Many students take a year off between high school and college—especially now when the spread of Covid-19 has disrupted college plans. In fall 2020, most universities and colleges are offering limited in-person classes or a remote-only option—both of which carry a high price tag for a limited college experience. Traditionally gap years have given students a chance to break from academics and engage in extensive travel. Some students use the year to earn money to pay for college. In 2020 the spread of Covid-19 has limited travel and many in-person work opportunities. The key to a successful gap year is to use the time wisely. Investing in an internship is an opportunity to gain some real-world experience and some insight about a potential career and what major to choose. For now, a virtual internship may be your best bet. Once companies safely resume on-site work, in-person internships will again be a viable option.
Two Students – Two Very Different Internships
Jason, a high school student, was passionate about building things. The logical path to choose was to major in engineering in college, graduate, and get a job as an engineer. But what did that mean exactly? As Jason’s senior year approached, he became anxious about applying to college. Where should he apply? Which college was a fit for him? He panicked. After speaking with his guidance counselor, Jason realized that he had no idea which engineering field—let alone college—would be best for him. Construction engineering? Materials engineering? Did he want to be hands-on or just part of the design phase? Was he interested in building machine components or did he want to build robots? After bringing his concerns to his family, Jason realized that he wasn’t in a position to choose the right engineering school just yet. He and his parents agreed the best decision was to take a gap year and figure it out.
During Jason’s gap year he had not one—but two—internships. His first internship was at a local materials engineering company in the metals and fabrication division. Jason learned a lot and gained some experience, but he knew it was the field for him. His second internship, however, hit the mark. As an intern at an architectural firm, Jason discovered his love was in the designing and not the materials. Designing buildings fascinated him. During his internship, with a better idea about a major, Jason started looking into architectural. Talking with his mentor during the internship helped Jason gain an understanding of what would be expected of him during and following college if he chose to become an architect.
Amanda’s story is different. As a high school junior, Amanda was a straight-A student who excelled in science. She loved biology and anatomy and was certain entering medical school was the plan after college. Her mother, uncle, and older brother were all physicians, so it seemed natural for Amanda to gravitate toward studying medicine. However, as Amanda’s senior year got underway, she started having doubts and second-guessing herself. College was expensive, and the pre-med curriculum was challenging at the university she planned to attend in the fall. Amanda talked this over with her family and AP bio teacher and decided to defer her enrollment and take a gap year. Her plan was to start her 12-week internship in the summer at a hospital lab studying under the direction of a vascular surgeon. Then COVID-19 hit. Luckily, Amanda’s internship was not cancelled but instead adapted to a virtual internship. Amanda, with the guidance of her mentor and internship coaches, was able to gain the experience and understanding she needed. Amanda studied digital slides, watched dissection videos, analyzed data, participated in virtual meetings, and participated in the writing and editing of two articles that were eventually published. Amanda spoke weekly with her mentor and his team. While she enjoyed the scientific research, Amanda decided it was a little too much lab and not enough medicine, confirming her original inclination to study a pre-med curriculum.
Taking a gap year is not for everyone; however, it can be successful if the time is used constructively. Students who utilize their time in an internship have an opportunity to gain experience and learn in an intentional and meaningful way. Whether it’s a virtual internship or on site, it can be the right decision to help students get onto the right college and career path.