New Gap-Year Program Provides Project Options, Funding for Accepted Students

Gap Year image from Duke Engage
Photo courtesy of DukeEngage. Like DukeEngage, the Gap Year program encourages personal growth and provides opportunities for meaningful service

When he graduated from high school, Liam Pulsifer had lost some of his enthusiasm for learning. While pleased he had been accepted to Duke, he wasn’t ready to dive immediately back into the books.

A gap year in India learning Hindi brought back the energy.  

“More than anything, I think I regained my enthusiasm for college and for learning,” said Pulsifer, who is now a Duke junior. “By the end of high school, I was tired: tired of school, tired of classes, tired of the competition and the frustration. When I came back from my gap year, I realized I had remembered all the aspects of school life that I loved and made me want to go to college in the first place.”

Students such as Pulsifer like the experience that comes from a gap year.  Duke officials appreciate the maturity and learning the experience provides students. Now, a new Duke Gap Year Program may mean more students will take advantage of the opportunity.

Students accepted to the Duke Gap Year Program will receive between $5,000 and $15,000 toward the cost of a project either of their own design or to participate in an existing program approved by Duke Undergraduate Admissions.

“I don’t know of another program that provides funding for such a wide range of possibilities, including allowing students to design their own experience. We expect students applying for funding will demonstrate a commitment to service and personal growth.”
-- Christoph Guttentag

Christoph Guttentag, dean of undergraduate admissions, said colleges and universities, as well as students, are increasingly enthusiastic about the benefits of gap year programs. “On many metrics of student performance, from level of retention to student happiness, there’s evidence that taking a gap year provides benefits in both the short term and the long term,” Guttentag said.

“I’m particularly excited by the flexibility this program provides Duke students,” Guttentag said. “I don’t know of another program that provides funding for such a wide range of possibilities, including allowing students to design their own experience. We expect students applying for funding will demonstrate a commitment to service and personal growth, and the web site should inspire them to think broadly and creatively.”

Funded by a gift from Laura and Gary Lauder, the program is expected to support about 15-20 projects a year initially. Guttentag said he expects the program to increase the number of students taking gap years before coming to Duke, particularly among students for whom a gap year might not otherwise be financially feasible. The program begins immediately, meaning students currently applying for the Class of 2023 will be eligible to apply if they are granted admission to Duke.

“Traditionally, students taking a gap year come from advantaged family backgrounds,” he said. “What’s exciting about this program is the financial assistance will make it possible for students who could benefit from a gap year but who wouldn’t normally be able to consider it. We want a wider range of students to be able to participate.”

Many current Duke students tout their gap year experience as helping their Duke experience. Several said the extra year matured them and taught them to be open to educational opportunities when they arrived at Duke. “I came in with a better understanding of who I was and where I wanted to be,” said senior Henry Bell, a political science and economics major.

SaraAnne Perel took two years to dance with the Los Angeles Ballet. She left having an exceptional experience, but also more prepared for her Duke studies. “I had more of an idea of the topics I was interested in, compared to people who explore for most of their freshman year,” said Perel, who is now a junior majoring in international comparative studies.  “I also had a little more social insight, because I was slightly older, and was able to make friends by sharing my past experiences.”

While many colleges encourage gap years, the Duke effort is one of the most extensive formal programs supporting students, Guttentag said. 

The Duke Gap Year Program is available to Early Decision and Regular Decision applicants; funding will not affect student financial aid packages. All gap year students are required to enroll at Duke following their program.