More students choosing gap years, citing pandemic and more


C. Sears

Thousands of students each year turn to the College and Career center for guidance in their post high school plans.

Caroline Sears, Editor in Chief

As admission decisions are rolling in for many seniors around Fossil Ridge High School, some may leave their last few months of high school feeling thrilled, anxious, or even disappointed. However, the past few years have revealed an unexpected trend; many students are choosing to take a gap year or pursue alternative post-secondary plans instead of attending a traditional four-year college.

Statistics show a dramatic decrease in post-secondary education enrollment while the number of students choosing gap years rises. (National Student Clearinghouse Research Center)

The National Student Clearinghouse Research Center reported that “undergraduate enrollment declined 3.5 percent from last fall or 7.8 percent from fall 2019.”

But the freshman enrollment decrease is even more shocking. They reported that “freshman enrollment went down again (-2.7% from last fall or -13.1% since 2019) and in all sectors, except private nonprofit four-year institutions (+2.5% from last fall)”. 

Margret Grady is the school secretary stationed in the College and Career Center. She has watched dozens of college and military presentations come in and out of her room and has guided many students over the past year to decide on the post-secondary plans that suit them.

A nationwide decrease in college enrollment was thought to be solely caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, yet many students are choosing to stay home for other reasons. While some are  “delaying plans a year just to see how things shake out,” as Grady stated, others are applying to Front Range Community College instead.

Grady wishes for all students to know that the College and Career Center is a safe and friendly environment where they can learn more about any kind of opportunity that awaits them. Grady stated, “I’m happy to help and no question is a dumb question. So feel free to pop in!” She also hopes juniors will take advantage of the college admission representative visit, claiming that  “seeing the different feel between schools is invaluable”.

Some seniors, like Sage Krzyzkowski, have other big plans for next year. She will be spending the year working and traveling around Europe, applying for college in the meantime.

However, the reasoning behind this decision is not easily defined by simply wanting to take a break. Krzyzkowski stated, “The last two years have wreaked havoc on my mental health, and I knew that going to college straight away would not be doing me any favors. This time is really for me to recover, work on myself, and as cliché as it is, broaden my horizons by exploring different countries.”

Krzyzkowski hopes to continue exploring Europe during her gap year. (S. Krzyzkowski)

This choice allows students to expand in many ways but does not come without criticism from others who trust in the standard path. Many may claim that by taking a gap year, these students will give up on higher education forever. 

However, “If students take a gap year where they have a clear plan in place that is time-bound…they can build passion and purpose and create a deeper intrinsic sense for why they should go to college and how it will help them,” stated Michael B. Horn, a reporter for Forbes. By creating this sense of purpose, these students are more likely to graduate.

It would be impossible to discuss this trend without considering the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. “If the pandemic had never happened, I honestly doubt I would be taking a gap year, whether it be because my parents would not allow it or because it would not feel necessary to give myself that time to recuperate before heading off to college,” said Krzyzkowski.

This process is different for everyone, and Krzyzkowski understands that. “I recognize that I am in a fortunate enough position to be able to take this time off, and am able to use it to accomplish some of my goals (dreams really) like exploring Italy and Greece,” she said.

No matter where Fossil seniors end up next year, maybe we can all learn from both Grady and Krzyzkowski who both encourage students to explore all their opportunities or even chase their dreams.