World and Nation

Princeton to Offer Entering Students A Year Abroad Doing Social Service

Seizing on students’ desire for a year off before college, Princeton University is working to create a program to send a tenth or more of its newly admitted students to a year of social service work in a foreign country before they set foot on campus as freshmen.

Princeton’s president, Shirley M. Tilghman, said in an interview that such a program would give students a more international perspective, add to their maturity and give them a break from academic pressures. She called it a year of “cleansing the palate of high school, giving them a year to regroup.”

Tilghman, speaking ahead of an announcement Tuesday, said that she hoped to begin the program in 2009 and that Princeton would not charge tuition for the year abroad, and would even offer financial assistance to those who needed it. A committee of faculty and staff members, as well as students, is to work out other details.

Growing numbers of high school students have opted to take a “gap year” before entering college, and many colleges offer one-year deferrals to students they admit. A small industry has developed to place some of them in work or travel experiences in other countries that often cost thousands of dollars. But experts say they believe that Princeton will be the first university to formalize such a program for entering freshmen, though many institutions offer study-abroad programs for students already on campus.

Proponents of the year off say it allows students to discover themselves and the world before they enter college.

“People are too young when they start college,” said Allan E. Goodman, president of the Institute of International Education. “This way, they would have a year to mature, and they can do something constructive.”

Goodman said most programs sending high school students to study in other countries placed the students with host families. And, he said, college students who enter study-abroad programs usually go after a couple of years of college, so they have had more experience living independently.

As for Princeton’s idea, he said: “I can imagine the lawyers having some hesitation about this. The kids are young. The university doesn’t know them yet. And it is not safe in every country in the world.”

But, he added, “I still think it’s neat, and that it’s very doable.”

The university said it expected to start with a smaller group of students and expand to 10 percent or more of its entering class.

Tilghman said that she recognized that not all families would be interested in the program, but that she expected it to appeal to many. She said that the university had enough money to run the program for a couple of years and that she expected to raise more to pay for it on a permanent basis.

The committee to be announced Tuesday will work out details including what the program will cost, the legal issues, how students are to be selected and what organizations they may work with abroad.