Princeton considers gap year abroad for public service

While their fellow admits are registering for the first semester of courses come September,, some Princeton University freshmen-to-be in the class of 2013 could be on a plane to Mozambique or Mongolia.

Princeton announced Monday that it has appointed a working group to begin exploring options for a new program that would allow undergraduates to complete a year of community service abroad before their freshman year. The program, which would cost students nothing, would accept approximately 10 percent of the incoming freshman class, or about 100 students.

While Yale administrators said a program like Princeton’s would provide a rewarding international experience for students, they said they have no plans at the moment to implement something similar.

In a statement released Monday, Princeton President Shirley Tilghman said the “bridge-year” program would help incoming freshmen gain an international perspective, recuperate from the stresses of high school and let Princeton give back to the global community.

“A new bridge-year program would help our students thrive as citizens and leaders in that world, and increase their ability to appreciate all of the elements of a Princeton education,” Tilghman said in the press release.

Monday’s announcement comes on the heels of October’s “Princeton in the World” initiative, a series of action plans drawn up by school administrators designed to encourage the university to interact with the international community. Among the proposals were the internationalization of the curriculum and expanded research opportunities.

Yale Dean of Undergraduate Admissions Jeff Brenzel said he found the program intriguing. He said the University will watch its development with interest.

“I expect to continue being encouraging to our admitted students to consider a gap-year experience on their own before matriculation,” Brenzel said. “But we do not have any plans in the works to do something similar.”

If approved, Princeton’s program would be need-blind, — all participating students would be offered free “tuition,” — although there is no academic component to the program, according to the press release. Students’ activities during the program would be strictly limited to public service, which administrators hope will help them avoid the burnout effect experienced by some college freshmen after rigorous high-school careers, Princeton spokeswoman Cass Cliatt said.

Cliatt said it is unclear at this point which countries students could travel to, which projects students would participate in or whether they would complete service in groups or individually. What is clear is that students would not receive any academic credit and would enter Princeton with the next class of freshmen, she said.

Yale Associate Dean of International Affairs Jane Edwards said a gap year can be valuable for some students, and one way to make that year rewarding is to tie it to public service. She said taking a year off to perform community service abroad before college would most likely not deter students from choosing to pursue academic work in a foreign country later in their college careers — in fact, it might encourage them to study abroad later, she said.

But Edwards said the guidance needs of pre-college students going abroad are very different from those of students going overseas in the midst of their college careers.

“Advising is very important, and it is harder to establish strong advising relationships with students not yet on campus,” Edwards said. “But there is no doubt in my mind that students who benefit from this program will have an exceptional contribution to make to the Princeton community.”

Peggy Liu ’11 expressed concern that the year-long delay in matriculation would deter students from participating. She said many high-school seniors would not want to matriculate with a class that is a year younger and would not want to wait five years to graduate from college after high school.

She said she fears a service program abroad would lack the support system available to students on campus.

“When you’re entering Yale as a freshman, everyone in your class is going through the same thing — they all have to deal with living away from home,” she said. “If you’re in another country, you don’t have that camaraderie and you might feel like you are the only one going through that separation anxiety.”

But Christine Saffold ’11 said she would have applied for the program if it had been implemented at Yale before she matriculated. She said such a program would give students an international experience unlike anything they could learn in a classroom.

Cliatt said Princeton’s program could be implemented as early as 2009, meaning accepted members of the class of 2013 would defer their matriculation.

Comments

  • Hieronymus

    Fantastic program! I have for years supported this notion at the NATIONAL level: senior year in high school can be such waste; better to accelerate the gifted and then spend the "senior" year in some sort of service, either military or civilian, and THEN matriculating at college.

    Bravo, Princeton, for doing what our nation will NEVER do!

  • Anonymous

    This is incredible. I wish Yale would consider spending some of the $600 million that's currently flagged for a misguided expansion on something more innovative such as this. Yale needs to stop playing catch-up and to get the courage to be the first to do something.