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How COVID-19 Made Me Rethink My Planned Gap Year

COVID-19 has impacted a lot for college students. We’ve lost jobs, internships, events and traditions. It often feels like COVID-19 has not only taken away the best parts of college but also set many of us back career-wise. For college seniors, that means we are going to be entering the workforce having had less time for work experience than ever before. That added pressure is exactly what I am feeling as I look forward to graduating this year in a few months and starting a gap year. 

When I started my freshman year, I was elated to figure out that I had enough credits from high school to finish my major and requirements for medical school and still graduate a year early. I thought this would allow me to take a year off, explore the world, and do something other than school and extracurriculars before entering the real world. I spent my first year and a half of college working hard to keep my grades up and get medical experience so that, hopefully, my gap year would be a time to recharge and finally just take a breath. I was going to finally travel to Europe, road trip around the United States, work hard to save up money, and pursue something new.

Then, COVID-19 hit.

Work experience? Gone

At first, I thought I would just be behind on experience for the semester, but then one semester turned into two, and then that turned into an entire year. Suddenly, the long-term volunteer opportunity that I had spent four months training for had disappeared. My clinical observation program was canceled. I couldn’t find any internships, and all of my on-campus organizations were flopping. I suddenly realized that my decision to graduate early was putting me in a very bad place experience-wise. When I graduated, I would not only be incredibly young, I’d be incredibly inexperienced.

COVID-19 stole a lot from everyone, but it stole irreplaceable experiences from college seniors. Internships? Gone. Extracurriculars to boost leadership experiences? Paused. Time to build relationships with faculty? Nope. College seniors have now spent a quarter of our college career (or one third, if you are me) in a pandemic where vital career experience is often just not an option. Many of us lost opportunities we had been waiting for, and never had the time to build relationships with people in our career field. Unlike 2020 seniors, the 2021 seniors are faced with having spent most of our most pivotal time in college being forced to isolate. Now, we are faced with the task of finding a job even though the world froze during our most vital time to gain experience.

A couple of months ago, it hit me that my gap year was going to look very different than I had originally planned. All the passion projects I had hoped to pursue, all of the traveling I wanted to do, and all of the plans I had made were no longer options. I wanted to move to a new place after college, but finding a job in the medical field where I didn’t have any connections was virtually impossible. The job market, even without a pandemic, is insanely competitive, and with reduced experience and financial uncertainty, it was impossible to justify taking the risks I had originally planned. I had never planned on taking my gap year totally off, but I had at least hoped to get out of my college town.

I realized my focus would have to be regaining the experience I lost during the pandemic. And while I am beyond excited to pursue a career in the medical field, I had hoped it wouldn’t be all-consuming like it was during college. I realize now that my gap year is going to have to be filled with working, volunteering, and making up for the time I lost during the pandemic and lock-down. Instead of using my gap year as a break, I feel like I am going to be using it to play catch-up. 


Anna Schultz-Girl On Computer Stress
Anna Schultz / Her Campus

I’m not ready to leave my friends

I had always hoped, at least, that my gap year would provide me what I meant it to: a time to experience life. When I spent Friday nights in the library and all-nighters on papers, I had told myself that I was working this hard so that by the time I graduate, I would have a year to spend living my life without spending the entire time thinking about medical school. There were so many times I said “no” to spending time with my friends in order to get in a few more hours of studying. There were so many nights I didn’t go out because I felt like I had more in my future. I sacrificed a lot of experiences and social life in college to get to where I am, and I am starting to feel it was all for nothing. 

Besides the career setback from COVID-19, the pandemic has also made me reevaluate what is important in life, as well as what I need to do to ensure my own security and safety. Overall, what I have come to value is being able to spend time with my friends and chosen family, and the thought of moving away overwhelms me. Trying to make new friends outside of my current city seems impossible during a pandemic, and I also feel like I never had the time to truly spend with my friends on campus. I have learned to value every hug, sleepover and hangout more than ever since I now can only do those with a select group of people. COVID has shown me that what’s truly important is not the number of friends, but the closeness of the relationship. I am not ready to give that up. 

What are my plans now?

After doing a lot of thinking, I have decided that I will be taking my gap year in my college town. I am lucky enough to have gotten a job working in a medical clinic that I will start after graduation, and I am extraordinarily grateful for the opportunity. I will also be spending my other free hours volunteering and doing my best to make up for the opportunities I lost to COVID-19. I have no plans as of now for traveling, but I am hopeful that as things begin to clear up, I can possibly explore the world a little more. Although my gap year isn’t going to be the adventure-filled time I was hoping, I am excited to spend it surrounded by the people I love. COVID-19 has made me feel so underprepared for the big world, but I also know it has kept me grounded in who I am.

Most important is that I am in the same boat as thousands of other college students in that I simply do not feel ready to leave college. I don’t feel like my time at college is finished. I have friendships I wanted to explore, faculty I wanted to meet and experiences I wanted to have. My gap year just feels… different. I, like most seniors, feel like I am starting from behind. I never fully processed being in college, and now I am expected to start my adult life. Somehow, while the world is still shut down, graduating students are expected to move out into uncertainty.

Emily Jones is a senior neuroscience major on the pre-med track and a national staff writer for Her Campus as well as a writer for Her Campus at Furman University. Her goal is to one day be a physician, but in her spare time you can find her trying out new baking recipes or watching the Great British Bake-Off (over and over again). She also loves her two Boston Terriers, true crime podcasts, and cheesy horror movies.
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