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College Students’ Plans for Staying in School are In Flux

YPulse’s data shows how many are already taking off time because of COVID, and how many are now considering taking the spring semester off…


At the start of the fall semester, we reported that almost seven in ten college students were attending school online this fall. College students were far more likely than high school students to tell YPulse that their school was taking place online this fall, and more likely to say that they would be attending class completely online (66%) than both online and in-person (21%). For most students, college is taking place anywhere they are. In fact, CNN reports that WeWork’s newest users are campus-less college students. The company recently launched “We for Education,” a vertical to reach educational institutions and students. It was initially triggered by a private high school in New York looking for space to “de-densify,” but they have since marketed to universities and reportedly closed more than 100 deals globally.

Remote learning has upending what higher education looks like for this generation—and now that they’re experiencing the realities of an at-home college education, it’s also changing their plans. We recently asked college students to tell us about their student status now that the semester has begun, to find out if they’re taking time off now, and whether any were thinking of joining the gap year trend. Here’s what we learned:

Half of current college students tell us that they are all in for the 2020/2021 school year and are participating in the fall school semester, plan to finish out the semester and participate in the spring semester. But that leaves half of college students who are taking time off or thinking of taking it off—a significant number. Perhaps most significantly, nearly a quarter tell us that they are participating in the fall school semester, but considering taking the rest of the semester or the spring semester off because of COVID-19. As we mentioned above, the majority of college students who opted into the fall semester are attending school online, and 54% tell YPulse that remote learning is too difficult.

We also found that 75% didn’t believe that schools should be open for in-person classes this fall—so among those who are attending classes on campus, there is likely a feeling that they are not completely safe. According to The New York Times, colleges are having a hard time keeping COVID in control. While most schools had “special dormitories,” off-campus housing, and hotel rooms serving as “quarantine units” ready to handle students who have been exposed or tested positive, containment is proving difficult. Because of slow testing, delayed quarantines, and “unruly undergraduate” and Greek life parties, transmission of the virus is increasing. The Cut reports that some students are even taking matters into their own hands by policing each other and turning their campuses into “a place of paranoia, finger-pointing, and mistrust” and making it more difficult for institutions to keep up. Since late August, 24,000 new confirmed COVID cases have been reported at colleges and universities—and students are getting into social media battles about social distancing infractions. Life on campus has been transformed by the pandemic. The Wall Street Journal detailed that for those who are on campus, new safety measures limit social interaction and students are missing out on staying up late in dorm lounges, sitting next to classmates, making new friends, tailgating at football games, and other traditions.

In light of these realities, it isn’t too surprising that 23% are considering taking the rest of the semester or the spring semester off. Colleges are in danger of losing even more students than they already have. When we pull together all of those college students who are currently taking time off, as well as those who are considering taking the spring semester off for both COVID and non-COVID reasons, the numbers become even more stark:

Nearly three in ten college students are considering taking the spring semester off—and over one in five are already taking time off. Gap years are so common during COVID that programs are being created specifically for those taking time off of school. To virtually support the class of 2020 and prospective college students, Kaplan started their Boost Year effort back in May to “reimagine the gap year,” offering a “focused and thoughtful approach” for young adults who need guidance in their college and career trajectory. The 14-week programs, which take place in the spring and fall, offer assessments on interests and strengths, help exploring career options, an understanding of the professional skills needed for the future, and a personalized plan with next steps. Colleges are also beginning to reach out to gap year students. To reach those first-time and returning students who aren’t quite ready to go on campus the Boise State University launched the Bronco Gap Year program, which is divided into four pathways that include “changemakers,” “life-changing,” “world-changing,” and a build your own option. The tracks are designed to provide learning opportunities, professional and product development, structured experience, and reflection support.

It’s clear that programs like these will continue to be important as todays college students consider new options, and gap years potentially become even more popular in 2021.