With uncertainty about classes, a few JMU and EMU students opt for a gap semester (or longer)

By Sukainah Abid-Kons, contributor

When Alexa Lorenzana found out the way EMU would be holding classes partially online and partially in person this fall, the rising EMU junior decided to take a semester off and work instead.  

“I made the decision because having done online work when everything shut down, it was very hard on my mental health,” said Lorenzana, who is double-majoring in history and sociology. 

She added that because she works in retail, she had already been considering taking a semester off because exposure at work would have made her feel compelled to take classes remotely, and, as she said, she’s done with online classes.  

Lorenzana is not alone. Other students — including some who found online learning cumbersome when universities switched to all-online formats at the start of the pandemic last spring — are opting to take a gap semester and return whenever in-person teaching does. 

College students have spent the past few months anticipating the day when they could return to their campuses and see friends and professors they mostly had viewed through screens since March. 

However, as the summer has progressed, COVID-19 cases in the United States have increased, especially in states with relaxed regulations on wearing masks and social distancing. 

While neither EMU nor JMU have decided to go fully-remote, both have set up systems of hybrid classes, in which students will attend some sessions in person and some online. Some classes will be conducted fully online, and a few classes that require more hands-on work will be mostly in-person. Both institutions have also given professors and students the option to decide how much in-person instruction they will give and receive based on their comfort levels and pre-existing health conditions. 

Zachary Yoder, the assistant provost for student success at EMU, wrote in an email to The Citizen that while there is a population of students who are choosing to either not take classes or not return to campus due to Covid concerns, there has not been an increase in students not returning this semester. 

Yoder also wrote that he is anticipating aspects of their learning model “lasting into the future,” but that as time goes on, the institution can “adapt when necessary.” 

With JMU on a similar class plan, students there face a similar choice between remote learning or a break from school. Sydney Hunter, who just finished her second year at JMU as a marketing major, decided on the latter. 

“I knew as soon as I finished my classes online in May if I had to do the same thing again, I wouldn’t be enrolling for the fall,” Hunter wrote in an email to The Citizen. 

Hunter also plans to work during the semester, though she is uncertain about where that work will be. But she made an announcement on LinkedIn with the hashtag, #gapsemester.

“I’ve applied to so many jobs, and I have a lead on a few,” Hunter wrote. She mentioned she is looking at jobs and internships in various areas of interest for her, such as potentially working at a ski resort because she enjoys skiing. 

Hunter and Lorenzana both recognize the precarious situation that many colleges and universities are in right now — with the financial stability of the institutions and the health of students, staff and faculty at stake. 

“We’re in the middle of a global pandemic in which no one knows what the right move is,” Hunter said. 

A JMU spokesperson didn’t respond to a request for comment last week about how many students the university is aware of who might be taking a similar approach as Hunter.

Lorenzana said the biggest decision that many students will face this semester is opting for online courses and “risking their mental stability,” or choosing to take a semester off but not be able to graduate when they originally planned. 

Hunter and Lorenzana both said if their schools roll out similar plans for the spring semester or decide to move entirely online, both of them would take another semester off. 

Lorenzana said she “probably won’t go back” as long as remote learning is the primary form of learning available. 

Hunter agreed. She said she decided last May that those online classes would be her last. 

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