Incoming students consider gap years as fall semester remains uncertain

Wednesday, May 27, 2020 - 12:05pm

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Design by Maggie Wiebe

Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, incoming students who would normally head off to the University of Michigan in the fall are considering alternative plans. Gap years, internship pursuals, community college classes and other options are now relevant as plans for remote learning develop, multiple students told The Daily. While the University is in the process of planning a “public health-informed” semester, the fate of fall semester is still uncertain. Many other universities have either canceled in-person instruction completely or are planning for an accelerated first semester to avoid the possible second COVID-19 peak. 

Incoming Music, Theatre & Dance freshman Lucy McDowell is from the suburbs of Chicago and has officially deferred her acceptance for the upcoming school year. As a music major, McDowell explained how her decision revolved around the value of in-person classes, given how group-focused her music classes would be. 

“A big part of your music education comes from ensemble work, and if you’re supposed to be in a choir with 100 or more kids, it’s difficult to make that happen over Zoom or recordings,” McDowell said. “It just doesn’t have the same connection or outcome. You just don’t get to have that personal connection with your professors, which is hard to do over the internet because it’s a really isolating experience.”

Similarly, Ian Pathak, an incoming Music, Theatre & Dance freshman from Virginia, has also considered taking a gap year given the uncertainty of in-person classes. Pathak explained the many factors influencing his decision, including tuition costs for out-of-state students. 

“The only problem is the financial aspect of being an out-of-state student and taking remote classes,” Pathak said. “It’s already expensive for me to pay going there full on. And room and board and meal does take part of it off, but tuition still remains the same.”

Current students across the University shared similar sentiments with Pathak, unsure if full tuition for remote classes is worth the cost. LSA junior Sam Burnstein said the transition from in-class lectures to Zoom classes revealed the diminished quality of remote learning. 

“What we’re paying for are a couple things: a slide deck and 30, 40, maybe 50 hours of video,” Burnstein said. “Both of those things can be acquired very easily online for free — it’s becoming incredibly clear that we’re paying for the degree. We’re paying for the certification. This was already clear before classes went online, and I think going online made things even more clear — especially to the hundreds of thousands of parents at home who are sitting there saying, ‘Wait really? This is what we’re paying for?’”

Burnstein also commented on potential drawbacks of a partially or fully remote semester, considering the vast social networking opportunities presented to University students.

“In terms of some of the social considerations, I think those are immense,” Burnstein said. “I think that’s a massive part of why people go to college, whether they’re aware of it or not⁠. You don't necessarily go to college to take classes, per se. You go there to take classes while also being surrounded by like-minded students, to make sure to have a variety of different social interactions, and it’s really the process through which you become an adult,” Burnstein said. “Having a shut-down campus would be a huge blow to the college experience.”

Given these drawbacks, some students may consider alternative plans in case remote learning is the only option in the fall. In LSA, students can decide to take up to two years off without having to reapply for admission. RaShonda Flint, assistant dean for undergraduate education and student academic affairs, addressed this readmission policy in regards to the COVID-19 pandemic in an email to The Daily.

“As of this time, there are no changes planned for LSA’s continuing student readmission policy; but every UM school or college may have slightly different policies,” Flint wrote. “The Office of the Registrar sets term withdrawal deadlines for tuition reimbursement and it is important to remember that students cannot do a complete term withdrawal over Wolverine Access, but should contact their specific college’s or school’s advising unit regarding specific term withdrawal deadlines and possible restrictions.”

Flint also commented on how the University plans to connect students with other students, professors, mentors and other networking groups if the fall 2020 semester is partially or entirely remote.

“The Interim Provost recently shared some of the campus-wide planning that is being undertaken in preparation for the fall 2020 term,” Flint wrote. “The University remains cautiously optimistic that there will be some form of in-person instruction and support, and in addition to the university committees, individual academic departments and instructors are working to ensure students are able to engage with the campus community regardless of the format.”

Incoming LSA freshman Da Eun Jeong is an international student from South Korea. She wrote in an email to The Daily that she chose to attend the University for its well rounded, vibrant and community-based atmosphere. However, she wrote she finds it difficult to justify paying the hefty international tuition for a diminished quality of instruction if the University’s classes are taught remotely.

“Having confidence in being able to support myself and develop as an individual in my new environment was vital in making my decision,” Jeong wrote. “In the case that the University of Michigan conducts only online classes for the fall 2020 semester, I would not attend the University. I would defer my admissions for the following term. Considering that attending university is one of the stepping stones to developing our independence and familiarizing ourselves with different responsibilities, online classes would not give us the full experience.”

While some students are looking into taking time off of school in order to gain the full Michigan experience and avoid remote classes, many believe the benefits of enrolling in the fall outweigh the costs.

“As I’ve enrolled in classes and fall 2020 has started to materialize, it’s hard to convince myself to take a four month break and give up interacting with professors and other students, even if our interactions are virtual,” LSA junior Brian Cain said. “I think doing the modified semester would be a huge shift with some drawbacks, but I think as the semester goes on, I think we will be able to adjust and get the same experience out of it assuming that every class had an online and in-person element.”

Similarly, some students believe it’s a lose-lose situation: While remote learning exists at the cost of the full social experience of the University, students told The Daily taking time off may be detrimental to their future. 

“For me, I’m just too deep in my studies to be able to take a year off,” Burnstein said. “I have plans, a year from now or two years from now, that would get thrown out if I were to take a year off.” 

Whether they take a gap year or not, the fall 2020 semester will certainly present challenges to students across the University. While a combination of financial, social and educational factors are at play, deciding what to do for the coming semesters will be a personal choice, multiple students told The Daily.

“I think gap years are definitely not for everyone,” Pathak said. “If I take a gap year, I’m worried I’ll lose all motivation and wouldn’t want to go. And that could be a big regret.”

Contributor Megan Shohfi can be reached at mshohfi@umich.edu.