MIND THE GAP (YEAR)

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Should students defer their college admissions by a year — especially those planning to go abroad? As we all know, these fancy universities don’t come cheap. But the pandemic has put a spanner in the calendar. The students are yet to complete their qualifying examinations for one. Grad student aspirants are yet to complete their university graduation, while undergrads are told that their ISC and CBSE exams will be held in July but the logistics are still to be worked out. More important is the fact that the foreign universities are still to finalise their calendar. Will they allow students on campus, or will it be all online as was the case with the much-coveted graduation ceremonies during the lockdown last month?

Lakshmi Iyer, executive director and head of education at Sannam S4, a global education consultancy, says: “Our organisation spans over 80 countries and we are increasingly getting referrals for deferrals. Parents are not keen to send the kids abroad right now. The next best option is to defer the entry to 2021. Most universities have decided to postpone opening of campus to October/November and are considering a blended model where some are on campus and some are online.”

If you are paying such vast sums then you would like your child to get the entire onsite campus experience and not just an online one. Hence there are a vast number of students who are opting for the gap year. But there is a catch here. As Anjali Raghbeer, founder of Writers Qi, an overseas education consultancy that guides students wanting to study abroad, says: “Premium universities in particular are not making it easy to defer. Covid is not being seen as a good enough reason.” However since foreign students bring in about $46 billion to the US economy there is a very good reason why these universities are against writing off the next academic year as a “gap year”. Also as Nayantara Handa, a university guidance counsellor, says: “Nothing compares to the campus experience. Most students take a gap year to do something like adventure, travel, community service, but that is out in Covid times. Moreover a gap year is something Indians are not too keen on while it’s a popular concept across the world.” At the end of the day, most students want to “get on with their lives” and not put it on pause for a year. Covid unfortunately has other plans for all of us.

While the online experience may be okay for the undergrad student whose courses span a longer period of time (hopefully there will be a cure or a vaccine by year end), it is the grad student who will suffer more if the next academic year goes online because these courses are only for a year or so. And the entire idea of Ivy League Universities and Business Schools is not just the degree but also the networking in the process. That will be missing in the online world.

Also, with the US seeing a spike in Covid cases, will there be alternate destinations being considered by students? The UK and Canada are good options. Australia and New Zealand also could be considered. Iyer says, “The Global South had the worst onslaught; they were the first hit, but are also the first to flatten the curve.”

 What about the fate of those students who are currently enrolled in universities abroad, specially the US but returned to India in March this year to take their classes online? Nandika Handa, immigration consultant for North America, says: “Presently with the immigration suspension (announced by Donald Trump) and classes going online a lot of students are not thinking of returning to the US. But if they need to return to their campuses, as long as the expiry date on their F-1 visa (student visa) is within bounds of their return date it is ok.”

In the end, as with all things in this post-Covid world, the education landscape too will not be the same again. As the new rules of engagement are still to be firmed, most consultants advise waiting till the end June before taking a call on whether to defer this year or not.

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