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Colleges offer to pay students to take year off


MEDFORD, Mass. (AP) - Colleges are paying students to take a year off after high school to travel, volunteer or do internships so that students of all income brackets can benefit from "gap years."

A new program at Tufts University and existing ones at a handful of other schools aim to remove the financial barriers that can keep cash-strapped students from exploring different communities and challenge their comfort zones before jumping right into college.

The gap year program starting this fall at Tufts will pay for housing, airfare and even visa fees, which can often add up to $30,000 or more.

Although gap years are more popular in Europe, they have started to gain traction in the United States. About 40,000 Americans participated in gap year programs in 2013, an increase of nearly 20 percent since 2006, according to data gathered by a nonprofit called the American Gap Year Association.

In 2009, Princeton University began offering applicants gap-year aid based on need. Nearly 100 students have participated, volunteering in Brazil, China, India, Peru and Senegal.

The University of North Carolina offers $7,500 to gap year applicants, while students at Wisconsin's St. Norbert College can receive financial aid based on need, although airfare isn't covered.

Lydia Collins, a 19-year-old Tufts freshman from Evanston, Ill., said she took a gap year because she wanted to see what was outside of the classroom before committing to four more years of school.

"A lot of kids are very burnt out after high school," Collins said. "Taking this time to be with yourself and see yourself in a new community and light will only help you to succeed in college."

Collins worked in microfinance in Ecuador through the poverty-fighting group Global Citizen and said the experience inspired her to pursue international relations, something she would not have known about beforehand.

Students who take part are able to see the world beyond the bubble they grew up in and return to school with a better perspective of their future, said Holly Bull, president of the Center of Interim Programs, which counsels students on taking gap years. Bull said the benefit of the structured time away from school is too valuable to exclude lower-income students.

"Students return to the classroom more focused, independent and confident," said Bull, who took a gap year herself to Hawaii and Greece. She said the students also tend to have less trouble adjusting to dorm life.

Jeremy Rotblat, a 19-year-old Princeton freshman from Cherry Hill, N.J., said his experience volunteering at a hospital in Senegal better prepared him for college.

"This experience taught me that everything I learn in the classroom will be able to help me when I leave Princeton," Rotblat said. "It is easy at times to question the purpose behind all the school work. But seeing the value firsthand encourages me to push myself academically."

Students selected for Tufts' 1+4 program will be able to defer their admission for a year while still remaining tied to the university through video chat and email. Tufts is planning to work with organizations including Global Citizen, City Year and Lift - which offer volunteering positions in areas such as education, economics, health and the environment - to create packages that fit students' financial needs, including travel and living costs.

Patrick Callan, founding president of the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education, applauds the gap year experience but said structure is key.

"Sometimes, for less motivated students, taking a year off could lead to them never coming back," he said, adding that students that go in without concrete goals can be sidetracked from their studies. "You need to come in having a plan."

For Collins, working in a foreign country away from her family and friends was a reality check.

"After that experience," she said, "I can definitely take on college. It's nothing now."

Join the discussion

1000|Char. 1000  Char.
hondian March 15 2014 at 2:54 PM

who pays for this?

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1 reply
fboutup hondian March 15 2014 at 3:44 PM

Unfortunately all the others paying tuition probably kick in $50 a piece for this nonsense, and the alumni contributions also get siphoned off. If my alma mater starts this I can assure you my funding will likely cease and I think they care when the donor level you are in has only a few members.

Flag Reply 0 rate up
polardreamer2003 March 15 2014 at 3:08 PM

It seems like the College could select to use the funds to
give grants to kids who have worked hard in school yet are too poor for College
This makes a lot more sense to me

Flag Reply +6 rate up
analyst0042 March 15 2014 at 2:55 PM

I wonder how many of those kids have the sense to get a job and use the money from the college grants to help pay off their student loans or God forbid their parents for the tuition they paid for them? NOPE..not many..that would too responsible.

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adelani March 15 2014 at 2:52 PM

thank you for the info.. I'm guessing a high school counselor would know more about these programs and what universities or colleges are offering them?

Flag Reply +1 rate up
gunterraybo March 15 2014 at 2:54 PM

it is nice to see all that lotto money going to good use

Flag Reply +2 rate up
z5catman March 15 2014 at 3:06 PM

I did my "gap" years in Vietnam from 1967 to 69. Made me understand and realize how fortunate I was to be able to attend college.

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3 replies
NANCY March 15 2014 at 2:22 PM

Why don't they just give the money to motivated students who need financial assistance. This is the dumbest thing I've ever heard of.

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1 reply
adelani NANCY March 15 2014 at 2:58 PM

they don't just give it to them because they must learn that it is earned, they can't just sit at home, they must commit to something.. it's a good thing for many,

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buddy46 March 15 2014 at 2:15 PM

What happened to peace corps

Flag Reply +5 rate up
Franco March 15 2014 at 2:43 PM

Is it true that they teach you vigorouslly how to pass tests for the courses one takes instead of teaching the courses? :O)

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1 reply
qaqs9000 Franco March 15 2014 at 3:20 PM

That and how to vigorouslly research and find the proper standardized test located in the basement vault of your greek affiliation. It is much better and less expensive than to hire a major in the field to take the tests for you.

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1 reply
fboutup qaqs9000 March 15 2014 at 3:41 PM

That and they teach you how to spell vigorously.

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rude March 15 2014 at 2:59 PM

I did my 'gap year' on my own. No school paid me a dime. What I earned that first year alone assured me that I'd have no student loans to pay after graduation. My parents only financial contribution to my actual college education was $400, and that was only because I personally had to pay for the repair on a car I accidentally hit. I'd advise any high school senior to consider the same.........just watch if there's a car behind you when backing up!

Flag Reply +10 rate up
1 reply
lconroy826 rude March 15 2014 at 3:07 PM

Good for you. You're one in a million. Bravo.

Flag Reply +3 rate up
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