COLUMBUS, Ohio — With the continuation of virtual learning for many colleges across the U.S. and uncertainties of when the COVID-19 pandemic will end, many students are choosing a gap year as an opportunity to grow and adapt to a changing future.

What You Need To Know

  • Increasingly many students across the United States are taking a gap year because of the pandemic

  • A gap year is typically a year off between graduating high school and starting college or a career, where students travel or explore their interests

  • As virtual learning continues, some students are taking a year off, hoping the college experience will return to "normal"

“In many ways we're talking about this as the Renaissance of the gap year.” said Ethan Knight, executive director of The Gap Year Association.

The Gap Year Association is a membership-based nonprofit that works on increasing the accessibility of gap-year options for students all over the United States. Knight said he’s seen a massive surge of interest in gap years on their web traffic the past few months.

“People are recognizing the tremendous treasure that we have in our own country for tremendous gap year opportunities, whether it's sort of outdoors, whether it's more service oriented, whether it's with AmeriCorps or whether you're doing like a paid internship. There's a lot of great options here in our own backyard,” said Knight.

In central Ohio, Haley Schmidt is a graduate of Gahanna Lincoln High School. She was set to attend Ohio University this fall, but has deferred for a year.

“For me I definitely learn better in person and also it was just going to be a lot, all like six, seven classes online,” she said. “I definitely don't do best that way. And for my parents who are paying, like, tuition wasn't going to be lowered at all. Part of what you pay for is the in-person and, like, whole college experience. So, to have that online, like wasn't worth it to me. I’d rather take a year and hope that classes are in-person next year.”

She’s staying busy and taking a few classes at a community college near her and working two jobs. For others, like Ohio University sophomore Lily Haley, the pandemic was a great excuse to take time and save money for upcoming expenses like living in an apartment.

“I'm hoping to work and get myself in a position where I feel that I'm ready to go back to school, like, establish myself in a home, learn to manage money, learn to manage myself with living on my own,” said Haley.

Already in college, she said she never wanted to take a year off.

“I feel like I'm not really growing my brain as much and that's something that I wish that I was doing. That's something I feel like upsets me the most is that I feel unproductive,” said Haley.

For recent Granville High School graduate Zander Finley, gap years have always been on his radar. Both his dad and brother took one when they were his age.

Finley said building lifelong friendships in college is what he is most excited about and wants to attend when he'll get the full experience.

“At the end of the day, there's no football game at the end of the week to go to it,” Finley said. “There's no crazy Halloween parties. There's no big thing that you're going to remember for the rest of your life. They're all just like you're sitting in a little room with four people spread out watching TV. Like, I guess that's still part of college, but is it really the important part of college.”

Three students with three different reasons for taking a gap year, all saying just do what’s best for you.