Jan 16, 2013

‘Gap Year Fairs’ for Students Who Think Outside the Box

Once dust settles from the college admissions drama, many high school seniors begin reflecting on whether they’re really ready to charge directly into four years of postsecondary education.

They find alternatives to the 16-year forced march from kindergarten to college and start exploring options outside traditional classroom experiences.

For these students, the possibility of taking a "gap year" after high school yet before starting college may be the perfect cure for the pressures of growing up in a success-oriented culture that places little emphasis on developing independence or exploring interests outside of academics.

The practice of taking a deferred year originated in Great Britain. The idea took off as students discovered that a “year out” provided incomparable opportunities to participate in international programs combining language study, homestays, cultural immersion, community service, and independent study.

And now the popularity of the gap year experience is growing at an amazing rate in the US, in part because colleges think it’s a really good idea.

In their acceptance letters, Harvard, Princeton, Tufts, and NYU openly encourage students to consider the benefits of taking some time off in the form of a gap year.

In fact, Princeton has taken an even more direct approach by creating a “Bridge Year” program in which the university provides need blind financial aid for a portion of incoming freshmen to participate in nine months of university-sponsored service at one of several international locations including China, India, Peru, and Senegal. Because of the overwhelming success of the program, plans are underway to expand both the locations and availability of Bridge Year opportunities for incoming Princeton students.

A strong supporter of gap year experiences, Harvard Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid, William Fitzsimmons routinely suggests gap year opportunities to high school students who start thinking outside the box early. 

“For nearly forty years, Harvard has recommended this option, indeed proposing it in the letter of admission.  Normally a total of about fifty to seventy students defer college until the next year,” writes Dean Fizsimmons, in an article appearing on the Harvard admissions website.  “The results have been uniformly positive….Many speak of their year away as a ‘life-altering’ experience or a ‘turning point,’ and most feel that its full value can never be measured and will pay dividends the rest of their lives.”

If you’ve started the process of exploring the possibility of taking a gap year before college, you may want to attend one of 30 USA Gap Year Fairs scheduled to take place over the coming months. These events are designed to provide interested students and parents with a broad range of programs and the opportunity to meet with organizations focusing on education, service, and personal grown.

Locally, three fairs have been scheduled for February 27 at George C. Marshall High School in Falls Church, February 26 at Thomas S. Wootton High School in Rockville, and February 22 at Georgetown Day School  in Washington DC.

For more information on times and locations of fairs near you, visit the USA Gap Year Fairs website.

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