Jan 26 2015
A recently retired professor once told me that over his forty-year career he's watched students regress one year each decade: today's seniors are at an intellectual level of the freshmen of his early years of teaching. I have no way of evaluating that assertion, but there are a fair number of faculty members who believe that a gap year would do students a world of good. Perhaps a year of decompression from the admissions process and time spent building confidence would give students the means to resist some of the baser group temptations that seem to mark freshman year.
Princeton has put this idea into action with its Bridge Year Program: nine months of overseas public service work. This year 35 soon-to-be-Tigers will spend their time on Princeton's dime in Brazil, China, India, Peru and Senegal.
Good for Princeton for insisting on a serious commitment here -- not just edu-tourism. Nine months is an honest invesment, as one undergrad noted:
I remember that the first time we told local shopkeepers and community members that we were staying for nine months, they thought we had misspoken in our broken Hindi. "You mean nine days or nine weeks," they'd reply. It was beautiful to watch them realize over the course of our stay that we weren't just tourists passing through, but students and volunteers who cared about forming lasting relationships in our new home.
The College might consider such an idea.
Addendum: Harvard has long had a curious feature called the "Z-list," which the Crimson defines as follows:
Z-list, that elusive list that comes after the waitlist. A handful of students will be plucked from uncertainty and receive an offer of admission deferred. If they agree to take a gap year, Harvard guarantees a place for them next time. For 2018 applicants, that would mean a spot in the Class of 2019.
Harvard takes 20-50 people off the Z-list, and the Crimson notes that Brown has a similar program which averages about 26 admits each year.
Addendum: A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, when I was an undergrad, B-schools accepted most incoming students straight out of college. That practice is a rare thing today -- for good reason: back in the day, newly minted MBA had a reputation for being long on arrogance and short on experience and wisdom. Should undergraduate education move in this direction, too?