Fulfillment in the `gap year'

Experience: More students are deferring college for a year to work or take internships - and learn what they want from school, and life.

August 26, 2002|By Linda Linley | Linda Linley,SUN STAFF

Just one year out of high school, Evan Taubenfeld is living his dream, playing lead guitar in the band for teen pop-rock singer Avril Lavigne.

As his friends and classmates from McDonogh School's Class of 2001 prepare to return to campuses, Taubenfeld, 19, has deferred going to college for the second consecutive year. He was accepted at the Berklee College of Music in Boston, but he thinks that playing in the band "is like going to rock 'n' roll college."

"I get paid to perform and am living a fun life right now," Taubenfeld said. "I wouldn't trade it for anything."

Taubenfeld, who visits his parents in Pikesville when he's not touring, said he plans to go to college to learn the business side of the music industry, but right now he is getting practical experience performing with the band.

His decision to delay a formal education is still the exception among college graduates, most of whom follow the traditional road to college.

College admissions directors and education experts said there has been a slight increase in the number of requests by high school graduates to take off a year before heading to college. Some of these experts believe taking that time away from school - known as a "gap year" - is good for teen-agers unsure of their career plans.

Although there are no statistics on students seeking deferrals, college admissions directors believe that most are private-school graduates. These students want to learn differently after sitting in classes for 12 years and, in some cases, want to get a taste of the careers they're thinking of pursuing.

"More students should be taking the year [between high school and college] because it is a time for them to grow and learn," said Leigh Martin Lowe, director of college counseling at Roland Park Country School in North Baltimore.

Students who opt for community service, internships or travel before continuing their formal education take what Lowe considers a more "courageous, adventurous and difficult path." She said the students seem to appreciate college more after taking a year off.

"In the admissions world, we like the idea," said John F. Latting, director of undergraduate admissions at the Johns Hopkins University. "We applaud it and almost always say yes when a student asks for a deferral. More students should be doing this because we find they are more prepared when they come to college."

He said that of this year's incoming freshman class of 1,000, 20 students have received deferrals. Last year, 12 students deferred.

At the University of Maryland, College Park, Shannon Gundy, associate director of undergraduate admissions, said the university has granted 50 deferrals this year in an incoming freshman class of 3,900, an increase over last year, when it granted about 40.

"We require the students asking for a deferral to detail what they are going to do," Gundy said. "We have students going to study in Israel. Most of the others are doing some sort of service learning activity. The students are being more thoughtful about what they want to do."

The time between high school and college is the time for teen-agers to explore areas they have never experienced before, said Cornelius Bull, founder and president of the Center for Interim Programs, a for-profit counseling service in Cambridge, Mass., and Princeton, N.J., for students and others who want to take a year off or explore other areas of interest. The center helps clients find internships, volunteer work, and cultural and academic study programs.

"They need options," Bull said. "No one is ready for college at the age of 18."

Tasha Eccles, who lives in Federal Hill, said she has been thinking about taking off the year between high school and college since she was in 10th grade at Bryn Mawr School in North Baltimore. She knew that she wanted to do some sort of community service, so she asked for and received a deferment from Yale University in New Haven, Conn.

"I'm not ready to go to college. So it makes sense for me to do this," said Eccles, 17, who will be an intern in the fall at the Annie E. Casey Foundation, a charitable organization in Baltimore that works to improve the lives of underprivileged children.

Peter Backof, 18, of Timonium decided to join AmeriCorps, a national service program, before graduating in June from McDonogh in Owings Mills. "There is an appeal to having that extra year," he said. "I am trying to get more experience, more exposure to life. AmeriCorps seemed like a good fit for me."

Backof will leave Oct. 6 for Sacramento, Calif., where he will be based for the next 10 months. He said he could be asked to do anything from providing disaster relief to tutoring children.

"I will be 20 years old when I am a freshman [at the University of Virginia], but I think it will be more meaningful to me then."

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