Full price tuition for online university courses? No thanks! These Seattle-area students take a year off instead


When recent Mercer Island High School graduate Lila Shroff boarded her 12-hour flight from Seattle to Seoul, South Korea, she had no concrete plans for her gap year. She wanted to learn some Korean, maybe take a free class or two and eventually get an internship, but she had to move into her new home first.

Shroff’s decision to go from Seattle to Seoul was made at the last minute; after Stanford University withdrew its intention to allow freshmen on campus this fall due to the coronavirus pandemic, Shroff had a few days to decide whether to brave online schooling or explore the unknown world of the sabbatical year.

A week later, she flew to Seoul.

South Korea has significantly fewer coronavirus cases than the United States and requires all visitors to self-quarantine at a government facility for at least two weeks upon arrival. That’s where Shroff is at the moment. Visitors in quarantine receive their lunch outside their doors and, if they test positive for the coronavirus, the government will pay for their treatment. Shroff also took precautions on his trip to South Korea, taking his temperature before boarding the plane, putting on a face shield over an N95 mask, and climbing into the back of the plane, 6 feet away from others. passengers.

Not all students can afford to fly on an adventure in another country instead of starting fall classes, but Shroff isn’t alone in her decision to take a coronavirus-inspired gap year. The coronavirus has taken its toll on the typical university experience: eating in cramped common rooms, intimate classrooms, living in dormitories, studying in libraries. Because of this, many colleges including the University of Washington, Western Washington University, Washington State University, and Seattle University have moved most of their courses online this fall, with options limited on-campus housing available. Many schools have also closed the common areas that make up college, college.

“There is just an extraordinary amount of people taking sabbaticals this year,” said Shroff. “No one really knows what they’re doing. Everyone understands things, a little confused and so united. ”

There is something about distance learning – or paying tuition in person for distance learning courses – that turns students off, several Seattle students told the Seattle Times. Some opt for distance learning placements instead of distance education, while others hope to find jobs or in-person programs in the United States or elsewhere.

Organizations that offer gap year opportunities – like community service or long-term hikes – report an increase in applications and interest. The Gap Year Association, a resource for students and parents to learn more about sabbaticals, has seen a 120-150% increase in web searches, and as the coronavirus continues, more time has come. spent at the site, said Ethan Knight, the agency’s executive director.

Learn more about university in the coronavirus era

One-third of all AmeriCorps volunteers are high school graduates, and the U.S. government-sponsored civil service program has seen a 25-40% increase in applications over the past year, according to Samantha Jo Warfield, press secretary for the Corporation for National and Community Service, which administers AmeriCorps.

Some Seattle-area programs have also received an overwhelming number of applications in recent months, said Amber Martin-Jahn, executive director of Serve Washington, which oversees AmeriCorps Washington. United Way of King County, a nonprofit focused on breaking the cycle of poverty in the Seattle area that works with AmeriCorps volunteers, received more applications than there are available positions .

In response to the coronavirus, United Way has “pivoted significantly. They are leading efforts across the state to support food insecurity, ”Martin-Jahn said.

The growing interest in AmeriCorps is not surprising for Warfield.

“Every time in recent history of our country, since AmeriCorps has existed, in a time of national crisis, people have stepped up,” Warfield said. “And I wouldn’t expect anything different right now.”

Before the coronavirus, students typically planned sabbaticals years in advance, hoping to improve their life experiences, earn money for school or both, apply to programs such as AmeriCorps or Habitat for Humanity , or opting for language immersion programs or bucket list hikes. .

But this coronavirus-induced sabbatical is different. Taking the sabbatical was never the plan, especially for students in the middle of their college careers.

Faced with full-price tuition fees for online courses and a gloomy job market, two booming seniors decide whether or not to take virtual jobs this fall and postpone the start of their years of retirement. Both say their decisions were heavily influenced by virtual learning during the spring term.

Miranda Johnson, 21, from South Seattle, opted for a virtual internship this fall, working for a political consulting firm. It’s a far cry from her major in Engineering Product Design, but it’s a chance for her to explore a career path outside of her major – plus, she wasn’t thrilled with the experience of virtual learning in the spring. His project-based courses didn’t make much sense in the virtual realm: building engineering projects with other students on Zoom was not conducive to a great learning experience.

“Taking time off from school is something on my mind,” said Johnson, an aspiring student at Stanford University. “I wanted to have the chance to take a step back and take a step back from what I’m doing. I am going to do an internship which is not at all like what I did before. So even though I don’t get the full experience that I would have in person, it will always be a new perspective for me.

Kha Nguyen, an aspiring University of Washington student, still weighs the pros and cons of missing school.

Nguyen tried the online classes for the last two weeks of the winter term, before taking the spring term off. Now Nguyen is at risk of not graduating on time, which may not be worth taking another shift off, he says.

“I’m more inclined to have to come back for the quarter,” said Nguyen, who worked as a freelance web developer during his quarter off. “And I think the bright side is that I’ve been working entirely online all summer, and it’s not turning out to be as ineffective or as painful as I initially thought.”

While there is a financial incentive to “just graduate” and find a job, there are also financial advantages to holding back for a year. Knight of the Gap Year Association has had several conversations with students and their parents about tuition fees, especially if the coronavirus has changed their financial situation.

There are two big reasons to take a year off now, says Knight.

“One is to let the company catch up in terms of jobs and targeted jobs,” Knight said. “The other is that if your family has faced financial hardship due to COVID, it might not be a bad idea to allow your 2020 income to be reported for your financial aid needs. “

The Free Federal Student Aid Application (FAFSA), a federal form that families must complete to be considered for federal financial aid, uses taxes from the previous year to estimate the amount of financial aid that a student needs. If a family has lost income because of the coronavirus, their financial aid documents do not reflect this. By taking a gap year, students can wait for their financial aid to reflect their current situation, Knight said.

“COVID is an interesting time for artists.  It's a job that you can do outside of school.  And without real assignment, I can have creative space, ”said West Seattle resident Ryan Wissmar.  (Courtesy of Ryan Wissmar)

In every situation, the students are simply trying to do what is right for them.

“I think it’s also important to recognize that the conversation about the gap year often overlooks the fact that it may not be an option entirely accessible to everyone,” said Shroff. “I don’t think virtual school has to be that bad. There are pros and cons to everything.

For some, paying the full tuition for an online version of homework just doesn’t make sense, especially in the practical areas. For WWU senior design student Ryan Wissmar, tuition isn’t just about getting the degree. It is also having the space and resources to make art.

“I think to create good art you have to be in a state of play and be relaxed,” said Wissmar, a West Seattle resident. “But working online seems a bit strained. ”

Wissmar uses his quarter-hole to spend time on his personal clothing brand, Burner Clothing. As a full time student, this has always been a side project. But now, with seemingly endless time, he’s giving his passion a chance.

“COVID is an interesting time for artists,” said Wissmar, 21. “It’s a profession you can work on outside of school. And without a real mission, I can have a creative space.

Despite the coronavirus curve life has thrown at them, students are trying to make the most of their time in college, even if that means delaying it and using the downtime to uncover their passions. At the end of the day, most say they just want to keep learning – about themselves and their place in the world.

“I’m evaluating what I actually want to do in school and I don’t have an answer yet,” Johnson said. “So why should I rush to it, when I could go back in four months and get a better idea of ​​how I want to end my time in college?”


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