This past week, The New York Times released an article showcasing Princeton University’s decision to offer accepted students an opportunity to defer for a year to pursue social service work. Not only will this program be tuition-free, but the university will also provide need-based financial aid and offer a wide variety of organizations and destinations.
Princeton’s President Shirley M. Tilghman imagines that the program will offer students a chance to expand their global perspective while, “cleansing the palate of high school, giving them a year to regroup.” This endeavor attends to an increased popularity in high school grads taking a gap year before diving into college.
Melanie Armstrong, Program Specialist at Tufts University’s Office of Programs Abroad, thinks that this novel program is, “quite interesting, and very well could be a really successful initiative…I’m a big proponent of taking a break between high school and college, spending some time learning about oneself and the world outside of school.”
Regarding the idea of making this offering a University-sponsored program, Armstrong affirms, “If it is condoned and even encouraged by the university, it might seem like a more feasible and valid option for young people, (and might also allay parental fears that their children might be involved with a less structured and known organization).”
Allan E. Goodman, president of the Institute of International Education, claims that, “People are too young when they start college. This way, they would have a year to mature, and they can do something constructive.” However, what about the notion that these students are too young to pack their bags and conduct service work halfway around the world? Armstrong articulates, “from an administrative point of view, it seems like a big undertaking that might have a lot of risks. I do believe that 18 is quite young, and while some students are certainly mature enough to do their best to keep themselves safe, there are plenty who are not.”
Sue Atkins, Director of the Office of International & Exchange Study Programs at UMass Dartmouth, expressed similar hesitation toward the support system of these pre-frosh programs. She believes that entering students, “are very young and often it is not a good idea to introduce them to college life in an overseas context…Students need a lot of support in a US context and they don’t receive this during a freshman year program. They are not prepared to be successful during a study abroad.”
Armstrong also voiced concern that students may be tempted to continue their college deferral once exposed to the life-changing experiences of study abroad. Similar to how returning Seniors may feel “reverse culture shock”- that they are reverting from the independence they gained abroad back to campus life, Armstrong pronounces, “if a student does this before he or she is actually in the midst of their academic career…it seems that the possibility that they might end up staying abroad and not actually enrolling at Princeton is somewhat higher.”
Hopefully Princeton’s initiative will successfully address these concerns while achieving the goal of giving students an increased global outlook before setting foot on campus. Based on the program’s success, a yearlong service project abroad could be the new pre-orientation trend.