Malia Obama, the eldest daughter of President Barack Obama and Michelle Obama (nee Robinson) has signed a letter of intent with Harvard, only after a gap year.  The gap year appears to be the Next Shiny Thing amongst the nachalstvo.  "When the Obamas announced Sunday that their eldest daughter, Malia, will attend Harvard University, they also revealed that she will take part in what is becoming an increasingly popular tradition in the United States: the gap year."  The stresses on the overprogrammed spawn of the ruling class are such that the youngsters require time away from it.
In an article on the university’s website, William Fitzsimmons and Marlyn E. McGrath of Harvard’s admissions department, and Charles Ducey, a lecturer in psychology, assert that a gap year could be an answer to the burnout faced by ultra-ambitious students as they compete to gain entrance into the “right” college followed by the “right” graduate schools, and the “right” sequence of jobs, in order to live in the “right” kinds of communities.
For the rest of the population, lives of quiet desperation must be de rigueur.
The increasing willingness of high-performing students to take time off stands in contrast with the recent push to get "at risk" high-school students straight into college after graduation—a pressure borne out of the fear that the longer these students, who typically come from underserved backgrounds, wait, the less likely they are to enroll in college as time passes. While Malia Obama’s decision to take a gap year appears to be a personal choice and there is no reason to think she won’t earn a degree, other students put off college for financial and other reasons that can lessen the likelihood that they enroll at all. During his presidency, Obama has made considerable efforts to increase the chances that students from low-income communities and communities of color can access affordable postsecondary educations.

Students who choose to delay are at considerable risk of not completing a postsecondary credential when compared with their peers who enroll immediately after high school graduation, says a National Center for Education Statistics study.
Here's how public radio explains the reality of people who don't drive Priuses and call in to the pledge drive.
It's important to note, first, what it's not, says [author Jeffrey] Selingo. Simply marking time at a low-wage, low-skilled job after graduation, while a common choice for many low-income high school graduates, actually can have negative impacts on college success.

"Students who delay college to work odd jobs for a while, as they try to 'find themselves,' don't do as well as everyone else when they get to campus," Selingo explains. "They get lower grades, and there's a greater chance they will drop out."

Instead, he adds, "For a gap year to have a significant impact, it needs to be a transformative event, quite distinct from anything that students have experienced before."
Pay close attention to that "transformative event." There will be a quiz later.

First, let's consider how Slate's Lisa Lewis reacts.
While the surveys and observational studies suggest gap years make a student more prepared for college, it’s important to note that taking such a break is simply more common among students who in many ways are already positioned for success. Students who have all the qualifications that would predispose them to excel in college then self-select again, possibly giving themselves another leg up (even this self-selection might be another indication of higher maturity, and therefore increased likelihood of success). It’s not surprising that these kids end up doing very well in college, but it is difficult to assess just how much of it is thanks to the gap year.

Students who take gap years are more likely to have parents who can foot the bill for both the the year and the college education that follows. For one thing, unlike college enrollment, federal financial aid for college can’t be deferred; the U.S. Department of Education notes that students taking a gap year would apply for the year they actually plan to enroll, which might make it harder for students on aid to plan a gap year. And while it may be well-accepted within the Ivy League, gap-year support is still far from universal: The California State University system, for instance, doesn’t have a deferral policy and requires students to reapply if they postpone enrollment for a gap year.

Of course, there are many students who defer going to college without labeling the experience as a gap year—a low-income student who spends a year working to save up money would probably just call the experience “life.” And this may or may not pay off in the long run: A sociology professor at Johns Hopkins University found that students who delayed college enrollment by more than one year were 64 percent less likely to complete their bachelor’s degree, even after eight years, than those who went directly. “Delayers tended to be from less- advantaged backgrounds, were generally low-performing in school, had kids or had gotten married before college, and started at a two-year college first,” the 2005 release on the study notes.
That sounds like standard Cold Spring Shops stuff: life management skills and bourgeois habits help.

And yet there is something missing from Ms Lewis's story, too.

That is the transformative event, or the way to strengthen one's life management skills.  It's not a gap year, it's serving a hitch.
“These student veterans are outstanding role models who exemplify character, leadership, service to the community and academic success,” [former university president John] Peters added, noting that the overall grade point average of NIU student veterans is 10 percent higher than the overall GPA of the student body. “We are proud and honored to have them as part of our community.”

Earlier this year, Military Times EDGE magazine ranked NIU 49th on its list of 101 top colleges for veterans, out of a total 4,000 institutions. G.I. Jobs magazine editors also named NIU for the second consecutive year as being among 1,120 top military friendly schools in the country, out of 8,000 colleges.

In addition to establishing the new Military Student Services office, NIU has developed orientation programs designed for and led by veterans. The university offers a special course (UNIV 201) on the college experience for veterans, has enhanced its mental health services for veterans and works to educate faculty and staff about the unique needs of veterans and students who are still in the military.

“The Chicagoland area has a high concentration of veterans who are returning home after their time in the military, and we’re committed to serving those who have served,” said Kelly Wesener, NIU assistant vice president for student services.
The gap year phenomenon, however, appears to be a U. S. News thing.  Matriculants at the land grants, mid-majors, and regional comprehensives, however, are likely to have more experience of the world than will those twentyish arrivals back in their usual bubble after their year slumming with the rest of us.

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