The “gap year”—the period of time during which high school graduates take a break from their formal studies before beginning college—is common outside the United States but something of a rarity here. Alexis Rider, a New Zealander pursuing a master’s at The New School for Social Research, is a typical case. “I didn’t know what I wanted to study when I finished high school, so I took a year off to work, ski, and travel in France,” she explains. Whether spent preparing for college entrance exams, traveling, volunteering, interning, or working, gap years are growing in popularity among graduating high school students. Many young people and college administrators consider the gap year important to an individual’s academic and personal development. Now the gap year is coming to The New School.
Beginning fall 2012, Eugene Lang College The New School for Liberal Arts is partnering with the educational nonprofit Global Citizen Year, tweaking the gap year model to offer students a full year of college credit while they spend a year abroad. “The program offers incoming freshmen the opportunity to grow—on intellectual, civic, global, and personal levels—as they would in a gap year but without sacrificing a year of their college education,” says Lang dean Stephanie Browner, who is designing part of the program’s curriculum. “We think it is especially well suited to the kind of focused and self-directed students who come to Lang.”
Students participate in Global Citizen Year’s intensive ten-month service learning and leadership program, receiving training and mentorship through individualized apprenticeships with local partners and Global Citizen Year staff. In the 2012–2013 academic year, students can work in Senegal, Brazil, or Ecuador as part of the program. While abroad, students are enrolled at Lang, completing assignments designed by New School faculty to enhance their experience. When they return, students take a course that allows them to reflect on what they learned during their time away.
Global Citizen Year was founded by Harvard Business School graduate Abigail Falik in 2009. She presented the idea at Harvard Business School’s 2008 Pitch for Change competition, where students make elevator pitches for ventures designed to have a significant social impact. Falik hopes that one day a global gap year will be the norm, rather than the exception, for American high school graduates. Since its pilot program in the 2009–2010 academic year, Global Citizen Year has sent more than a hundred students abroad. This partnership is their first with an institution of higher education.
“This program will help students turbocharge their next few years of college,” says Falik. “We hope it will set an example for other like-minded schools.”