With the sudden onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, thousands of students across the globe were forced to abandon their dorm rooms, switch up their classrooms for Zoom screens and press pause on their traditional college experience.
But while some students transitioned to online classes, others made a different decision.
Following the trial run of Zoom classes during the end of the spring of 2020 semester, many students were unsatisfied with their educational experience online — leading to a 6.5% decrease in undergraduate enrollment nationally over the past two years following the onset of COVID-19.
With tuition prices remaining stagnant and “Zoom University” being placed into full effect, more and more students were looking at other options than the traditional college experience — including the option of taking a year off.
The Beacon talked to four students about their gap years and their experience transitioning back to campus life.
Grad Year: 2025
Hometown: Everett, Washington
When committing to UP just a few months before the COVID-19 outbreak, Mim Fox was excited for the hustle and bustle of on-campus life. Sadly, for Fox, this would not be the reality of her freshman year.
“I really started to consider if I wanted to be online and go to a university that already costs a lot of money for online classes,” Fox said.
Fox decided to defer her enrollment and take a gap year after graduating high school. She attributes a lot of her perseverance during this time to her family, who helped her navigate this trying time mentally and financially.
Fox spent her gap year working at a bakery, becoming a rock climbing coach and taking classes at her local community college.
Fox, an avid baker, now had the opportunity to work at a family run bakery with her cousin.
“I’ve always loved baking and it was a dream job of mine,” Fox said. “It was nice to save up some extra money.”
Throughout this gap year, Fox said she was able to gain additional work experience and learn valuable lessons about responsibility that she might not have if she came directly to UP.
“There were lots of early mornings that I had to get there at 4:30 a.m. to 5 a.m.,” Fox said. “I quickly learned more about responsibility and how to be accountable.”
Taking a gap year hadn’t been in Fox’s plans, but she wouldn't change anything.
“I feel like I got a lot of opportunities that I never would have been able to do, as soon as I graduate I’m going to start working as a nurse,” Fox said. “I’m glad I got to be a coach and a baker before I probably can’t.”
Now at UP, Fox is enjoying her time in-person. Whether it be clubs or classes, Fox is navigating college with one extra year of life under her belt.
“I am one year older, I am one year more mature,” Fox said. “I just have one year under my belt nobody else has.”
Grad Year: 2025
Hometown: San Francisco, California
For Monica Sherbert, taking a gap year was not something she had thought about until two weeks before moving in to UP.
“I really did not want to take a gap year, it was never in my plans,” Sherbert said. “My dad really didn’t want me to do the whole learning online thing.”
During her gap year, Sherbert worked at a restaurant and took some classes at her local community college.
“I started [working at that restaurant] my junior year of high school as a host, and eventually became a server,” Sherbert said. “I worked there for like three and half years and we all became really close, even with my manager — I still text her sometimes.”
She attributes this extra work experience for her “coming out of her shell” and engaging with people regularly — all skills she has applied here at UP in classes and at clubs.
However, after taking a year off after high school, living on campus was difficult for Sherbert — who struggled to find a balance between schoolwork and socializing.
“At first it was a really hard time, but as it’s gone on, it’s definitely gotten easier,” Sherbert said.
According to Sherbert, straying from the path paved by older siblings can add a variety of stressors that affected her view on gap years. However looking back, Sherbert is happy with the decision to take a gap year.
“It was a good growth experience,” Sherbert said. “It was nice to just kind of not have anything I really had to do.”
Major: Operations and technology management
Minors: Political Science & music
Grad Year: 2023
Hometown: Anacortes, Washington
After experiencing a trying semester of online school during the spring 2020 semester, Lexie Rudolph chose to take a gap year during the 2020-2021 school year and focus on other interests.
“I didn’t love the online format in the spring and I knew I could find a job outside of school and spend the semester doing that.” Rudolph said. “And then I kind of just fell in love with my job and stayed off campus.”
During her year off, Rudolph taught a learning pod of first graders in their homes in Southwest Portland. Rudolph has a background in childcare and she knew that she wanted to do something education-based during her time off from school — so finding a job as a homeschooler for children was the perfect fit.
Rudolph was also able to explore her interest in the field of political science — a topic that caught her interest during her study abroad, but she did not have time to pursue her interest while school was in session.
Coming back to campus this fall, she was able to add political science as a minor and is now able to take more classes that interest her.
However, Rudolph’s gap year, as well as the transition back to school, wasn’t always easy.
“I wasn’t interacting with anyone my age, so that definitely made things a little bit difficult socially … and gave me the feeling that I was very disconnected from the UP community,” Rudolph said.
When returning to UP in the fall of 2021, Rudolph was worried about getting back into the rhythm of academics.
Her friends and peers are now seniors and getting ready to graduate, while she is now beginning her junior year.
“A lot of the people I’m really close with are getting ready to graduate, and so they’re stressed about finding jobs and interviewing for things and stuff like that, and that’s just not where I’m at in my education right now,” Rudolph said.
Taking a gap year was an important step for Rudolph. She said she feels like a completely different person now that she has returned to UP. She views her time away as giving her clarity to figure out what she wants to pursue in her academic and professional career.
Rudolph said she recommends a gap year for other students too.
“I think it could be a very positive experience,” Rudolph said. “I think that if you go into it with [the mindset of] ‘I wanna go work this specific job,’ or ‘I want to self-study a ton of things,’ you can be stronger when you come back to school.”
Major: Civil engineering
Grad Year: 2024
Hometown: Hillsboro, Oregon
Julianna Galian decided to take a gap year after the pandemic began during the second semester of her freshman year.
The current sophomore felt she wasn’t receiving the full college experience when school went remote in March of 2020, so she decided to take a whole year off starting in the fall of 2020. Like many other students, experiencing all four years of in-person college was important to Galian.
Galian’s gap year was filled with opportunities. She was able to keep her job at a bike shop and took on two part-time internships. Aside from jobs, she was also given more time for personal reflection.
“I just spent a lot of time with family and kind of realized what’s important to me outside of school and academics, and just that work and all those parts of life that we focus on so much isn’t as important as it seems like.” Galian said.
Now that Galian is back on campus, she plans to pick up right where she left off — being a part of engineering clubs and playing intramural frisbee.
As a civil engineering major, and member of other clubs, Galian’s schedule is busy. This gap year allowed her to take a break and breathe — for the first time since what she presumed to be second grade.
“I just put everything on pause for a year and I can just finish the next three years and hopefully graduate and move onto the next step,” Galian said.
Tiffany Marquez Escobar is a reporter for The Beacon. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Kimberly Cortez is a reporter for The Beacon. She can be reached at email@example.com.