‘I feel like I made the right decision’: 5C students look back on their gap years, leaves of absence

Three graduates looking at one student
(Clare Martin • The Student Life)

Throughout high school, Beia Giebel SC ’25 never planned on taking a gap year. Even with the initial summer announcement that the 5Cs would be going online, she still was on the fence about whether to enroll or defer. It wasn’t until she attended a Zoom get-together for a class she was considering taking that she felt like her decision became clear.

“It just felt very stilted and awkward [to] Zoom in from my room, and it was kind of a defining moment for me. Like, ‘Yeah, this is not going to be the college experience that I think is worth paying [for],” Giebel said.

Giebel’s decision to take time off was one shared by many. In the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, many 5C students chose to take a gap semester or year, often spurred by the same reasons as Giebel. 

“Because of the nature of COVID-19, I haven’t done anything particularly adventurous or really inspiring. It’s kind of just been surviving day to day in the pandemic and going with the flow and making do with the times.”—Beia Giebel SC ’25

Now, with the 2020-21 school year starting to draw to a close, it’s a time for reflection. For many students who took time off, COVID-19 restrictions, such as those on international travel and gathering, greatly limited their available options and changed their plans. Giebel felt like COVID-19 consistently shaped the majority of her gap year experience.

“I feel like people say that when you go on a gap year, you have so much more to bring to the classroom, and you’ll have all these amazing experiences in your pocket,” she said. “[But] just because of the nature of COVID-19, I haven’t done anything particularly adventurous or really inspiring. It’s kind of just been surviving day to day in the pandemic and going with the flow and making do with the times.”

For some students who took a gap semester or year, they now have to figure out how to work around administrative complications posed by their time off. For Hava Sprung PZ ’24, this involves a changing identity, as her projected graduating class shifted due to her gap year.

“I feel kind of classless because I don’t identify with the 2024 class — everybody that I know is in 2023 or 2024 if they took a gap year,” Sprung said, “but also I’m planning on graduating in three and a half years, so … I don’t really know what class I’m in.”

Aanji Sin SC ’24 faced scheduling obstacles presented by taking a single semester off. 

“The gap semester throws off one, the core curriculum, and two, it kind of messes up the options for study abroad in your junior year,” Sin said. “Personally, I was interested in the year-long program they have to go to Oxford, England, and now I can’t do that because Core is going to bleed into the first semester of my junior year, which I can’t take overseas.”

Due to challenges such as this one, Sin would have been interested in a full gap year. However, because taking a full year off would have impacted the financial aid package she received, she instead chose to take a gap semester and enroll in classes at a local college in order to hopefully transfer her credits. 

While she was able to transfer some of her credits, she ran into issues with others.

“It does kind of suck because the transfer credit that I got at [Santa Monica College] didn’t carry over to my general education requirements the way that the [registrar’s office] told me that they thought it would,” Sin said.

Despite the things they wish they could have changed, many, including Sin, still feel happy with what they were able to do with their time. 

“I ended up taking on a lot of personal passion projects for myself. It was a nice breather after [the] craziness of [the] first semester of senior year. It kind of sucks about the whole transfer credit situation, but in terms of everything else, I was pretty satisfied with that decision and my experience,” she said.

For Tess McHugh PO ’25, her gap year working as a social media marketing intern in New York City offered a much-desired chance to exist outside the routine structure of school.

“All I wanted was a new experience somewhere where I could just have something to do with my time and learn something new, and I definitely think I did that,” McHugh said. “I’ve been in [a] new work environment with new people, learning different things and in a completely different place.”

In addition to providing opportunities for new experiences, gap semesters also helped some students gain insight about themselves. For Nate Jakobs PZ ’24, his gap year helped him reevaluate what he wants to do when he returns to school.

“‘It changed my — at least at the moment — desired career path and changed my major, as a result of just having a lot of time to be real with myself about what my interests are and realize what I spend my time on when my time isn’t structured,” Jakobs said.

Now, students are beginning to look beyond their gap year to the fall 2021 semester as the 5Cs have begun to release tentative plans for an in-person return to campus

While many are excited, some are also wondering how the transition from their gap year back to school will go, considering issues such as how social dynamics may shift as a result of COVID-19.

“Socially, I think it’ll be difficult for me — more difficult than in the beginning of college — because some people will have taken gap years like me, some will have been [in] online school … and then there are people all in the middle of that, and it’ll just be really interesting adjusting back to the social scene,” Sprung said.

Not everyone is apprehensive of the return, however. For McHugh, she feels her time off helped prime her for the transition.

I made a lot of personal growth throughout this year that I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to, had I been pushing towards the same goals I was previously.”—Nate Jakobs PZ ’24

“I feel very, very ready for that structure of school in my life again,” McHugh said. “I think that being in a different place away from my regular familiar home has definitely prepared me for the transition to college … I feel more excited going into college, instead of nervous.”

Ultimately, despite any unexpected changes and bumps in the road, all agreed that their gap year was personally “worth it” in the end.

“I would definitely do [it] again,” Jakobs said. “It’s something I’d recommend to a lot of people, because I definitely got a lot of perspective on life and my interests, and I made a lot of personal growth throughout this year that I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to, had I been pushing towards the same goals I was previously.”

Giebel echoed a similar sentiment.

“[With] online school, I don’t think I really would have felt very accomplished or satisfied with my year if I had enrolled,” she said. “Knowing that the tuition that I’m going to pay and the time that I’m spending at the Claremonts will hopefully be more vibrant and, to its fullest extent, resourceful is always a good cushion for me. I feel like I made the right decision.”

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