Sixty degrees. Believe it or not, that’s about how hot it got outside yesterday. And while many of us saw it as a sign to donne our flip-flops and sunglasses, it was also a reminder that summer is almost here. To some, summer brings an opportunity to gain experience or make money – and for the lucky few, both. But for many, summer is the vague reminder that we have increasingly less time to figure out what the hell we’re doing with our life.
I’m two weeks away from my senior year – that means better football seats, class schedules and insights into how things work here. But I’m also that much closer to graduation, and my future is still as blurry as the blackboard when I forget to wear my glasses. I have a sense of my direction, but my time sitting in classrooms has done little to bring that picture into focus. How can I choose a path without hands-on experience?
Sure, there are summer internships, if you can get your hands on one of those golden tickets. And even if you tried a different career path every summer, that’s only three four-month spurts of familiarity. Is that enough?
What if instead of jumping into the four-year college track, I had taken a year off? Well, my parents would have had a convulsing fit or maybe a moderately severe heart attack. The four-year plan is equivalent to success in our society, and veering from that model is enough to induce nightmares among most parents.
Yet, a few months ago, Princeton University introduced just that idea: a pre-college gap-year program. The proposed program would send about ten percent of the school’s incoming students to volunteer abroad. These students wouldn’t have to pay tuition for this extra year, but they would be eligible for financial assistance. It was described by Princeton’s president Shirley Tilghman as “a year to regroup.”
There are many private programs like this that students could sign up to take. For example, the Council on International Educational Exchange already helps college-bound students find volunteer work or teaching jobs around the world. But Princeton’s program will be the first of its kind. Hopefully, it will spark a new trend among higher education.
Many will argue that such a program will deter students from returning to college. Others will contend that high school graduates are not mature enough to be sent off for a year before college. And these people might be right.
But these hypothetical concerns are outweighed by the benefits of such a program. What if a year really does give students the ability to reflect on their opportunities, or to find opportunities in the first place? Taking time to examine the world and your place in it seems a bit more grounding than jumping into a college campus where academic rigor short-changes the opportunity to explore and experiment.
Pushed into an unbroken educational track, students are less likely to be prepared for jobs and real-world situations after college. With so many requirements to fulfill, only two years to pick a concentration and so little time to think and rethink goals, coming into college on a set track is practically a requirement now. Those who wander their way through different programs and activities just aren’t specialized enough for employers anymore.
Companies are heralding the need for experience. Isn’t that why we all pander to their résumé-building requests and spend ridiculous amounts of time trying to find an internship? There is no doubt that putting an extra year of volunteering abroad before college on your résumé would constitute a well-rounding experience.
I know that I’m driven in part by nostalgia. Now, after three years in college, I say that if the University had offered me the opportunity to volunteer abroad, I would have taken it. But, convincing myself and my parents in this imagined scenario is a lot easier than it would have been in real life. Would have I struggled to return to college? Would have I have any better idea of my future after graduation?
The point, however, is not that I would have struggled with these questions. The point is that Princeton is pushing students to ask these questions and take this opportunity into greater consideration. There are several ways to find out what you want to do in the “real world,” and maybe taking a year off would help.
Kate Peabody is an LSA junior and a Daily associate editorial page editor.