Orange leaves on campus

This fall semester has been very difficult to adapt to, and I can’t imagine the spring semester will be much easier. While I initially believed this semester would be a sprint, it is quickly proving to be a marathon, and I have been struggling for an opportunity to simply catch my breath. With that in mind, I have been wondering whether it would be in my best interest to take a gap year if Princeton is forced to stay virtual for yet another year. I would love to spend my final year as a Princeton undergraduate (since next year, I’ll be a senior) on campus surrounded by my friends and the environment I have grown so fond of. But with so much uncertainty about the COVID-19 pandemic, the question remains: to gap or not to gap?

Taking a gap year would be a good opportunity to think about my future. I could do research for my senior thesis. I could work on self-improvement: time management, eliminating procrastination, as well as productivity. It would allow me a lot of time for self-reflection and even internships. I could do remote internships to prepare when I am actually ready to enter the job market. It would be a valuable experience. The only limitations are physical as I would be trapped indoors, but this might be true regardless. However, I enjoy the structure given while in school. I am hungry for everything I can absorb now, and I would feel restless aimlessly wading through the months, waiting for COVID-19 to subside. I know that there will be experiences I will miss out on either way. I also wonder if I can abate my appetite for the classroom for a whole year. Even beyond that, if I chose not to take a gap year, with so much uncertainty surrounding in person interactions, entering the job market also feels like facing a behemoth. I would have to face employment decisions, which are already nerve wracking, compounded by the unease of a pandemic looming over.

There is also the possibility of COVID-19’s halt on in-person instruction extending longer than a year. I would be faced with the same question: How long am I willing to wait to return to Princeton? I cannot put off my education forever while I wait for the pandemic to blow over, especially with how the progress on developing a vaccine is going. This is not an issue that will be solved anytime soon; this is the message I have been getting from the news, Princeton updates, and conversations with friends and loved ones.

All in all, I think that taking a gap year should be a choice made with intention and should be executed purposefully. While I know that if I do decide to take a gap year, I would take full advantage of it, but I also know that it is a risk I may not be able to take. As a first-generation, low-income student, taking a gap year is a gamble because of financial aid and the murky future of the nation’s political and economic situation. Until the end of my junior year, I will be weighing the pros and cons of taking a gap year and deciding whether it is a risk I am willing to take or not.

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