February 25, 2003

Students Explore the World Before College

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Every year a number of future Cornellians opt to take a year off before coming to Cornell. Almost any school, including Cornell, will allow accepted students to defer their acceptance for one year.

There are many reasons why some choose to take a year off. Some volunteer with service organizations like the AmeriCorps or work on year-long internships. Others work full-time to save money for future college expenses. Some use the time to travel before committing to four years of rigorous studies.

Elizabeth Wheaton ’04 took a year off before coming to Cornell. She worked at a fitness club, as a field hockey coach for a middle school and also at a public relations firm. Later that year, using the money she earned, she traveled to Botswana, France, and Moscow.

“Africa and France were simply two places that I really wanted to visit. Since I was in Europe and I knew someone in Russia, I worked that into the trip as well,” Wheaton said.

Community Service

Helen Struck ’03 spent her year off as a volunteer for AmeriCorps in San Jose, C.A. Between working in an elementary school and in a gang intervention center, she didn’t have time to travel to many other places. But, “I’m from Rhode Island, so traveling to California was enough of a trip for me,” Struck said.

Liz Shuford ’05 went to Hong Kong during her year off, to teach English in elementary schools. “I wasn’t excited about college. I just had the traveling bug and wanted to go and do that,” Shuford said.

Is it a good idea to take a year off before entering college? Students often take advantage of the time to contemplate future decisions.

“It was totally amazing, but it kind of ruins some of the novelty of freshman year here,” Shuford said. “All of my overachiever motivation from high school totally went away after a year of doing nothing,” she added.

“I was unsure of some of the decisions I was making about schools. I applied to Cornell during my year off because I had deferred another school that I wasn’t psyched about. For me it was definitely the right decision,” Wheaton said.

“The experience definitely changed my life. Stepping outside of the bubble that I had lived in before and learning that other people didn’t have the same ideas as me, and then ultimately a better perspective for college,” Struck said.

Many administrators like to see students take that year off, since these experiences foster maturity and confidence of students before starting their academics.

“Taking a year off before college allows for more time to mature, more time to think about priorities, more time to develop academic and/or career motivation, and more time to develop socially before tackling the social scene at college,” said Dr. Philip W. Meilman, director of counseling and psychological services (CAPS).

However, taking a year off is not an ideal plan for all prospective college students.

“It can be a good idea or not depending on the person. Each person has to assess his or her own situation individually to determine if this is the right course of action,” Meilman said.

“I wish more people would take a year off. A lot of people here, despite being privileged, haven’t been exposed to a lot of the world,” Shuford said.

Different students transition to Cornell in different ways.

“My transition into Cornell was a breeze … I went through about a week long period where I thought that I didn’t want to go to school but that vanished quickly,” Wheaton said.

In retrospect, most are glad they took the year off and experienced the world outside the Ithaca community, especially when it has helped shape the post-Cornell future.

According to Struck, “It definitely defined what I wanted to do in life,” She plans to move back to California and start work on a master’s degree to complete her plans of becoming a public defender.

Shuford has plans to study abroad in Singapore next semester. “It pretty much directed my academic interests now, especially in terms of the Eastern world, which you don’t really hear about in high school.” She summed up most of the deferrees’ feelings when she said, “Now I couldn’t see myself doing anything else.”

Archived article by Jonathan Square