- The Washington Times - Friday, October 26, 2001

They call it “the gap”: Either taking the year off between high school and college or some time out between freshman, sophomore or junior years.
A small but growing number of students are choosing to take the time off to travel, dabble in various careers or become missionaries, college admissions officials say. Some use the time to serve in the military, which gives them generous tuition breaks once their tour of duty is over.
Academic burnout, increasing competition among high school seniors for choice college spots and crowded campuses are contributing to the students’ decisions. At Dartmouth College this past spring, officials offered a $5,000 tuition break to any student willing to defer entrance for a year.
After Elizabeth Greiner from Rye Brook, N.Y., attended Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill., for a year, she realized it wasn’t for her.
“I wasn’t happy there,” she said. She took three months off to join Sea-mester, a program that allowed her to take regular college courses while learning to sail in the Caribbean. But the program is pricey: $12,000 for the 80-day voyage.
“Being away made me feel independent and more confident,” says Miss Grenier, now a junior at Georgetown University. “I felt I could make my own decisions. The most interesting experience I had was learning how to sail. We took our classes on board. It was hard, but I am glad I did it.”
She got the idea from a Boston-based group, Time-Out Associates, which provides college-bound students with resources and advice on using up one’s gap year. Founder Robert Gilpin has helped students spend their time in Spain, Italy, Nepal and other destinations.
“We find programs that best suits the student,” he says.
Miss Greiner says she filled out several questionnaires to help determine what she would do.
“He then matched me with the best program that suited me. I never thought about learning how to sail but I thought it would be interesting,” she said. “He can help anyone in the world find their destinations.”
For students who cannot afford his $1,600 consulting fee, Mr. Gilpin has created a Web site, www.whereyouheaded.com, where subscribers can search Time-Out’s database for $50.
It lists research opportunities for productive summers, alternative education opportunities and provides information to help students choose the best college for them.
For the middle- and lower-income students who want to defer college studies, there are other programs. AmeriCorps, a government volunteer-service program for 18- to-24-year-olds, engaged more than 40,000 participants in 2000, almost six times as many as a decade ago. Volunteers serve as teachers or tutors in poor communities and get room and board and money for college.
Still others use their gap months or years for spiritual pursuits. Shelby Ferrin, a senior at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, took two years off to be a missionary in the Philippines, a common practice at the Mormon school.
“With this experience, I feel I am better prepared for life and I grew a lot as a person,” Mr. Ferrin said. “I taught in four or five cities in the northwest Philippines, I spent time and taught children how to speak English and learn about religion.”
Margaret May, from Durham, N.H., who graduated from Phillips Academy Andover prep school this last spring, is taking off a year to intern as speechwriter and study abroad.
Currently she is interning for Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani’s office in New York.
“I just had to write eulogies for the firemen the city lost,” she said. “I work downtown and it is still very sad around there.
“I definitely would recommend this experience to anyone. Getting my own paycheck, having to pay my own bills and making my own decisions is really exciting,” Miss May said. “I needed to look into other interests that undergraduate school couldn’t do for me.”
After Miss May’s internship is over in a few months, she will join the John Hall Pre-University course at Oxford University in England studying arts and language. This program is $8,000 for a nine-week experience. Next fall, she starts engineering studies at Boston University.
Specialist Timothy McGrail from Columbia, Md., joined the Army National Guard after he graduated high school in 1997.
“I wasn’t ready for college yet,” he said. “I grew up with the military and I was looking for something different, something physical rather than sitting in a classroom.
“This is good training, I am a qualified expert in five weapons and the Army National Guard now pays up to $60,000 for college.” says Mr. McGrail.
“In the summer of 2000 I went to Germany for three weeks to train soldiers who were deploying to Kuwait or Kosovo. We all went through extensive training. My troops and I were left in the woods for three or four days to train for war. We would go through different scenarios; it was kind of like paintball, but instead of paint we used lasers.”
He started his first year of college this semester at Howard Community College in Columbia but was unable to finish the semester because of the terrorist attacks. Since Sept. 11, he has been stationed at Baltimore-Washington International Airport.
“The Army National Guard is to protect our nation’s land and that is what we are doing,” he said.
Freshman Leah Rogers at Tufts University in Medford, Mass., joined a Global Routes Navajo Nation college semester program last year. She taught and volunteered at the Bureau of Indian Affairs-run boarding school in Dzilth-Na-O-Dith-Hle in northwestern New Mexico.
“I tutored and helped with evening counseling sessions,” she said. “One night a week, we would go to the home of a family or local artisans for lessons in silversmithing, beading or ceramics.”
She also took an intensive Spanish program at Institute for Central American Development Studies in Costa Rica last spring. She lived with a large host family for two months in a small house a 20-minute walk from the language school.
“My own room was guaranteed but I got my own bathroom and that was pure luck,” she said. “We were about half an hour drive from a local grocery store and an hour from the nearest hospital.
“The entire year was such an incredible experience and it changed me so much, I felt this amazingly empowering sense of freedom. I really was able to make my own choices, I could hike up a volcano, swim in a pool of a waterfall or spend an entire day reading in a hammock if I wanted to. It was really liberating and now I feel I am going into college with the maturity to be able to handle freedom.”

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