February 28, 2008

Pre-College Gap Year Gains Popularity

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Abubakar Jalloh ’10, graduated from high school in Nigeria when he was just 16 years old. But rather than begin college immediately, Jalloh waited a year before entering higher education.
“My parents weren’t comfortable with me going to college at 16,” Jalloh said.
In the process of applying to Cornell, Jalloh looked at other universities, including Columbia University. However, since he had taken time off in between high school and college, Columbia would not accept him to their main undergraduate college.
“[But Cornell was] totally open to it,” Jalloh said about the University’s willingness to accept him despite his time off from school.
It is becoming increasingly common for high school graduates to defer their enrollment after they have been accepted to college. To accommodate these students, several colleges are developing programs meant to ease the transition for such incoming freshmen.
Princeton University is creating a “bridge year” program which may begin by 2009. The program would send admitted freshmen to a foreign country where they could do public service.
In a press release dated Feb. 18, Princeton outlined its reasons and goals for the program, which would be part of the “Princeton in the World” initiative that the university began last October. The main objectives are to instill in the students an “international perspective, [allow the students] a break from academic pressure and prepare students for a more meaningful Princeton experience.”
Princeton University spokeswoman Cass Cliatt said, “The bridge year would allow students to choose from a variety of service experiences abroad, which might include work for a service organization like the Peace Corps or even service work on a farm.”
Although the bridge year program involves sending students to foreign countries, it is different than study abroad programs.
“The bridge year program we envision differs in that it does not have an academic component,” Cliatt said.
While Cornell does not have a program to send students on a bridge year, it has a history of being accepting of students who have taken time off between high school and college.
“Each year we have anywhere from 50 to 60 admitted students who defer their admission for a year, sometimes two years,” Doris Davis, associate provost for admissions, said. “Some of these students defer their admission to do community service, while others defer their admission to pursue other interests.”
Rona Banai ’10 spent a year learning and volunteering in Israel before coming to Cornell. In terms of delaying her freshman year, Banai said, “It was really easy, I just emailed the dean of engineering since I’m in the engineering school.”
However, many Cornell students elect to do public service upon graduating from Cornell rather than before their freshman year. As The Sun reported yesterday, Cornell sends a higher number of applicants to Teach for America and Peace Corps than most other schools.
“Cornell students are already very much engaged in community service before they come to Cornell [and] stay involved in community service while they are at Cornell,” Davis said.
Since Cornell students already display a strong devotion to public service before, during and after their Cornell educations, Davis does not feel a program like this is necessary.