Want a Break Before Starting College?
College PrepThe Admissions Game

Want a Break Before Starting College?

Many students spend a gap year volunteering in Israel for various programs

Mark L. Fisher

Mark L. Fisher is a college and career consultant at Fisher Educational Consultants (www.fishereducationalconsultants.com) and a consultant for the College Planning Institute (www.GotoCPI.com).

Applications to college are just about over except in a few cases. The returns have arrived or will arrive soon. Some students are sitting on pins and needles awaiting decisions.

While there are students who have made their decision about where they will matriculate, others are figuring out the college that will be the best fit. Of course, financial aid packages will play a role for many in the decision-making process.

But how many of you have thought about a gap year? If you haven’t, why not?

If a gap year before college is good enough for universities such as Harvard and Princeton, why isn’t it good enough for you? Obviously, there are many answers.

Furthermore, why not spend a year in Israel? If you are Jewish, it is your country.

Certainly, many students who have graduated from Jewish high schools in Atlanta have taken a gap year in Israel, attending yeshivas, seminary programs and other options. For many, it is just about automatic. Most of those students then go on to college.

Recently, I sat down with an Atlanta student who took advantage of the opportunity to spend a year in the land of milk and honey via a Masa-connected program. Masa Israel has connections with about 200 programs in Israel. That seems enough to choose from for a starter.

This student, Madeline, attended the Nativ program, which is sponsored by the Conservative movement. She was surrounded by 90 other students on her gap year.

What made Madeline take the year off?

“I was encouraged by a friend to spend a year in Israel after graduating Weber. One gains experience in life skills and becomes more focused in college afterward,” she said.

She added that she learned firsthand about Israel. Nativ offers three tracks: ulpan, Hebrew University and the Conservative yeshiva. Madeline took the third option.

When comparing programs, Young Judaea, which has a multitude of tracks, became her other option. When you go to the Masa website (www.masaisrael.org), you will see all the programs, helping you to start thinking about a post-high-school year in Israel.

What happened to you in Israel, I asked Madeline. “I experienced a different culture and appreciated where I came from and developed even more pride in my Judaism. For three months, I volunteered in an ambulance program. While the first program was at Nativ, the second half was in Carmiel, where I rode with the medics in the MADA program for three months. Also, I volunteered at the AMIT school in Carmiel, where I tutored English. I even taught American immigrants Hebrew. Then my MADA shift began later in the day.”

After her gap year, Madeline spent two years in New York at List College of the Jewish Theological Seminary and its joint program at Columbia University. After two years in the big city, Madeline was ready for home and Georgia State to complete her college degree.

Madeline gave a lot of praise to her Nativ experience, through which she learned to be a more religious, traditional Jew. Also, the academics made her a better person who is more informed and helped her become more open-minded.

She couldn’t believe the overwhelming hospitality in Israel. The beauty of Jerusalem and the history remain with her. She knows of the threats on American campuses and can prepare the opposite view to anti-Semitism.

Madeline is just one story of an Atlanta teenager who took a gap year. Talk to others who took a similar route after high school, and you find many wonderful stories. But first take the time to discover the many programs that could interest you.

Open the Masa website and search. There are many reasons for a gap year. Burnout is one. You might want a break from school. Perhaps you didn’t get into the colleges that were high on your list. You might try again.

While there are many opportunities abroad, including language immersion, conservation, adventure travel, outdoor activities and the arts, your year in Israel should be a top choice.

Numerous programs await you in Israel. Just glancing at the Masa site, you will see kibbutz programs and college programs at Bar Ilan, Tel Aviv, the Technion, IDC-Herzliya and Hebrew U. Then there are Jewish studies, programs, culinary art courses, desert programs with sports, teacher training institutions, internships, volunteer experiences, and Young Judaea with specialty tracks in the arts, business, politics, journalism, sports, medicine, world travel and more. Add music, dance, communications and economics. Then there are the B’nei Akiva programs.

Those are just some of the options.

Remember, the college you attend will get a more mature student who has had a year away from home. Some colleges or specific departments will give you credit toward your degree.

Open your eyes and review the many programs in Israel in which you can add knowledge, spirituality and Jewish growth to enhance your college education and your life. Take the challenge. Go to www.masaisrael.org.

Mark L. Fisher is a college and career consultant at Fisher Educational Consultants (www.fishereducationalconsultants.com) and a consultant for the College Planning Institute (www.GotoCPI.com).

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