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Seattle University among colleges letting students take post-pandemic gap year abroad

(Photo by Channey on Unsplash)

The pandemic was not an ideal time to be a high school senior or college freshman.

“I was a senior during the whole pandemic and I was trying to decide where to go to college. It became a problem because I never visited any of the campuses that I was looking into, so it was making me really nervous,” said Mariana Steiner-Morales, a 2020 graduate from New Jersey.

Scrolling through Instagram, Steiner-Morales kept seeing ads for Verto, an organization that offers gap year programs, mostly abroad.

“Gap years have been a thing for a long time,” said James Miller, associate vice president and dean of admissions at Seattle University. “The idea of taking a year between graduation from high school and enrolling in college. But I think, especially over the last two years with the pandemic, we’ve seen a real uptick in students just needing a break.”

“The only challenge with gap years is students sometimes struggle to find an opportunity that would provide enrichment in between, so that they don’t go totally rusty before enrolling in college,” he added. “So this opportunity is really cool because Verto offers students a global experience where they will earn college credits.”

Seattle U is now a partner with Verto, which means the credits students earn during their gap year will seamlessly transfer over and they’ll be on track to graduate in four years. Verto guarantees admission to at least one of their 60 partner schools.

“Verto helps students actually pick out where it is they would like to go to college,” said Miller. “Some students come to Verto already knowing what their higher education plans are, but many others come with no idea at all. So there are college counselors that are a part of these programs.”

Because of the pandemic, Steiner-Morales had to do some online schooling with Verto before she was able to spend three months in Hawaii. Unlike a traditional study abroad program, Verto is a mix of classroom learning and corresponding field work.

“The first month we did environmental science,” Steiner-Morales said. “We went to a volcano crater and did some studies on the rocks and the plants there. We also studied birds. We went snorkeling for a class one time and we did a huge study on all the different species we saw in the water.”

“The second month we did anthropology, which was my favorite,” she continued. “We really got more in tune with the culture instead of the environment. One of my favorite things was that we got to go to a native farm and help plant coffee trees. It was with one of the local leader’s moms, who is seventh generation Hawaiian, so she really taught us a lot about how farming is a lot more than just producing food.”

Since the pandemic cut her Verto experience short, Steiner-Morales will spend her sophomore year doing a program in Costa Rica before settling in at the University of Vermont.

“It shows how flexible college really is,” Steiner-Morales said. “Before I did Verto, I thought college was only a four year traditional on-campus experience. Now I know that I can travel, I can take a gap year, I can continue my education on a campus or with other programs.”

The programs range from $15,000 to $25,000 a year, including room and board, and Verto offers financial aid and scholarships.

“One of the things I think we particularly stink at in the American education system is we put so much on that decision you make at 17 or 18,” said Miller. “I certainly had no clue what I wanted to be, who I would be. There are many students for whom starting straight away is the right decision, but there are a lot of people who really benefit from taking a breath.”

Right now, students can choose to go to Italy, Spain, England, Costa Rica, Fiji or the Hawaiian Islands.

Listen to Rachel Belle’s James Beard Award nominated podcast, “Your Last Meal.” Follow @yourlastmealpodcast on Instagram!

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