Students decide to take a gap year - Philadelphia News

WEST PHILADELPHIA - September 25, 2008 Senior year Paige Knowles knew something was wrong.

"My friends would bring in their letters and say, 'hey, I got into this school,' and I would be like, 'yeah, me, too, but I'm not really that pumped about it," Paige said.

Instead the Wayne teenager decided to take a "gap year," a year off between high school and college. She joined the volunteer corp of City Year, renovating a school and teaching in a poor Philadelphia neighborhood.

At first, her parents were not happy with her plan.

'They looked at me with blank faces and they said, 'are you crazy?'" Paige said.

Paige is spending a second year at City Year as a team leader. St. Joseph's University, where she'll start next fall, gave her their blessing and something more.

"They gave me a scholarship and part of that was do to City Year," Paige said.

A gap year, where students volunteer, travel, or work before heading to college, has long been popular in Europe. While there are not hard numbers, all indications are the trend is catching fire here.

In fact, colleges like Harvard and Princeton now encourage gap years and have created programs to help kids make the most of it. Swarthmore College dean of admissions Jim Bock is also a fan.

"I think if they take a year off and reflect, they come to the college a year wiser and a year smarter, ready to do some serious work," Dean Bock said.

A lot of parents are afraid if they push their kids straight into college, they'll never go. But consider this: A third of kids who go right to college drop out after freshman year, and another third take more than four years to get their degree.

A gap year can also give a kid a second shot, reapplying to schools as a more attractive applicant. Paige says she's found her calling, early childhood education. And now, next fall at St. Joe's, feels right.

"I have a set major, I know what I'm going to do, I am determined to accomplish my goals," Paige said.

No wonder that blank look on her parents' faces has been replaced with pride.

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