Tag: college life
Taking a year off is catching on with students looking for adventure and to avoid burnout.
This summer, Monika Lutz’s life took an unusual turn. Instead of heading off to college, the high school graduate packed her bags for a Bengali jungle. Lutz, like a growing number of other young Americans, is taking a year off. Gap years are quite common in Britain and Australia, but they are just beginning to catch on in the U.S. Lutz, who grew up in Boulder, Colo., has put together a 14-month schedule that includes helping deliver solar power to impoverished communities in India and interning for a fashion designer in Shanghai – experiences that are worlds away from the stuffy lecture halls and beer-stained frat houses that await many of her peers. “I could not be happier,” she says.
No one tracks the number of U.S. students who decide to take gap years, but many high school guidance counselors and college admissions officers say the option is becoming more popular. Harvard, which has long encouraged its incoming first-years to defer matriculation, has seen a 33% jump in the past decade in the number of students taking gap years. MIT’s deferments have doubled in the past year. And Princeton formalized the trend in 2009 by funding gap-year adventures for 20 incoming first-years annually. The school’s goal is to extend this offer to about 100 students per class.
Meanwhile, a cottage industry of gap-year programs and consultants has sprouted in the U.S. Tom Griffiths, founder of GapYear.com a site that serves as a clearinghouse for gap-year programs, says that five years ago, perhaps 1% of his Web traffic originated in the U.S. Now, that figure is 10%. The number of Americans taking gap years through Projects Abroad, a U.K. company that coordinates volunteer programs around the world, has nearly quadrupled since 2005. The organization just launched Global Gap, its first effort marketed specifically to Americans; the 27-week curriculum features service projects in South Africa, Peru, India and Thailand.
Like a year of college, these adventures can be expensive. The price tag for Global Gap is $30,000. Thinking Beyond Borders, a highly respected, eight-month program that parachutes students into third-world communities, costs $39,000. Yes, it’s certainly possible for students to pursue meaningful volunteer work on a smaller budget. But unless kids stay at home and get a paying job nearby, families will likely incur significant expense. The increase in interest suggests that at least some families are willing. “There are now more structured opportunities for students to take gap years,” says David Hawkins, the director of public policy and research for the National Association for College Admission Counseling. “That doesn’t happen unless there’s a market to sustain it.”
Why are students attracted to the gap-year concept? According to new survey data from Karl Haigler and Rae Nelson, education-policy experts and co-authors of The Gap-Year Advantage, the most common reason cited for deferring college is to avoid burnout. “I felt like I was focused on college as a means to an end,” says Kelsi Morgan, an incoming Middlebury College freshman who spent last year feeding llamas at a North Dakota monastery, interning for a judge in Tulsa, Okla., and teaching English at an orphanage in the Dominican Republic. The hope is that after a year out of the classroom, students will enter college more energized, focused and mature. That can be an advantage for colleges too. Robert Clagett, dean of admissions at Middlebury, did some number-crunching a few years ago and found that a single gap semester was the strongest predictor of academic success at his school.
Most experts recommend securing a spot in college before taking a gap year and warn against using the time off to pad your rÉsumÉ. “Most admissions folks can see right through that,” says Jim Jump, the academic dean of St. Christopher’s School in Richmond, Va. But for students like Lutz, who, after getting rejected from five Ivies, decided to take time off, a gap year can help reprioritize and focus interests. Lutz now plans to apply mostly to non-Ivies that have strong marketing programs. “This experience has really opened my eyes to the opportunities the world has to offer,” she says.
But at least one education expert doesn’t want schools spreading the gap-year message as if it were gospel. In a study that followed 11,000 members of the high school class of 1992 for eight years after graduation, Stefanie DeLuca, a sociology professor at Johns Hopkins University, found that, all things being equal, those who delayed college by a year were 64% less likely to complete a bachelor’s degree than those who enrolled immediately after high school. DeLuca did not pinpoint whether these students voluntarily started college late, but at the very least, her work indicates that taking a gap year doesn’t guarantee success. “I’m not going to say that time off does not have benefits,” says DeLuca. “But I think we should be tempered in our enthusiasm.”
No one’s gap-year enthusiasm was more tempered than Olivia Ragni’s. In the spring of 2009, the high schooler from Arkadelphia, Ark., inadvertently missed the deadline to secure her spot at Rice University that fall and was told she would have to wait a year to enroll. “I was really down,” says Ragni, who still cries when recalling the embarrassment of informing her classmates of the unintended deferment. But through two experiential-learning organizations, she spent the year volunteering in a hospital in India, taking intensive Spanish while hiking volcanoes in Guatemala and working at an elephant camp in Thailand. “I gained confidence and independence,” says Ragni, who has just arrived in Houston to start her first term at Rice. “It was the best experience of my life.” The tears have dried up. Consider it a lucky break.
Moving away from home and into the college dorms can be a stressful process. The chapter of your life known as “high school” has come to a close and now a new stage of your life is beginning.
Living away from home for the first time will be an adjustment. Mom will not be there to do your laundry, give you medication cold when you do not feel well, or cook your favorite meal on Sunday… not cool. However, I have some good news for you! If you avoid these 3 common mistakes that many students are new, you will be installed in the college life sooner than you think!
Mistake 1 – Staying Alone
You should try to spend as much time outside your dorm room as you do inside your dorm room. This is crucial to meet other students. Try working in the fitness center campus, or hanging in the center of the cafeteria or student. These are all great places to start a conversation with other students.
Research indicates that 1 in every 4 students leave campus before their second year. I think the inability for students to make friends and feel like they are part of the campus community is the main reason why students leave campus after their first year.
This is why it is important that you go out and meet other students with similar interests! Even if you were shy in high school, and not out of your comfort zone to university is sure to make your college experience less enjoyable.
An upperclassman at SIU-Carbondale said: “The students who remain in their dorms all day are usually the ones who go home in the first month.”
Remember, this is a scary process for any freshman college new others too, so you can take comfort in knowing they probably feel just as uncomfortable as you do!
Mistake 2 – Racking Up Credit Card Debt
Credit cards can be dangerous for new students. Before signing up for a credit card, make sure you understand the terms and are ready to handle this type of responsibility
A credit card is not free money. When you sign up for a credit card, you enter into a contract with the company credit card. In simpler terms, the contract states that you repay all the money you spend including interest.
Most students make the mistake of getting a credit card and go to the mall to load a pile of clothes or shoes, forgetting that the bill will come in the mail later.
If you decide to get a student credit card, here are some things you should keep in mind:
– Do not apply for every credit card student offers to you. Take time to read each application and select the one that has the lowest interest rate, no annual fee.
– If you can not afford it now, then you probably will not be able to afford when the bill arrives. Therefore, you should not use your credit card in case of emergency. Get a flat tire is an emergency, do not have enough money for pizza on Friday night is not.
– Pay your bills on time. Late fees and interest that you will pay just is not worth it.