- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 28, 2006

Sally Lanar of Takoma Park has been accepted into college, but she isn’t going — at least not for another year. The 18-year-old senior at Montgomery Blair High School in Silver Spring has decided to travel the world before continuing her education.

On June 18, she will fly to Manley, Australia, where she will stay until the end of September, working in a molecular biology lab. At the beginning of October, she will journey to Shanghai and teach English with New York City-based Projects Abroad. At the beginning of February, she will travel to Lyon, France, to volunteer with Handicap International.

In September 2007, she will start her freshman year at the University of Chicago. When she accepted the school’s admission offer, she also sent a letter requesting to defer entry for a year, and her request was approved.

“Some students might take a year off to earn money in the local area, but I’m the only person I know that is doing something as extensive,” Miss Lanar says. “It’s an option that students should consider. They might not know that they have the alternatives. Those alternatives are really excellent for some people.”

Taking a “gap year” between high school and college is a popular option in Europe. Many American students also have decided to take some time off before hitting the books at a university. Of the students who were undergraduates during the 2003-04 school year, 12.3 percent had delayed their entry into postsecondary education for one year, while 2.2 percent delayed their entry for more than one year, according to the National Center for Education Statistics in Northwest, a part of the U.S. Department of Education.

Although Rebecca Benzion, 18, of Gaithersburg, has been accepted at Boston University, she won’t be attending the school until fall 2007, she says. She is going to be an exchange student in Turkey through the Coudersport Rotary Club in Coudersport, Pa.

She says she is excited about living in another culture; her goal is to learn the language. She is currently a senior at Col. Zadok Magruder High School in Rockville.

“I will have much broader horizons,” Miss Benzion says. “I think I will understand people coming from different places better and be able to relate to them.”

Sometimes a year away from the pressure-cooker of school is what students need before attending a university, says Lynette McCracken, a guidance counselor at Yorktown High School in Arlington.

“They can go to college a little bit fresher,” Ms. McCracken says. “It gives them some real-world experience, so they can have a little better direction in college, if they don’t know what they want to study.”

However, students should choose to spend their time wisely, not, for example, working at a fast-food restaurant, she says. Their activities instead should complement their long-term college plan.

“It has to be something meaningful,” Ms. McCracken says. “They have to look at how it’s going to fit with college.”

Many parents are concerned that if their children take a year off, they will never make it to college, she says.

If a child changes his or her mind after a year off, Elin Quigley of Garrett Park, says she considers it a win-win situation, especially when the price tag for college averages $200,000. She says she wants to give her children the opportunity to make the best decisions about their futures.

One of her sons, Dan Andrews, 19, graduated from Walter Johnson High School in Bethesda in June 2005. Although he has been accepted at Denison University in Granville, Ohio, he is interning at Stanislaus National Forest in California.

Before that, he worked as a lifeguard. He also volunteered with the American Hiking Society in California.

He trained with the American Red Cross and went to Louisiana to help victims of Hurricane Katrina. He volunteered with Habitat for Humanity in the District. He also went to Mexico with Volunteers for Peace, an international student group based in Belmont, Vt.

“If he doesn’t want to go to Denison anymore, maybe he will have a new direction,” Ms. Quigley says. “I don’t think time is of the essence. Does it really matter if he graduates at 20, 21 or 22?”

In 2005, her other son, Steven Andrews, 24, graduated from Princeton University. Before going to graduate school, he will intern in Sudan and Ethiopia with the International Rescue Committee based in New York City.

Although Mr. Andrews is unsure where he will attend graduate school, he plans to go to China with the Princeton in Asia program.

Taking a year off can make a student more well-rounded, says Lauren DalBello, 19, of Takoma Park. She is a 2004 graduate of Montgomery Blair High School in Silver Spring. She studied at Neuchatel Junior College in Neuchatel, Switzerland, from 2004 to 2005 before attending McGill University in Montreal.

While in Europe, she visited Britain, Germany, Austria, the Netherlands, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Spain and the Czech Republic. She even visited Thailand during Christmas break, which happened to be during the deadly tsunami in December 2004.

“With any travel experience, there is no way you can’t grow as a person,” Miss DalBello says. “You can’t stay the same way you were before traveling. It prepared me for life and being a member of a global community.”

Some students choose to do mission work with their church. Carlina Ichijo, 17, of Gaithersburg, a senior at Damascus High School in Damascus, plans on completing service projects and fundraising with Washington Family Church in Northwest. Most of her time will be spent in Germany and France.

She has been accepted at the University of Bridgeport in Connecticut.

“I wanted to take a year off so I could figure out my career and what I want to do in life in general,” Carlina says. “I hope to be more independent and not depend on my parents so much.”

Spending time outside the United States leads a person to reflect on why the country is unique, says Katelyn Kyser, 19, a freshman at James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Va.

She is a 2004 graduate of Yorktown High School in Arlington. From July 2004 to June 2005, she went to Germany with the Congress-Bundestag Youth Exchange Program.

“It made me stop and think why we have chosen to do things the way we have,” Miss Kyser says. “I learned that there is more than one way to do something correctly.”

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