High school graduation, summer off, then college in the fall has been the traditional path of college-bound students for as long as anyone can remember. What about those who opt to take a 'gap year' off between high school and college?
They may be growing in number as more students discover benefits to be derived from such a detour. Some 'gappers' perform various types of service work. Others pursue a non-school educational endeavor. Some travel. Others might pursue work experience.
Many colleges appear to welcome the trend, evidenced by the variety of deferred enrollment options now offered. Arriving on college campuses after a productive and fulfilling gap year, students tend to exhibit increased focus, energy and eagerness regarding their education experience, which may bode well for improved retention and graduation rates.
According to a recent report released by the city of Boston and the Boston Private Industry Council, just one third of Boston students who enrolled in college after graduating from high school in 2000 earned a degree within seven years. Northeastern University has determined to take a proactive approach to this discovery, announcing a newly designed one-year transition period between high school and college for Boston area high school graduates. Though many details are not yet final, students will likely spend much of their time on campus involved in tutoring or working in an internship.
Northeastern’s program is a standout because students will receive college credit for their experiences. “It’s easy for colleges and universities to take students from Boston public schools,” says Joseph Auon, president of Northeastern University. “What is most difficult is making them succeed. It’s unacceptable that we have those kinds of graduation rates.”
Princeton University has a new program. Newly admitted students spend a year abroad in social service work prior to the freshman year. Princeton president Shirley Tilghman expects that year will help develop a student's international perspective and aid in the maturing process, while providing a much-needed respite from the academic rigors of high school. Dr. Tilghman says participants will be “cleansing the palate of high school, giving them a year to regroup.”
Gap years are not limited to fresh high school school graduates. Sarah Goldfein always was intrigued by the idea of attending law school. After earning a bachelor's degree in philosophy from the University of Michigan, she was accepted to Harvard Law School. Sarah was also offered a fellowship from The Jewish Future Foundation for a project of her own choosing that would contribute in some way to the Jewish community. Along with the fellowship came a living stipend and an expense account for the project.
Sarah’s choice was to produce a documentary video on Jewish theology, which will eventually be sold to day schools, Hebrew schools, synagogues and universities. “I'm grateful that I had the chance to explore other fields and areas of interest before beginning what may be a long career in the law,” says Sarah. “My time off allowed me to develop interests and skills that, while unrelated to law, will no doubt serve me well in my eventual practice.”
Jonathan Liebman is Chairman/CEO of Specs Howard School of Broadcast Arts in Southfield, Mich. Contact him at email@example.com.