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More Long Island students are taking a gap year. Here's what they're doing instead of school. 

Coronavirus made the decision to take a gap

Coronavirus made the decision to take a gap year in Israel a "no-brainer" for Ari Kantorowitz, 18, of Jericho, pictured here on a trip there last year. Credit: Ari Kantorowitz

To go or not to go? That was the question facing college students this fall as they had to choose whether to return to campus, experience classes remotely, or take a gap year.

Instead of opting to study Shakespeare — or enroll in any other classes offered by their universities — some students decided to take the fall semester off due to coronavirus concerns. Whether they were nervous about getting sick, reluctant to spend a semester distance learning or didn’t want to pay full tuition for a modified experience, their original plans no longer worked for them.

Here’s what Long Island students who opted for "not to go" are doing instead:

STASHING SOME CASH

When SUNY Purchase students were sent home in March, Jackson Stenborg, 21, moved to Huntington Station into the family home of his girlfriend and fellow Purchase student Maggie Giles. While Giles, a new media major, opted to continue her schooling remotely, Stenborg, a theater major, did not.

Stenborg says he wouldn’t have enjoyed tackling his senior theater project that way, because it entails finalizing a script, doing rehearsals and performing. He’s also on the varsity soccer team and didn’t want to give up his last season. This way, he will be eligible to play in the fall of 2021.

"I don’t want to log into school; I want to go to school," Stenborg says. "I decided to take a gap semester." Stenborg landed a job at Kerber’s Farm in Huntington earlier this month and he hopes to put away money to help him launch life after graduation.

Jade Floyd, 18, of Uniondale, made the same choice. When Buffalo State College decided to have freshmen move into dorms this fall, she balked. "What happens if I don’t come now?" She says she asked the school, and officials told her she could transfer her down-payment, room and board and other fees to the spring semester. "They were talking about a second wave. The worry of it all, I wasn’t ready to be away yet," Floyd says.

Floyd has a part-time job at a BJ’s Wholesale Club, so she says she will either try to increase her hours to full time or pick up a second part-time job for fall. "As of right now, I’m going to be working to get up a sum of money so that when I do go, I already have more resources than I would have had if I had gone sooner."

HITTING THE ROAD

Denise Lee, 18, of Manhasset initially wasn’t planning to defer her admission to Dartmouth College in New Hampshire. "I hadn’t really considered a gap year," she says. But over the summer, it became clear that Dartmouth’s reopening plan would include many restrictions: no pre-semester camping trip for incoming freshmen ("People meet their closest friends on these trips," Lee says); no clubs; winter term online.

"I really enjoy and value the in-person connection with professors and students," says Lee, who is planning to major in government, sociology or economics. "I just really didn’t want half the experience for the same amount of tuition. That was a deal-breaker for me." With just four college years, she didn’t want to spend one dealing with the coronavirus. "What we see with other schools now is kind of a disaster, and it’s kind of validating my decision," she says.

Lee joined Facebook groups for students taking a gap year; one is for incoming Dartmouth freshmen. She met seven other members of the class that way, and the informal group is hoping to rent two minivans for the month of October and explore Montana, Yellowstone National Park, the Pacific Northwest and the coast of California. She’s not sure yet what she’ll do for the rest of the year; her dad, John, 62, an accountant, wants to see her get an internship. "I want her to experience different things, get a job," he says. "You’ve got to do something very constructive."

Ari Kantorowitz, 18, of Jericho, is also traveling; he opted for a nine-month gap program in Israel instead of starting at the University of Pittsburgh. The coronavirus made his decision "a no-brainer," he says. Kantorowitz will spend half the program taking academic classes in Jerusalem and half doing volunteer work based in Tel Aviv. His academic credits should transfer, he says.

Finances were also part of the equation for him and his family. "My parents and I didn’t think it was worth it to pay full tuition," Kantorowitz says of heading to college in the United States in 2020. His Young Judea program costs about the same as a year at a state school, says Kantorowitz’s mom, Lori, 53. "This is the best of both worlds given this year," she says.

The Young Judea program experienced a more than 100% increase in enrollment this year, says Dafna Laskin, director of engagement. "When mid-March hit, that’s when it really took off," she says. Last year, they had just under 100 students; this year, they have 211. "They didn’t want to start college the way it looked like it would be starting."

HONING THEIR SKILLS

Chloee-Gabrielle Louis, 18, of West Babylon, had originally planned to pursue accounting at Baruch College in Manhattan, but the idea of living in New York City lost its appeal. "My family was worried about me being in the city," Louis says.

She withdrew, and at first planned to attend Nassau Community College. Then, she learned Adelphi University in Garden City was offering a semester-long "gap" program that involved working in small groups on real-world projects with actual companies. She’s not 100% sold on accounting, and she says the program looked like an ideal opportunity to explore other facets of business. She’ll go through three weeks of online training first, and then work on an eight-week goal introducing her to business, marketing or finance. "I liked their concept," Louis says.

Adelphi launched the program this year specifically due to coronavirus, says Graziela Fusaro, director of The Innovation Center at Adelphi. "We knew a lot of students didn’t like the experience of being online their senior year in high school and didn’t want to be online freshman year of college as well."

While the Adelphi program is also remote, it’s not a traditional class. "It would feel a little bit like an internship, a hands-on experience," Fusaro says. Students will work in groups of four to six to tackle projects created by IBM, Northwell Health and Bayside Brewing Company, Fusaro says. The program is scheduled to be offered again during the spring semester, she says.

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