Community colleges: A better alternative than a gap year


Covid-19 has disrupted many of our lives, especially high school seniors who were excited to graduate and begin a new chapter at a university in the fall.

Much of the four-year experience is about exploring an extensive campus, living in the dorms, attending large lectures, enjoying big events and eating with hundreds of students in the cafeteria. But in the midst of a pandemic, this type of environment may cause more anxiety than excitement for incoming freshman.

Surveys have shown that graduating high school seniors are considering a gap year – delaying their plans to attend a four-year university. But a gap year in 2020 looks much different than it has prior to Covid-19. A traditional gap year typically consists of domestic or world travel and volunteering, gaining real-life experience with an internship, or taking on a full-time job while living at home and saving money for college expenses. Due to the pandemic, travel has been restricted, human interaction limited and increased unemployment has caused economic vulnerability.

But amidst times of uncertainty – whether it’s high unemployment and financial instability or not knowing what field to consider for a career – community colleges have been the solution for many young adults.

Below are five reasons to choose a community college over a gap year.

1. Get a head start

If you’re not comfortable heading straight into a university just yet, and a gap year no longer seems promising, take the opportunity to check those required general education courses off your list at a community college this summer and fall. Community colleges such as NorthWest Arkansas Community College (NWACC) offers these as well as major-specific courses that can transfer to numerous four-year institutions.

And if you decide to only take a few courses over the summer, you’ll start your freshman year a few credits ahead, saving you time and money.

2. Closer to home

Leaving home to travel or volunteer for a gap year, or packing up and moving your belongings to a university out of state, may limit your ability to easily get home to your family in case of possible shelter-in-place orders. Community colleges are located within your community and easily accessible with a short drive or if you need to remain home, by a click of a mouse. Being closer to home also gives you assurance that you’ll be able to take care of yourself or a loved one if they were to become ill.

3. Quality education at an affordable price

COVID-19 has caused economic insecurity for many of us, and you, as well as your parents, may not be ready for the financial burden of a high tuition bill. While a normal gap year would offer more job opportunities and time to save up money, the current pandemic has decreased job openings and increased competition.

Community colleges are known for their affordability due to no campus housing fees, food plans and other overhead costs associated with a larger university, as well as more opportunities for students to qualify for financial aid like scholarships and grants. And affordability doesn’t mean low quality. NWACC’s academic standards are accredited by the Higher Learning Commission, so you can be rest assured that you’re earning highly valued credits, certificate or degree.

4. Adaptive and accommodating

Due to their smaller sizes, community colleges can shift and adapt quickly, whether it’s to offer new in-demand academic programs or career training, or if it’s to swiftly accommodate students and offer different modes of instruction during a pandemic. While you may feel uncertain about the next year, community colleges like NWACC can offer you individual attention and a variety of options – day and evening classes, online, and this fall, a hybrid of in-person and online courses – all to fit fluid life circumstances.

5. Your safety is priority

Choosing a gap year may feel like the safest alternative to living in the dorms or sitting in large lecture halls, but lessening your human contact doesn’t have to mean placing your college dreams on hold. Community colleges are able to really tap into students’ concerns and provide answers and reassurance when it comes to their safety and academic experience.

With student feedback, NWACC has made plans to welcome students back to campus in the fall while having numerous safety measures in place and contingency plans on hand. NWACC’s response to Covid-19 is easily accessible to students, employees and the community online:

It’s possible

Life may feel unsettled and your future unclear, but be assured, community colleges continue to make higher education attainable. NWACC and the nation’s other community colleges can be your pathway to a bright future with a four-year degree or trade skills and a career that you’ve envisioned.

About the Author

Liz Kapsner
is a communications and marketing content specialist at NorthWest Arkansas Community College in Bentonville.