How do we get high school kids more excited about college and inspire our next generation of leaders? The answer may be to kick our graduating seniors out of the country for a year.
Okay, so it’s not exactly as harsh as that sounds, but Tufts University is getting attention for encouraging their incoming students to do something that Europeans have been doing for ages — taking a year off to travel before starting college (aka, a gap  year). According to the Associated Press, Tuft’s gap year program will pay for housing, airfare and even visa fees, which can add up to $30,000 or more.
If it sounds like Tufts is sponsoring 18-year-olds to get drunk abroad, it’s important to note that isn’t the case. Rather, the Tufts program — which is called Tufts 1+4 — is actually a structured, full-time, national or international volunteer service with the aim of grooming a new generation of civic leaders. “The idea behind the program is to give incoming students a transformational experience that will inform the next four years of their education,” says Tufts dean Alan D. Solomont. Tufts is joining the list of other elite universities such as Princeton and Harvard that also have gap year programs.
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Many high school grads feel burned out after being in school for most of their lives, which is why many take a gap year. In their report, the AP cites the American Gap Year Association which found that 40,000 high school grads took time off before starting college in 2013. But here’s why this year-long break is a good idea: “Students who take a gap year are 90 percent likely to return to university within one year: In essence, gap year graduates are more likely to attend university than their peers,” the organization writes.
The key is to use the year off constructively. Gap years can be beneficial if it allows a student to work in a certain industry they are passionate about. Just imagine the real-world experiences a prospective biology student would glean if he or she volunteered at a nature conversation site — that would certainly open his or her eyes much more to their subject than reading about it from a textbook or from a stuffy classroom lecture. Additionally, after a gap year, these students return to the classroom with a new focus and enthusiasm to hit the books, are more likely to have better GPAs, get more involved with campus life, and are more likely to graduate in four years.
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The American Gap Year Association found that gap year kids have greater global awareness, foreign language skills, self-confidence, and (gasp!) even maturity from living abroad. So whether or not other colleges follow Tuft’s footsteps, we think it sounds like a good way to cut down the number of new college students spending freshman year in an alcoholic stupor.