During the next few weeks, many United States students will return to college campuses across the country. While some students have already returned with no issue, some colleges and universities are already pulling back on plans for in-person instruction and opting for remote alternatives.
For other students, they’ll be forgoing the traditional, on-campus higher education experience and the uncertainty in favor of something else – a gap year.
While the gap year is common in Europe and Australia, the coronavirus pandemic has sparked a noticeable uptick in interest among both parents and students in the United States.
Many institutions including Harvard, Duke, Cornell and Middlebury College, typically offer deferred enrollment or gap year programs. But as recent headlines have noted, times are anything but typical at the moment.
Gap years are most commonly taken outside a home country to expand knowledge of language and culture. Travel bans and restrictions have introduced new challenges – but none parents and students aren’t prepared to overcome with a little creativity.
In a recent piece on the unprecedented number of students taking a gap year this year, EdSurge reports 20% of first-year students at Harvard have opted to defer admission and take a gap year, which is roughly three times the number that usually defer.
A popular alternative to international gap year travel is the domestic gap year, which still allows students to immerse themselves in adventure and new experiences, while also providing educational, volunteer and internship opportunities away from home.
Whether students are seeking to develop new skills, test out career paths or make a difference, there are plenty of options – and many of them are already booked solid.
Outward Bound, a company specializing in wilderness expeditionary courses, has three semester-long leadership and service intensive courses beginning in September – all are currently full. Courses include a variety of activities like backpacking, mountaineering, canoeing and rock climbing through rugged landscapes like the Colorado Rockies and the Rio Grande.
Volunteerworld.com is currently offering a variety of animal and wildlife focused programs throughout the United States. For students living outside the United States, International Volunteer HQ lists domestic programs for countries all over the world, alongside U.S. opportunities. IVHQ programs are already open or due to re-open in August or September.
With as much time and creativity students and parents have already devoted to the planning process, it’s important to establish a gap year emergency plan before leaving home.
Even if you’re not particularly far from home, dangerous situations can still happen. Being in the United States doesn’t always mean it’s easy to get help. Even with the best health insurance, navigating a serious emergency in an unfamiliar hospital can be a difficult process.
Your gap year emergency plan doesn’t need to be in a particular format or length but it should cover pre-trip essentials and advance preparation for possible health and safety emergencies. Below are a few considerations and gap year safety tips for students and parents developing a gap year emergency plan.
Settle on an Itinerary and ContactsOnce you finalize or receive your itinerary, be sure to share it with family and friends and consider establishing a communications schedule. Your communications schedule could be as simple as a “checking in” text message every few days or a daily phone call.
Write out a list of important contacts and emergency numbers and plan to carry it with you at all times. Phone numbers saved inside a lost, stolen or damaged cell phone do no good in an emergency situation. Also be sure to carry copies of important documents like insurance cards so you have them ready in case of emergency.
Consider ConnectivityWhether you’re taking a structured gap year through an accredited program or curating your own experience, don’t plan to rely on cell phone service – especially if you’re somewhere remote. Consider purchasing a satellite phone if you know you’re in a location where cell phone service is not reliable.
Destination InvestigationDo you know where the closest health care facility is? Be sure to locate hospitals, clinics, pharmacies and local police wherever you plan to travel and add contact information to your written list of emergency contacts.
Coronavirus ConsiderationsDifferent states have different restrictions and you’ll need to be sure you’re aware of any protocols and travel advisories. Know that restrictions and protocols can change frequently and often without notice. Global Rescue in-house intelligence experts publish a Coronavirus Report on weekdays with updates on state and country specific restrictions.
If you’re traveling through an accredited program, be sure to carefully read any COVID-19 guidance or protocols you’re provided.
No matter where you go, be sure you have these three things: face mask, hand sanitizer and disinfectant wipes.