University introduces gap-year plan for new admits
Seeking to bolster international opportunities for students, the University will announce a “bridge year” program today that would allow incoming freshmen to defer matriculation and spend a year doing community service in a foreign country.
The program, which will form part of the “Princeton in the World” initiative, grew from conversations between President Tilghman and Provost Christopher Eisgruber ’83 about the fact that most students do not participate in study abroad programs until later in their academic careers, Tilghman said in an interview last night.
The program is intended to increase students’ exposure to the rest of the world earlier in their Princeton careers.
“The tremendous impact that spending some time outside of the United States has on Princeton students ... [is] something that was really only affecting [their] senior year,” Tilghman explained.
One of the goals of the proposed program would be to give recent high school graduates time away from academic pressures and instead give them the opportunity to focus on international service, in conjunction with the University’s commitment to the students in the “service of all nations,” according to a University statement.
The purpose of the bridge program would not be “study abroad, but service abroad,” said Sandra Bermann, head of the working group that is currently planning the program and chair of the comparative literature department. “Students would be expected to engage in public service during their year abroad.”
Tilghman picked Bermann because her academic specialty makes her “by definition an internationalist,” Tilghman explained.
“We would expect students to take advantage of living in a different country and take advantage of the opportunity to improve their foreign language skills,” Tilghman said, though the program will not require students to demonstrate language proficiency during the application process.
Students would have the opportunity to participate in approved programs through partners connected to the University, such as Princeton-in-Asia, or propose service with other established organizations that meet the program’s criteria.
The University would provide a great deal of administrative aid to applicants, Tilghman explained. “I think it’s pretty daunting to think about doing this without logistical support from the University,” she said.
Though the proposal is still in the early stages of planning, the University’s goal is that the program be need-blind, enabling all applicants to participate, according to the statement.
Students who are not eligible for financial aid during their four years at the University may receive assistance for the gap year program.
“Families are looking to support four years at Princeton, they might not be looking to support a fifth year,” Tilghman explained.
“Something that will be very important to me is that students across a broad socioeconomic stratum of society ... participate in this program,” Tilghman said. “We want to make sure we’re not just choosing students that have a great and abiding interest in international service or have traveled abroad a great deal. If we put those criteria in place, we would have a skew in the income level of participants.”
One of the goals of the program is that participants, in addition to enriching campus life through their new experiences and perspectives, would encourage their peers to travel abroad. “There’s the hope that this will be an opportunity for students to come to Princeton with a new sense of maturity [and] mission,” Bermann said. “It will change the texture of campus life [and] make international service a more salient issue.”
Despite the program’s merits, Sami Yabroudi ’11 “would have considered it, but it would be a little awkward to skip a year and then everyone you know is a year ahead of you,” he said. “If it were at the end of the four years instead of the beginning, I might have done it,” he added.
Karolina Brook ’10, a member of the working committee, said that she would have loved to participate in this program before coming to campus. “The whole point of it is ‘Princeton in the Nation’s Service and in the Service of All Nations,’ ” Brook explained. “[The program] will give a lot of people the opportunity to travel and learn about other cultures before coming to campus.”
The working group, headed by Bermann and including 14 students, faculty and staff members, hopes to announce its conclusions about the program’s feasibility in early summer, according to the statement.