Princeton Program Encourages Students To Take Non-Academic Gap Year

A new program at Princeton University provides incentive for prospective students to choose Princeton. Princeton President Shirley M. Tilghman announced on Tuesday a new program that supports incoming freshmen who delay matriculation for a year to do community service abroad. John Anderson, Director of College Counseling, said, “They have several purposes in mind. Firstly, it will give the students more of an opportunity to go abroad earlier on… It helps the students develop a more global way of looking at issues. And the third is to give the students a chance to unwind since many of them have worked so hard for admission to Princeton.” “As college counselors, we really embrace the program. We love it [students taking an interim year] for the same reasons that Princeton’s instituting it,” he continued. Anderson said that the university hopes to send about 10 percent of the class abroad on a need-blind basis. The intention is that even students not receiving financial aid for tuition at Princeton could receive aid for an interim year. Yet at this point, “It’s only a plan,” said Janet L. Rapelye, Dean of Admission at Princeton. “We’re just putting a task force together to start looking into this.” The first year of the institutionalized interim year program will likely apply to the high-school Class of 2009, Tilghman told the International Herald Tribune. Mike Guimarin, Princeton Class of 2010, said, “I would have seriously considered it had it been available, but doubt that I would have actually done it, considering that so many of my peers here and at other institutions have not done it …[or] have access to such a program.” Emanuel Feld ’09 is considering applying to Princeton next year. He said that the new gap year program is a positive influence on his decision. “I was considering taking a gap year anyway, so to enter into a school where that’s… a part of the curriculum would be nice,” he said. He added that the financial support from the university would be beneficial since “gap years are so expensive.” Tory Seman ’09 does not yet know whether she will apply to Princeton, but she said the new program is an encouraging factor. Carl Jackson ’09 said the new initiative does not influence his decision whether or not to apply to Princeton because he does not intend to do an interim year in any case. Similarly, Gloria Odusote ’09 is also not considering a gap year. She said, “Why would I? …I don’t want to stop in the middle [of my education] to ‘reevaluate my life.’ I think my life is pretty evaluated,” she said. Anderson pointed out the emphasis on community service. “It’s important that they want their students not to study abroad, but to be of service abroad.” “About 15 years ago, the Harvard Admissions issued a statement about the importance of an interim year. For Harvard there’s less of an emphasis of going international but just doing something else for a year,” to get away from the pressures of academic life, Anderson said. Roxanne Barry, Director of the Summer and Interim Year Opportunities Office, said, “Often it’s a renewal experience, refreshing.” She also said that many students are able to focus their interest of study before their return to school. “You take those interests and try to match a program, match opportunities that would lead them to discover more about themselves.” Barry suggested that Seniors considering an interim year work with their college counselors to “first apply to college … be accepted by the colleges and then tell the colleges that you’re going to take a year off.” Anderson said that about 80 percent of colleges willingly accommodate the desire to defer a year, especially if the student can show that his or her interim year is well planned. Olivia Pei ’07 is taking an interim year before attending Harvard. She returned from Dubai on Wednesday after spending two months volunteering in South Africa. She said, “I think that taking a gap year is a great idea. I’m loving it so far, though it comes with a lot of reflection and it’s a lot of growing up suddenly. Doing community service is a way to a) do good for people who need it, b) keep yourself busy and c) feel a sense of personal accomplishment.” “You learn so much from the people you help and the people you work with. I’m definitely glad I took the chance and went somewhere I’d never been before. I learned so much about the culture, myself and what’s truly important to me,” Pei continued. Kaki Elgin ’09 said, “I wish [taking an interim year] was more talked about here. I think it’s just the way we were raised. You graduate from high school, you go to college and then you get a job, especially as PA students. People here are so geared towards college, like we’re here to go to college, not for the experience.” Anderson said, “I hope that this will increase the awareness of the potential value of a gap year.”