'Gap Year' Allows Young Adults to Do Something a Bit Different Before Going to College

Setembro 14, 2011

By Deborah Hirsch, Jewish Exponent
As students head back to the books this fall, Cheltenham High School graduate Jake Aronson will fly to Israel to work on a kibbutz, study Hebrew and volunteer with 90 other Jewish young adults participating in the Conservative movement's Nativ leadership program.
 
Even though the majority of college-bound Americans still go straight from high school to higher education, a growing number are joining Aronson in taking a gap year to do something a little different first.
 
Gap years have been a cultural norm in England for decades, but only recently caught on in the United States as colleges began promoting them as a way to gain perspective and life experience.
 
Teenlife.com lists almost 300 structured programs; the Center for Interim Programs, a private counseling firm in Princeton, N.J., counts more than 6,000.
 
Jewish agencies have jumped on the trend, too. While Orthodox students have long been taking a year or two before college to study at a yeshiva, there are now about 30 programs in Israel catering to kids from all affiliations. That's at least five times as many as when Masa Israel Journey, a clearinghouse for Jewish study-abroad experiences, was established in 2004, said Avi Rubel, director of North American operations.
 
According to Masa, 2,481 young adults participated in a non-yeshiva Jewish gap year program in 2010-2011. That's up from 1,500 in the agency's first year.
 
The increasing difficulty of getting into top-tier schools might have something to do with the upswing. Rubel said he's heard from students who took gap years when they didn't get into their first-choice school and reapplied while abroad, hoping the school would recognize how much more they could bring to the classroom after their travels.
 
Masa has also been doing its part to generate interest. For the past four years, it has even flown groups of college advisors on all-expenses-paid trips to visit the Israeli programs.
 
From Rubel's perspective, it's a prime opportunity to reach out to unaffiliated young adults in hopes of building Jewish identity. For that reason, he continued, Masa has pushed for Israel-based programs to serve more diverse interests such as art, politics and environmentalism. Even decades-old Zionist education programs, like Young Judaea's Year Course, have added tracks focusing on medicine, business, cooking, traveling and other specialties.
 
"If we have the right content to offer," Rubel said, "then people are interested." ...
 
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