• Joey Goodsir

Rerouting: The COVID Gap Alternative

By Joey Goodsir

This is the third story in a series about how Lake Forest High School’s Class of 2020 is navigating their first year of college in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic. Story No. 1 looks at students who moved into their dorms to study on campus. Story No. 2 examines the students who stayed at home and are attending college online -- whether by choice or not. This third piece explores those who are taking a gap year.

Before summer ended, college freshmen weighed the pros and cons between the on-campus and at-home schooling options and made a decision that for most has turned out positive. Others passed on both options and took an unexpected gap year instead.

“I just decided that I thought it would be better for me to take a year off and come back when things are hopefully a little more normal,” said Kate Wildman, an LFHS Class of 2020 Graduate who will be attending the University of Michigan next year. "Also just from the social aspect of it, I thought that I would rather have the chance at somewhat of a normal four years, but it was a really tough decision and if I remember it correctly, I decided to apply for deferral literally on the day of the deadline.”

For some, "punting the ball” on college this year was to seek more normalcy in the future, but for others, it was to seek a more sensible financial circumstance.

“In July, I just had this realization that (I would be) paying a premium price for a school where all of my classes would be online,” Catherine Greub, an LFHS 2020 graduate who was originally planning to attend Marquette University, said. “Yes, I would be allowed to be in the dorms, but I would not have a roommate and I could not have other people visiting me in my dorm. Being someone who has to pay for college on my own, I did not want to waste that kind of money.”

The prospect of avoiding the harsh inconveniences of settling into college during its most complicated time is extremely appealing on its surface, especially with a year away from academic stress. Unfortunately, it is not that easy, as the very reality that has made the college experience so complicated has not spared the gap year experience either. This drove many students away from the option.

“I decided I wouldn’t do anything productive on a gap year, so I ultimately decided to enroll and really get the campus and community experience, even though there aren’t any in-person events.” Harvard freshman Litsa Kapsalis said. “I think that just even being able to talk and study with others is worth it.”

The students who took that gap, however, took a closer look and found some appealing alternatives to the traditional gap year.

“What really helped me decide to take one were some of my friends who did not go to Lake Forest High School,” Kate Wildman said. “In my mind, I didn’t want to take a gap year because if I were going to I would want to travel the world, and obviously, that traditional gap year plan is not an option right now. But when I talked with my friends, they were telling me about the things that they were planning to do in the United States, and that was when I realized I could still do cool things that I like and it wouldn’t be a full year of staying at home like I thought it might be.”

Wildman’s plans have reflected a COVID-safe version of her ideal gap year experience, with expansive traveling and insight toward her future interests.

“I started it off with a two and a half month road trip with one of my friends and her other friend from New York City. They both took gap years, and that experience was awesome because we were able to do a lot of hiking and camping and things that I love, but it was very COVID friendly with outdoor space and social distancing,” Wildman said. “I now have an internship at a vet clinic in Chicago, and I thought that I’d use this time to get some hands-on experience with veterinary medicine, a career path I am very interested in trying out.”

Although 2020 has restricted students from the international travel typically associated with gap years, future University of Michigan student (and LFHS Class of 2020 graduate) Kate Wildman has made the best of the circumstances, taking a road trip out west with some other friends taking gap years. (Photo courtesy Kate Wildman)

For Catherine Greub, her gap experience featured some local independence, two jobs, and taking College of Lake County courses in the interim of a full college experience. According to her, it has been a very successful move.

“I got my own apartment in downtown Lake Forest, and it’s beautiful – I’m having the time of my life,” she said. “I’m kind of just going with the flow, and I would say that this decision has been the best decision I have ever made in my life so far, especially for finances.”

Beyond building up some money through hard work and enjoying a more independent lifestyle, Greub said her gap year has been an academic revelation. While she can still begin her studies at Marquette next year, her plans most likely will change – either for a transfer to a school that is a better fit, or even a longer academic endeavor with CLC.

“I’ve always had good grades, but now in these CLC courses I have great grades and I really feel like I am applying myself, so I plan on building off of that if I decide to transfer,” she said.

Kate Wildman has enjoyed her gap thus far as well. However, she plans to ride the wave where it takes her after this year, for better or for worse and move to Ann Arbor next fall.

“I tend to question a lot of my decisions and I’m glad that won’t be the case regarding this gap year because I have really been enjoying it so far. I think it’s been a good break for me from school, and at this point I’m excited to get back and learn, especially relative to before when I was definitely a little tired out by the end of high school,” Wildman said. “I’m in the mindset that no matter how it is when I get back to school, I did all I can – I’m not gonna take two years off, so I’m hoping that things are better, but if not, we’ll just have to deal with that.”