Princeton hopes to help students with a brand new ‘bridge’ year program

By U-Wire - Staff Editorial

Recently, Princeton University proposed the creation of a “bridge year” program, in which admitted students could participate in a year of university-subsidized service in a foreign country prior to beginning their freshman year. The Daily commends Princeton’s initiative and recommends instituting a similar program to complement Stanford’s study abroad programs.

Many students already take a “gap year,” a year between high school and college spent working, traveling or doing community service. Holly Bull, president of the Center for Interim Programs, a support service that aids students in planning gap years, discussed the merits of taking such a year in a 2006 article in The Chronicle of Higher Education. Bull called the gap year “a jewel of a period of time for students to creatively step away from the lock-step path of high school to college to graduate school or job.”

Princeton is attempting to further encourage the gap year by formally institutionalizing it. The purpose of the university’s plan for a so-named “bridge year,” which would emphasize community service, would be many-fold. It would offer a year away from academic studies, promote a global outlook, help students become more acutely aware of global disparities and allow students to learn first-hand about the issues facing those less fortunate around the world.

Princeton plans to offer free tuition to students during their gap year. Financial assistance, combined with logistical aid in planning the year, will make taking a bridge year an accessible and practical option for interested students.

Stanford already recognizes the value in taking time off for study, work, religious, health and other reasons – students are allowed to take leaves of absence for a cumulative total of two years. Thus, Stanford already supports students who take years off for uninstitutionalized personal exploration; encouraging students to take a gap year could further enhance this self-exploration that the university encourages.

Working to improve the world is a core value for many Stanford students, and a service year would broaden many students’ understanding of the world as they prepare to immerse themselves in their studies, and the Stanford Bubble, for the next four years. The Bing Overseas Study Program (BOSP) offers students a wide variety of countries in which to study, but the advantages of experiencing another culture and gaining an international perspective could be even greater when coupled with a service element. Additionally, living in one country for an entire year, as opposed to a few months, would help students thoroughly learn its foreign language and culture.

The Daily by no means wishes to denigrate the value of studying abroad – BOSP is an essential part of the Stanford experience. A wider selection of study and service abroad programs, however, would allow students different opportunities and experiences. Both the university and its students would greatly benefit from supplementing its existing overseas study opportunities with a Stanford-sponsored, service-oriented bridge year option.