More ‘gappers’ postpone college

Postponing college for a “gap year” of service and travel is a growing trend, reports the Wall Street Journal. The story profiles Lillian Kivel, who deferred Harvard to intern at a global health nonprofit and serve as a legislative aide in the Massachusetts Statehouse.

To fill her spring months, Ms. Kivel turned to gap-year consultant Holly Bull, president of Interim Programs, to help her sift through more than 100 different programs in China. Ms. Kivel will live with a host family in Shanghai, study Chinese language, history and culture in a classroom setting, and teach English to children. “I have gained so much by … becoming more responsible and independent [and] exploring my interests,” Ms. Kivel says.

Princeton plans to offer a gap year option to admitted students, who will be placed in an overseas service job.  Students will be eligible for financial aid to cover their costs.

Motivated students probably benefit from a year to work and explore; average students, who aren’t likely to be studying in Shanghai, may get off the academic track and never get back on.

Americorps offers a chance to work at low wages and earn college aid. However, as Donald Douglas writes, a year of foreign travel and resume-polishing service is a luxury that most young people can’t afford.  If they take a year between high school and college, they won’t hire a $2,000 “gap” consultant; they’ll get a “job.”

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Comments

  1. superdestroyer says:

    Once again the rich, (Read the 50% of Princeton Students who attended elite prep schools) have found another way to distinguish themselves from the harder working middle class students.

    I guess it makes sense for an upper class white who can afford to live in China for a year to do something that all of the hard working Asians who are majority in the Sciences will not be doing.

  2. I think it’s a good idea. See a bit of the world, do a little bit of work, and *then* go to college.

    Is there some harm in this I’m not seeing?

  3. Spoiled children paying to have pretend jobs indicates a singular lack of imagination. There are many ways to see a bit of the world, not including the obvious military option, that don’t require an outlay of heavy cash.

  4. superdestroyer says:

    How many people who want to major in Chemical engineering, physics, or molecular biology could afford to have a year where they stop doing math and science.

    My guess is that this is just another form of resume building for the sociology and political science majors at the Ivy leagues and Ivy likes now that all of them are studying abroad, doing volunteer work, and demonstrating their leadership.

  5. tim-10-ber says:

    Knowing kids who have done this I think it is a wonderful idea! I would have benefited from this too. No, I did not go to an ivy league school. Some kids, I believe, are not ready to go straight to college from high school. Some are burned out or just not mature enough. I say go for it…

  6. Margo/Mom says:

    The daughter of a friend is likely to take a gap year, mid-college. What she is doing is working as the assistant manager of a fast food restaurant. They are not calling it a gap year and her parents keep their fingers crossed that she will go back. But in any case, it’s hard to see that this year of experience in supervising other people can be anything but a benefit in the long run. And she isn’t paying any consultants to find the position for her or make recommendations.

  7. So kids of the affluent are learning how to be grown up while annoying someone else? My kid is on his third “gap year”, teaching English in Budapest, and supporting himself.

  8. >>How many people who want to major in Chemical engineering, physics, or molecular biology could afford to have a year where they stop doing math and science.<<

    All of them.

    it’s not like they’re going to fail college because they’ve dulled the keen edge that high school math gave them.

  9. Mike from Oregon says:

    My daughters did a ‘gap’ but they did it (actually they are doing it presently) in a more traditional way. Both of them joined the Army and you can bet that they have learned MUCH more than any of the high school grads mentioned here. They have both been in just over a year and both have told me numerous times that it was the best idea that they’ve come up with. One is in Human Resources and is in Iraq, the other is a Medic (who wants to become a nurse before she comes out of the Army) and is presently stationed in Texas. When the one comes back from Iraq, the other one will deploy. The military is a GREAT way to learn about yourself and about the world at large. Go Army.

  10. deirdremundy says:

    I also think there’s a lot of wisdom in taking time off to work if you’re not a super-dedicated student.

    If a teen’s idea of college is parties and drinking, maybe they should take a few years off to support themselves, and go when they’re old enough to have concrete goals and work towards them.

    Sometimes, going straight to college is a waste of time and money.

  11. superdestroyer says:

    PeterW,

    Taking a year off from doing math and science would put a student at a disadvantage versus the serious science students. Non-Asians have enough trouble competing in the STE fields without conceding a year to those same Asian students.

  12. Margo/Mom says:

    I don’t know, superdestroyer. There can be a lot maturity gained in those years. It takes more that just a healthy brain to be able to learn well and compete. A kid who is bright but poorly disciplined isn’t likely to do very well in college, but may benefit greatly from some of the gap experiences cited above: internship, military, work, Americorps. It’s important to know what you want to study, but also very important to have an idea why. I have seen a year or two in City Year (part of Americorps) influence several young people to take up careers in teaching or social work that they just hadn’t thought about before (and just as likely a few changed their minds and DIDN’T go that way!).

    Is the “forgetting curve” for math and science so steep that a year doing other work represents something more than a year’s additional experience?

