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Originally published October 26, 2007 at 12:00 AM | Page modified October 26, 2007 at 12:09 PM

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Weighing the gap year

Thinking about a "gap year" — a break to work, travel or volunteer before starting college? Consider: Advantages Advantages: Gives...

Weighing the gap year

Thinking about a "gap year" — a break to work, travel or volunteer before starting college? Consider:

Advantages: Gives students more time to explore the "real world" and an additional year of maturity, giving students a leg up in their freshman year.

Disadvantages: Getting back on track takes more work because students lose touch with high-school advisers who provide free help with the application process; research shows delayers are more likely to be sidetracked by jobs, marriage and kids.

Key to success: Being ready with firm plans about how to be useful during a gap year.

Tips: Check if your preferred school offers deferred admission; most public schools in Washington state don't, but many private schools do. Be aware that many so-called "gap year" Web sites promote fee-based services; weigh financial pros and cons carefully.

More: For profiles of students who made the gap year work: seattletimes.com/collegeguide.

Sources: Stefanie DeLuca and Robert Bozick, Johns Hopkins University; www.takingoff.net; www.responsibletravel.com; www.collegegapyear.com

— Suzanne Monson, Special to The Seattle Times

Three Gap-Year Stories

This article appeared in last year's College Guide, October 2006:

For the three students profiled, pursuing training somewhere other than a traditional, four-year college has brought rewards.

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Shanoah Gardner, 23, City Year service leader

With Rainier Beach High School and two years at Louisiana's Grambling State University behind her, Gardner needed a break from classes. An active volunteer and accomplished dancer, she discovered City Year — an AmeriCorps-affiliated youth-service program in 15 U.S. cities, including Seattle. Unlike the Peace Corps or AmeriCorps, which prefers college grads or those with several years of work experience, City Year attracts 17- to 24-year-olds who need only a high-school diploma or GED.

Successful as a City Year "corps member" volunteer tutor and after-school dance instructor, Gardner enters her second and final year as a corps leader — still connected with kids but now recruiting and encouraging youth to volunteer, too. She earns a $165 weekly allowance; each 10-month commitment brings $4,725 for school costs or to repay college loans.

"This gives you the background to do anything," says Gardner, who is taking online classes at Houston's Texas Southern University and plans to study medicine. "It's good for anybody, but I would push it for foster-care youth, because like me, they could make it in college but there's nobody there helping them."

Details: www.cityyear.org/sites/seattle and 206-219-4994.

Jennifer Chinn, 20, advanced-level cosmetology student, Gene Juarez Academy

After dropping out of Seattle's Franklin High School, life got rough. Within a year, Chinn lost her grandfather and dad and discovered she was pregnant. She disliked both alternative high schools she tried — until one offered her a job shadow at Gene Juarez Academy.

Within months of her first school visit, Chinn earned her GED and gave birth to a daughter. By late last year, she started her one-year program at the North Seattle school.

"When I walked in, I knew this was my home. I've always loved hair. I love coloring. I love cutting. I love everything about it. This is artistic. This is different. Some people will say it's always [a professional skill] to fall back on."

Now she wants to become a cosmetology instructor and school recruiter.

"It's going to take me something to get there, but I can definitely do that. I know how it feels for people to look down on me because I was in an alternative school, but I can tell people that I was able to turn it around. ... "

Details: www.genejuarezacademy.com and 800-230-3636.

Patrick "Ryan" Murphy, 26, construction-management online student, University of Washington Extension program

He didn't want to go to classes on his honeymoon. That was only one reason Murphy, an electrical field engineer already working 45-hour weeks in the Tri-Cities, went looking for an online degree.

"Originally, I tried the classroom while I was working full time, but it wasn't working for me," Murphy said. "I was always getting off work later than classes were starting."

Now a master's candidate taking one class per quarter requiring about eight hours per week, Murphy is on track to earn his degree in four years.

An advanced degree improves his chances for career advancement with a stepped-up salary. Accomplishing this online, he believes, is the "only way to balance my personal life, my career and my education."

His employer could relocate him at any time, but "with the online program, I could uproot my whole life and my program wouldn't change. Even when I went on my honeymoon to Mexico, I didn't have to be tied to a classroom.

"Many people make the assumption that because it's online it's not as practical, but take into account you're working with other people — students and professors — who are experienced in their field. It's so great I've already recruited three other friends from work to take this program."

Details: www.outreach.washington.edu and 206-543-2320 or 800-543-2320.

Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company

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