What struck me about the article is how the gap year seems, frankly, like a privilege of the affluent, and that was just after reading the introduction:
Like many motivated, focused high-school students, Lillian Kivel had worked hard academically and in community service in hopes that her efforts would win her acceptance into a good college. It did. Trouble was, Ms. Kivel's focus was much less clear when she had to decide which college to attend -- the Boston-area senior had applied to 38 schools because her interests were so varied.Ms. Kivel's example is probably pretty typical for ambitious and enterprising middle class kids. I would expect my oldest son, who is now in 7th grade, to be seeking counseling on his college choices when he gets to that point, not the least of which from myself.
At the suggestion of friends, Ms. Kivel decided to take a gap year -- a year outside of academia between high-school graduation and college matriculation. It wasn't rest and relaxation that Ms. Kivel sought, but rather an opportunity to gain life experience and focus her goals. Gappers, as they're called, typically feel that taking a year off will give them a head start in college -- and life. "I [have] the opportunity to explore my interests, like medicine and China, outside the classroom," she says.
Ms. Kivel eventually decided to attend Harvard College, but deferred entrance until fall 2009. Ms. Kivel lived at home this fall and interned at the Boston branch of Partners of Health, a global health outreach nonprofit. She's also serving as a legislative aide in the Massachusetts Statehouse. And she's auditing at anthropology class at Harvard.
To fill her spring months, Ms. Kivel turned to gap-year consultant Holly Bull, president of Interim Programs, to help her sift through more than 100 different programs in China. Ms. Kivel will live with a host family in Shanghai, study Chinese language, history and culture in a classroom setting, and teach English to children. "I have gained so much by ... becoming more responsible and independent [and] exploring my interests," Ms. Kivel says.
But actually I thought of my students at my college. Community college is so diverse, economically as well as ethnically. The idea of being accepted to an elite East Coast university, and have the chance to postpone matriculation for a year for the opportunity to travel to China, is an extreme luxury at minumum for the majority of students who attend my classes.
Ms. Kivel is expected to spend $12,000 to fund the Shanghai semester, which she'll finance from her earnings and from her parents' contributions. The article notes that financial aid and scholarships are available for gap year opportunities, but the process of research and applying for these resources is "daunting." That alone would be an impediment to the typical student body constituency of community colleges. Just reading a class schedule and navigating the college bureaucracy has been identified as a barrier to advancement at the two-year level, and research has shown, in fact, that proprietary colleges like the University of Phoenix have a better record of providing resources and tracking to keep kids on pace toward educational goals.
In any case, the gap year sounds likes a great opportunity for kids to spread their wings a bit before hitting the halls of the university. As always, I'm just thinking about how we can shift the culture among the disadvantaged (kids and parents) so they'll be able to pursue opportunities like this as well (and more "social spending" is not necessarily the answer).