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Deferring admission becoming more popular, well regarded

Published: Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Updated: Sunday, August 17, 2008 12:08

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Timothy Straub/Tufts Daily

Tufts offers its accepted students the option to defer admission for a year. Once seen as detrimental to educational progression, the gap year is becoming a respected and encouraged option for many students.


This article is the first in a two-part series examining students who opt to defer admission to college to take a year off. The first installment will examine the increasing popularity of the "gap year;" the second will take a look at the personal experiences of students who have taken a year off before college.

If you are a current college student who has attended school consecutively since preschool, you conceivably have spent more than three quarters of your life as a student.

For some, the summer between high school and college is hardly enough of a break, especially if that time is consumed by menial labor and pre-college stress. Worn out by twelve or more years of straight schooling, many students are finding that summer isn't a substantial enough transition into their first year of college and are taking a year off.

When Princeton University recently announced a program that will eventually require 10 percent of its incoming class to defer college acceptances for a year, it took a vocal opinion on the gap year and helped to solidify a growingly positive outlook on the gap year by universities.

The Council on International and Educational Exchange (CIEE), a popular study-abroad program for high school and college students, also organizes an array of gap-year programs for recent high school grads that often include community service. Laura Lyons, Director of Gap Year Programs for CIEE explained that Princeton is not the only school that encourages students to defer their enrollment and take a gap year.

"When we started the CIEE gap-year program, we surveyed the members of our academic consortium - which includes over 300 colleges and universities - and there was an overwhelming willingness to grant students deferred enrollment," Lyons said. "With the direction that some college campuses are giving young people, you're going to start to see more schools recognizing the value of a gap year."

In making the gap year a more viable option, American schools may be following in the footsteps of many schools in Europe that have encouraged students to take time off before college.

"Although taking a year off between high school and college is very typical in some of the European countries ... it is becoming a bigger trend than I would've dreamed here in America," said Nikki Danos, a college counselor for The Windward School, a Los Angeles prep school.

Danos predicts that the gap-year option will likely become a more prevalent choice for students in the future.

"At Windward, it isn't currently common for students to take advantage of the gap-year option, but it's definitely a topic that's come up more so with students recently," Danos said. "Within the next couple of years, I anticipate the gap year will become much more common."

Danos said that decisions to defer admissions are being viewed in a dramatically different light by colleges themselves.

"Most colleges, including the top-tier universities, are very receptive to admitted students' decision to defer," Danos said. "However, it's definitely more accepted, and even encouraged [among colleges] if a student has some sort of plan for their gap year."

Although it is most common for students to apply with their graduating class and then defer a year once accepted to their college of choice, some students who didn't get into the school of their dreams the first time around will frequently take a year off and re-apply the following winter.

This option is common among student athletes, for whom there will often be the option to either take a post-graduate high school year, or time off in general, in order to gain a spot on a college team when one couldn't originally be afforded.

"I had a friend in high school who wanted to play water polo in college. She applied to Harvard, and the coach said that he couldn't offer her a spot on the current team, but that he could do so a year later," freshman David Meyer said. "She is spending her current [gap year] backpacking through Europe, and plans to attend Harvard next fall."

Aside from the more obvious options of travel and work opportunities, Danos added that some high schools are even helping their students find entire programs devoted to prospective post-high school plans.

Another Los Angeles college preparatory high school, Harvard-Westlake, recently hosted a "Gap Year Fair," where gap-year representatives from upwards of ten different programs assembled to provide interested students with information about community service projects, language immersion home-stays and internship programs that students could take advantage of during their year off.

Holly Bull, president of the Center for Interim Programs, the oldest gap year consulting program in the United States, explained that the increased interest in the gap-year options has occurred for several reasons.

"For one, there are simply more program options available, which means more students must be showing interest," Bull said. "There's also the rise of things like gap-year fairs, which you would have never heard of a couple of years ago. Lastly, the sheer number of articles that have been written about the gap year has increased - there are even a number of books devoted to the topic."

Lauren Clark (LA '06), one of Bull's clients, applied to Tufts during her gap year, rather than doing so as a senior and then deferring admission. As a junior at Walt Whitman High School in Bethesda, Md., Clark realized that she wasn't ready to spend the time and energy to carry out the college application process the following year.

"Most people apply to college with their graduating high school class, and then defer a year, which I think is a safer option, because you have the momentum of your peer group," Clark said. "However, that wasn't going to work for me. I made it very clear that senior year I wanted to focus on my grades and classes, so I made the choice to put the process off a year."

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