SU students share gap year experiences and benefits

SU students share gap year experiences

Published: February 4, 2022
Two students featured surrounded in SU's colors

With online learning and COVID restrictions, many Syracuse University students decided to forego the college experience in the 2020-21 school year, choosing to take a gap year instead. National trends show that they were not the only ones. According to the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, college enrollment for the Fall 2020 semester was down 2.5% compared to Fall 2019, and this declined enrollment continued into the Fall 2021 semester. Some of this low enrollment can be attributed to students taking gap years and instead spending time off from school working, interning, prioritizing their mental health and more. Many students who took gap years for the 2020-21 academic year are now back in college and adjusting back both academically and socially. Four students share their experiences with gap years and what it is like being back at SU.

Gap Semester Saves the First-Year Experience:

After her first semester at Syracuse University consisted of virtual classes and COVID restrictions, Janna Van Vranken decided to take a gap semester for Spring 2021. She hoped that taking a semester off would allow her to experience a larger amount of her time in college under more normal circumstances.

“Why waste a semester that is not going to be fulfilling at all, and just save it for later?” Van Vranken said.

She felt like taking a gap semester allowed her to avoid the unknown that she felt comes with going to college in the middle of a pandemic.

“I didn’t have to be in a situation that could have been potentially toxic. I knew exactly what I was getting by taking a semester off. I had no idea what I would be getting by staying,” she said.

Van Vranken went into the Fall 2020 semester as a freshman. She hoped that, even with online classes and C restrictions, she would be able to have a somewhat normal experience, but that was not the case.

“I was planning on having it be business as usual, but it was not at all business as usual,” she said.

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Janna Van Vranken, sophomore, took a gap semester Spring 2021 after a fall semester full of restrictions.

Van Vranken, who came to SU with the class of 2024, is now planning on graduating in May 2025 because of taking a semester off. Although she is now graduating later than originally planned, the television, radio and film major does not feel behind academically.

“I jumped right back in from where I left off,” she said.

Transitioning back to college in terms of her social life was not as much of a smooth transition. Van Vranken said that some of the friends she made in the fall semester had the chance to grow stronger relationships in the spring, and she is not as close with them now that she is back.

“I was definitely cut out of the social life I had at the time, in the fall semester.  I had a group of friends on my floor, and with leaving, you get disconnected from that,” Van Vranken said. “I felt like I got left behind, which is the easiest way to put it.”

Regardless, Van Vranken feels as though taking a gap semester was the right choice for her.

She said, “I am very glad that I took it because I feel like I would have been miserable if I didn’t.”


Travel Restrictions Keep International Students from Returning:

For international students, travel restrictions created an extra obstacle for returning to the classroom during the pandemic. Pawarata Osathanugrah, now a junior, was unable to come back to Syracuse University from her home in Thailand to attend any classes in person. She decided it was best to take a gap year for the 2020-21 school year and push her graduation back a year.

After taking online classes from Thailand for the second half of the Spring 2020 semester, Osathanugrah decided that it would be too difficult to learn remotely for the 2020-21 school year, especially as a design student.

“It was really hard with the time difference, especially because my work is studio based,” Osathanugrah said. “I need to get critiques from my professors, and with the time difference, when they’re getting critiques back, I would be sleeping or if I have a question, they would be sleeping. So, the time difference made it really hard to communicate with them.”

Osathanugrah felt as though the inability to properly communicate with her professors kept her from creating her best possible work.

“I would always get feedback a day later than everybody else, so I would have less time to make changes or fix stuff for my projects,” Osathanugrah said.

With her gap year, Osathanugrah was able to gain real-world design experience through two internships in the industry.

“It helped me narrow down what I’m looking for, what I like in interior design, what I want to go for, what type of jobs I want to apply for this summer,” she said. “I think I learned a lot over the past year that you wouldn’t really learn in school.”

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International travel restrictions led Pawarata Osathanugrah, junior, to take a gap year for 2020-21 school year.

While Osathanugrah felt as though the experience in the industry was very valuable, she missed the learning environment of college and was excited to come back to campus this semester.

“I like being in school and having professors challenge you and asking you questions, pushing your thoughts because you don’t really get that in the workplace,” Osathanugrah said. “You don’t really get to have these really rigorous, deep conversations about the world and about culture. You’re more to yourself, you don’t really talk to anybody. It’s just you at a desk.”

Coming back to college after a year off was a bit of an adjustment for her, though. She felt like it was harder to remember and use her knowledge from prior classes that she needed to use again in her current classes

“Going from a working environment to a learning environment, it’s very different, and it took me a couple months to get back into what it means to be a student,” Osathanugrah said. “I felt like I was behind in all my classes.”

