Grads enjoying the 'gap'

When Liz Edwards considered colleges during her senior year last year, she had several different options: She could have studied fashion design at the Art Institute of Portland, developed her photography skills at the Brooks Institute of Photography in Calif. or played soccer at a community college.

Instead, she chose to travel to New Zealand and do environmental volunteer work.

"I didn't want to rush into it," Edwards said. "It's such a career-oriented school, I didn't know if I wanted to go straight into that," she said about the Art Institute, her first choice.

Edwards is part of a growing number of students choosing to delay college for a year with a "gap year" used to work, volunteer or travel to gain some real world experience. Although there are no statistics available, Betty Pennington, who tracks senior class statistics at Ashland High School said there were 16 students taking a year off this year &

more than ever before.

"I really don't know why," she said. "It probably has more to do with these kids being kids who want to travel and have the means to travel."

Edwards and others who are taking time off see the year as more than just time off from school.

"I didn't want to just travel for the sake of traveling," Edwards said. "I wanted to do something worthwhile. A lot of adults have said that there's things you'll learn while you're there that you'll never learn in a classroom."

Soleil Rowan-Caneer, another recent AHS graduate, is taking a fifth year of high school coursework in Denmark as part of a Rotary exchange. She is paying for college herself, and wants to be sure of her major before she begins.

"I can't afford to switch my major half way through," she wrote in an e-mail from Denmark. "I'm hoping this year in Denmark will not only give me some time to figure out what I want to do, but also give me some ideas of what's out there."

She will return to the U.S. next July and use the fall semester to apply to colleges and financial aid. Living abroad and being separated from family and friends is one of the hardest things she has ever done, but she said she believes it will pay off in the end.

" the time I get to university," she wrote, "I'll have traveled and worked and lived on my own, and I'll not just know, but really know, that I need a degree."

When students return from a gap year, they usually succeed in college, if they end up enrolling, said Matt Stillman, the director of enrollment analysis at Southern Oregon University.

"As a pure national statistical trend, sometimes students that take time off are less likely to ever enroll," he said. "A lot of things can happen in a year. It's not a bad idea, but there are some students in my opinion who are better served by immediately delving into college."

Before Maelia DuBois took her gap year to work as an au pair in Germany, she made sure that the transition into college would be smooth. She had already been accepted to Lewis and Clark University before she was offered a job abroad, so she got a one-year deferral. All she has to do when she returns is apply for financial aid, her father, Tom DuBois said.

"It's a definite fixed time period for her being away, and we know that she's going to come back," he said. "We're real happy that she's done it. It's daring and difficult, but it's a good alternative path to take."

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