WINCHESTER (CBS) – When Charlotte Bradley opened her admissions decision to UCLA, she couldn’t believe her eyes. “It said congratulations. I had to read the letter like 14 times. I started screaming, jumping up and down,” the Winchester High School senior recalled of the March day when she heard from her dream school.
But soon, the excitement faded as the reality of the coronavirus set in. Would she even get to be on the Southern California campus in the fall or would she be taking online classes from her bedroom in Winchester?
“It’s so important to be on campus, extra-curricular activities, to be in classes with professors,” she said. She also hated the idea of not having that freshman year dorm experience.
Rather than give all that up, Charlotte, like a growing number of high school seniors, decided to take a gap year. Instead of enrolling this fall, she will enter as a freshman at UCLA in the fall of 2021.
Charlotte is one of the lucky ones. She says UCLA agreed to accommodate her request, but according to information on the schools website, they are unlikely to agree to gap years for every student who asks.
According to Winchester College Consultant Cathy Costa, some schools with large endowments, like Dartmouth, may try to work with students on gap year requests, but it may get harder as more students look to defer for a year. For smaller schools it is even more complicated. “They are tuition dependent and they need to get people in the door to pay their bills,” she said.
According to Costa, these gap year decisions have ripple effects. Colleges are pulling kids from their waiting lists much earlier than they normally do and many kids are getting into their top-choice schools. This is all great news for this year’s seniors, but it might pose a problem next year. “It eliminates spots for current juniors,” she said.
There’s another wild card this year that has nothing to do with coronavirus. Until this year, colleges would not market to a student after the family put down a deposit at another school. But last fall, the National Association of College Admissions Counselors (NACAC) changed that policy after the Justice Department said it violated anti-trust rules. According to Costa, that means there could be lots of changed plans well into the summer. “This is going to be like the Wild West,” she said. “Kids are going to be getting offers for more money from other schools.”
There are also kids who are already enrolled in schools who may be toying with the idea of taking a leave of absence. But Costa warns there won’t be as many job or internship opportunities. She also says don’t count on taking classes at a community college and then transferring them to your college. “That’s not a plan that most universities are supporting,” she said.
Charlotte knows that finding a job or volunteer opportunity might be a challenge, but she still thinks she made the right decision. “It won’t be a normal gap year, because the world is not itself right now,” she said.