  13. superdestroyer says:

    Margo/Mom

    Yes, the forgetting curve is very steep. If you have not done trig or algebra for a year, you will have to remember how to do all of it all over again while trying to pick up new information. Calculus is hard enough for most entering freshmen without having to relearn albegra and trig all over again. Look at how much students forget over the summer and then think about not doing any math for 15 months or more.

    I doubt if very many Korean, Chinese, or Indian families believe in taking a year off.

  14. Oh come one, superdestroyer. If you’re a real student, all you need is One and the successor function. From that, you derive Calculus.

    More seriously, while most science geeks have a pretty good idea of what they want to do and might as well start doing it, lots of students don’t, and simply bouncing around university isn’t likely to crystallize anything.

    Sure, you have to have the resources to spare, but quite frankly, for families that do, it seems better career guidance than they’re likely to get attending university. Frankly, I can’t see many better ways to spend the wealth that we’ve accumulated. Better than another big screen TV.

  15. Bill Leonard says:

    No one seems to have mentioned the obvious, though Margo Mom came close: we are dealing with young people weho often are still in delayed adolescence. Sometimes, they just need to grow up.

    We are not folk who could affor to send our kids to Ivy League schools. The older son did just fine, thanks, at a state college; he now has an MBA and is doing very well, indeed.

    Our younger son drove us nuts at the time: although quite bright, he was an indifferent student in high school. He started, then dropped, a lot of courses at the community college level.

    When he was 20, going on 21, he took an economics course, and discovered his calling. Within three years he had taken the requisite courses, earned a degree, and graduated with honors with a BS in Econ.

    Go figure — and we have, and did. As I said, sometimes, they just have to grow up.

    BTW, he is very successful in the mortgage end of the banking industry, and at the ripe old age of 35 is making more money than either his mother or I ever did.

    Bill

  16. “I think it’s a good idea. See a bit of the world, do a little bit of work, and *then* go to college.”

    As Mike from Oregon beat me to pointing out, last I heard, that was called “the military.”

  17. I may be unusual, but a six-year gap didn’t noticeably dull my math skills. I think that if you can lose it in a year, you didn’t really learn it in the first place. No way could I have handled the workload of engineering courses at 18 or 19.

  18. superdestroyer says:

    Math is like a foreign language. Would anyone recommend that a Russian major go a year without speaking or reading Russian in order to find themselves. Many college freshmen have enough problems with calcucus without having gone a year or more without a math class. My guess is that many of the gappers have to go back and take pre-calculus to catch up.

    This is just another sign that colleges are beginning to break down on ethnic lines. The hard working Asian kids go straight to college, do not seem to need to find themselves and go into the sciences and engineering. The white kids get to live an extended adolescence, take time off to backpack around Eruope and spend years trying to get into a good enough law school or B-school to make the costs worth it.

  19. The hard working Asian kids go straight to college, do not seem to need to find themselves and go into the sciences and engineering.

    Don’t worry, in a generation or two, if the economies don’t collapse, the next generation of Asian kids will be looking to find themselves too. After all, the long-term effects of wealth aren’t bound along ethnic lines. (Also, as I said, usually it’s not the math and science geeks of any color that are taking the gap year.)

    Secondly, almost every 1st year math and science program that I remember started pretty much from zero. It went awfully fast, but it seemed almost designed for people who had learned something once but might need to be refreshed on it.

    And, after all, the whole point of wealth is to allow our children opportunities that we could not have. Else why work so hard?

  20. Being ex-military myself, I wouldn’t have a problem with teenagers’ joining up for 2 years and then going to college. On my own blog I have several posts about the Troops To College program at Sacramento State. I’ve heard snark about this “gap year”, but with the exception of forgetting math and science (a proposition I find dubious at best), I haven’t heard a good reason to be against it–except that maybe it’s elitist.

  21. Being ex-military myself, I wouldn’t have a problem with teenagers’ joining up for 2 years and then going to college. On my own blog I have several posts about the Troops To College program at Sacramento State. But the military shouldn’t be the only way to earn some maturity. I’ve heard snark about this “gap year”, but with the exception of forgetting math and science (a proposition I find dubious at best), I haven’t heard a good reason to be against it–except that maybe it’s elitist.

  22. Darren,

    Are they taking two year enlistments at this time?

  23. If there’s any problem here its not with the people who take a ‘gap’ year its with the people who look on ‘gap’ years favorably without good reason. Personally I have no idea whether the results of gap years or good or not. But I do suspect if the results are not good then they’ll eventually fade away as they seem to cost a lot of money.

  24. I’ll have to make a new year’s resolution to start using “I” instead of that irritating phrase :)

  25. Superdestroyer … two alternatives would be
    1) do something in the gap year which applies that math

    2) figure out that if you’ve crammed the math, but haven’t grokked it, then there is a deeper problem.

  26. Micha Elyi says:

    Another alternative for the gap-year STEM student would be to brush up on the math skills by taking a pre-Calculus class in the first semester of college or by taking pre-Calculus at a junior college in the summer before heading off to Big School.

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