AbdurRahman Bhatti, 20, graduated from Lakeside School, plans to start college in the fall

AbdurRahman Bhatti (Katie Simmons)
AbdurRahman Bhatti (Katie Simmons)

Gap year: 2019-2021

What are you doing during your gap year and why did you take one?

Over the last two years, I’ve gone full time working at our startup, Ghost Pacer, which is built around a set of mixed-reality glasses for runners. That was something I started toward the end of my sophomore year [of high school], and something I really wanted to continue before heading off to college. 

A gap year is traditionally one year, but you have taken two years off. Why did you make that decision?

For Ghost Pacer, we were in a place where it didn’t make sense to stop after a year … I think it was the right decision for me; I don’t necessarily recommend it for most people … two years off is a big time commitment. 

Who should take a gap year?

If there’s something you really want to pursue; something you’re excited about; something that, in order to really do properly, you need a 24/7 commitment, I would highly recommend it.

Ezra Brewster (Melissa Brewster)
Ezra Brewster (Melissa Brewster)

Ezra Brewster, 18, graduated from Foss High School, plans to start college in the fall

Gap year: 2020-2021

Why did you take a gap year and what are you doing?

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Mostly it was a school thing: I wanted to start college in person, do all the cheesy freshman-year activities. This year, I’ve been working for Earthwise Salvage, which is a salvage company … and working on my music — I play the violin.

Has your gap year had any impact on your future plans?

I’ve been planning for several years to major in environmental science … I still plan to do that. But also I have realized that I do want to minor in music — just realizing how valuable that is to me, from a creative standpoint and an emotional standpoint.

What have been the benefits of your gap year?

I’ve been able to expand on my understanding of the world beyond a strictly academic standpoint … I’ve read a couple books on race this year … I can’t fully understand someone else’s experiences, but it’s good to learn more about others and my privilege. 

Marcia Murray, 46, homemaker/writer in Bellevue 

Marcia Murray (Marcia Murray)
Marcia Murray (Marcia Murray)

Gap year: 1992-1993

What did you do during your gap year and why did you take one?

I was invited to join a friend to defer college admission for a year and attend Bible school in northern England … It was just presented as an opportunity to really focus on our individual faith.

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What was the greatest benefit of your gap year?

I had roommates from Norway … Germany, Canada; I had one roommate who was blind, one who was Pakistani … I had come from a town where everyone was pretty much the same color and creed, and all of a sudden I was immersed in this rich cultural environment … It was just a phenomenal learning experience for me as a person.

What kind of person should take a gap year?

Anyone. Especially for someone who doesn’t know exactly what they want to do or what they want to study, it’s just one more year of figuring out who you are and what your interests are. 

What is a misconception about gap years that you want to dispel?

I would never want it to be viewed as something for the ultraprivileged … You can work at a restaurant and then use your free time to read and explore in your mind. That is something that gives you life experience and life exposure … That is an education in itself.