Socially, Osathanugrah didn’t have much trouble adjusting back to college. She said that a good number of her friends are in five year programs, so even with pushing back her graduation, she will still be able to spend the rest of her college experience with them.

“That’s one of the other reasons it was a no-brainer that I’ll take a gap year because my friends will still be here,” Osathanugrah said.

Although the situation was not ideal for her at first, she feels like her gap year was a positive experience and a good choice for her situation.

“I think at the time I was not happy about the decision or about the situation, but looking back now, I wouldn’t take it any other way,” Osathanugrah said. “I had so many opportunities to meet new people, gain job experience, be with my family, and be in my home country.”

​​Saving the Remaining Three Years:

After a freshman year that was abruptly interrupted by the pandemic, sophomore Noa Putman decided she didn’t want her sophomore year to be full of online classes like the end of her first year was. She found that not being able to be in person with professors and classmates was not an effective learning method for her as a design student.

“It just, it really wasn’t for me,” Putman said. “I am also in a major where I like being around creatives.”

Instead of returning to campus, Putman decided to accept some work and internship opportunities. During her gap year she interned for Everyday Health magazine as an associate video producer, worked as a production assistant for a documentary, photo assisted for an interior designer and worked on multiple other video projects.

“It was learning in a different way,” she said.

Putman feels as though her gap year allowed her to take a break from her education while still learning in a way that would be beneficial to her future.

“I think one of the big things that I took away from this gap year was that we’re kind of pushed into this education system that’s very one way for however many years, so if I had kept with this path, it would have been like 22 years of basically straight education within school,” she said. “Taking a year off honestly made me more excited to come back and gave me a little bit more direction going forward about what I wanted to study and being more appreciative of even some of my classes that were in my major.”

During her gap year Putman was able to make money and save up to rent an apartment on her own, which was something she had never done before. This experience helped her develop life skills that she hadn’t gotten the opportunity to learn before.

“It did teach me about finances in a way that I never really was forced to learn a little bit earlier, which I’m very privileged to be able to say,” she said.

Academically, Putman felt it was a slight adjustment to return to college life, but it was not too difficult. Socially, though, she was able to fall right back into place.

“Getting back into this type of work schedule with a million different types of classes and things to balance was a little bit shell shocking, considering I haven’t done it in so long, but I also think it was easier than I thought, especially with meeting people,” Putman said. “I had some pretty close friends that I left with, and if anything, they had made more friends and met people who I really, really like and I was able to kind of fall into a friend group pretty easily here.”

Putman is ultimately glad she took a gap year, and does recommend it to others, she also realizes that it might not be for everyone.

“All I know is that I do think that I made the right call for myself, but I do think that everybody has their own timing and pace when it comes to school,” she said. “It’s an individual choice for sure, but I’m very happy with the one I made.”

Taking Time Off to Figure Out What’s Best:

Brian Thompson was a sophomore when the coronavirus pandemic sent students home to complete their classes remotely. At the end of the academic year, he was lost, unsure if Syracuse or his major were the right route for him. Between classes remaining at least partially online for the 2020-21 academic year and his uncertainty of what was best for him, Thompson decided to take a gap year.

“I kind of used it almost as a reset button where I could take the time off and really work through some stuff and figure out what was going to be best for me moving forward,” he said.

He spent his gap year working to make some money and going to therapy to work on his mental health and figure out what he truly wanted.

“I do feel like being able to work and make a good amount of money while I was taking the time off and working through some stuff, through therapy, that I really felt like that gap year wasn’t a waste of time and that I was able to mature,” Thompson said.

He feels as though his gap year helped him get into a better mindset about school and his major.

“Coming back for this academic year, I was much more excited about learning and I had a completely different outlook on just being at school and learning and getting my degree,” Thompson said. “All that stuff was just kind of flipped on its head and I really returned with a much more revitalized outlook.”

Following his gap year, Thompson, now a junior, returned to Syracuse for the 2021-22 school year, and he credits his gap year for being able to do this.

“I honestly don’t know if I would be back at Syracuse if I hadn’t taken the time off,” he said.

He said coming back to school was a slight adjustment for a few weeks, but it did not take long for him to get settled.

“At first it was a little weird just trying to get adjusted back to university living and living in an apartment, that sort of thing, but I’m a pretty easygoing individual, so that was a pretty easy transition for me,” he said. “I kind of just got right back into the swing of things.”

Overall, he believes that his gap year was very beneficial and is a good option for anyone to consider if they feel lost or unsure about the path they are on currently.

Thompson said, “It doesn’t have to be a whole year, but I would recommend anyone to take the time off if they feel like they’re kind of struggling.”