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In an ordinary year, according to the American Council of Education, one in five graduating high school seniors decides to take a gap year before going off to college.

But this is not an ordinary year.

In this time of a global pandemic, many graduates still smarting over cancelled senior events and graduation ceremonies now face dilemmas about whether, or in what capacity, college campuses will re-open and if health concerns or learning issues should impact their decision to attend.

A recent analysis by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York suggested that delaying college entrance by a year could cost people as much as $90,000 of lifetime earning potential in their chosen careers. However, the analysis didn’t take into account the social and mental benefits of a gap year, the fact that you can still make money or earn college credit while taking a gap year, or that many college-bound freshmen have not yet settled on a career choice.

In fact, according to Ethan Knight, a gap-year alumnus and executive director of the Portland, Oregon-based Gap Year Association, an accredited non-profit organization, its website has seen as much as a 300 percent traffic increase on its pages as students seek information on gap year options and alternatives.

In the end, the decision to take a year off before college, and what to do with that year, will likely be shared by students and their parents based on their personal situations. Educators suggest answering these questions to help ensure the choice is right for your family:

  • Will your college support a coronavirus gap year? Will scholarships, financial aid, dormitory status or campus job opportunities be held?
  • What gap year alternatives might add value?
    • Work locally to save money. Assuming health guidelines are strictly enforced, working close to home for a year can help your student earn funds toward tuition costs.
    • Take a few online classes. While some might say, “why not just go on to campus?”, there may be value for some students in exploring the world of virtual higher learning by taking a few transferable, online classes from a local community college or as a non-degree student.
    • Volunteer. Food banks, shelters and other local resources stretched thin during the pandemic would welcome assistance and could provide a rare learning experience. If your child has political interest, working for a candidate in the run-up to elections could be equally valuable.