Gap year students begin freshman year, reflect on year off


Josh Hoffman/Daily Senior Staffer

Students who deferred their enrollment at Northwestern last fall are now adjusting to life on campus as part of the Class of 2025.

Catherine Odom, Reporter

When COVID-19 hit in 2020, some incoming freshmen deferred their acceptance until Fall 2021. Now, back from their gap years, these students are adjusting to college life.

Some, such as Weinberg freshman Eliana Banks, decided to defer before Northwestern  canceled on-campus housing in August 2020.

“It was pretty obvious in the early and mid-summer that the fall was going to be affected by it,” Banks said. “I worked really hard to get into Northwestern, so I wanted to experience the school in full effect.”

Others, such as Communication freshman Anushka Agarwala, deferred their acceptance after receiving the on-campus housing cancellation announcement. 

As a theater major, she wanted an in-person learning experience, she said.

“For me, the practical experience of doing shows was very important and I didn’t want to lose out on that,” Agarwala said.

Communication freshman and theater major Talya Braverman shared Agarwala’s desire for an in-person education. Braverman said she struggled to make the decision to defer.

“I was like, ‘Okay, I have no plan,’ and I just had to scramble to figure out things,” Braverman said.

During their gap years, many students worked, traveled, learned or relaxed. Banks spent her year living in an apartment in her hometown of Boulder, Colorado, where she worked on political campaigns and practiced meditation. She said the mindfulness techniques she learned during her gap year are helping her tackle college now.

Agarwala, an international student originally from New Delhi, India, spent her year living in Singapore, where her family relocated. Agarwala said she used her gap year to build a following on her food Instagram, @anushkaeatstheworld.

“Singapore’s food culture is so rich and vibrant,” Agarwala said. “I even started a website and used the lessons I learned in my digital marketing class to build my brand.”

She also spent time during her gap year taking online classes in areas like film production, refocusing on her health and getting to know other NU students living in Singapore.

Like Agarwala, Braverman took online classes last year. She also worked at her local Target and as a teaching assistant at a local arts high school.

The year off brought challenges as well as benefits for some. 

“It was just extremely isolating a lot of the time,” Braverman said. She added that it was difficult to watch her peers starting college without her and that spending so much time with her parents could be “overwhelming.”

Other students enjoyed staying close to home. Agarwala said the added time with her parents brightened her gap year, especially because she attended a boarding high school.

“I haven’t lived at home since I was 14, so (it was) nice to kind of reconnect with my parents and spend a year with them before I went off to college,” Agarwala said. 

For Banks, coming back to school has been a welcome change, even after a positive gap year experience. She said the transition back to school has been smooth and she is excited for her classes this year.

Braverman said she has also had a relatively easy transition back to school, thanks to her friends in both the Class of 2024 and the Class of 2025.

“I am lucky that I have friends in the Class of 2024, so it’s not so much of a challenge,” Braverman said.

Banks, Agarwala and Braverman all said a gap year was the right choice for them, especially given the unprecedented circumstances of the past year and a half.

“I loved having a pause in my life,” Banks said. “I loved getting to know myself without a school environment. But then when I came to school, I was ready for it, so I’m grateful that it’s been so smooth.”

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