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Redwood Bark

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Seniors deviate from traditional college path

Malia Obama’s recent decision to take a gap year prior to starting college might only foster a brief discussion topic for the typical Redwood senior, but her choice echoes that of a small number of students who will be spending a year outside of the traditional college setting.

One of those seniors is Riley Dow, who will be taking a gap year prior to starting college in fall 2017 at Northwestern University.

“I’m kind of burnt out from being in high school, so I think being out of the classroom for a year will help me come back to Northwestern the next year and be more psyched to go to school and learn,” Dow said.

During his year off, Dow will sail from the Caribbean to Tahiti with Seamester, a program that sends gap-year and college students on sea voyages, and spend 80 days backpacking in New Zealand with the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS), a program that teaches students leadership and survival skills in the remote wilderness.

Senior Riley Dow will take a gap year following his graduation from Redwood.
Senior Riley Dow will take a gap year following his graduation from Redwood.

“[NOLS] is going to be an adventure. It’s not going to be easy and it’s going to expose me to different things and hopefully it will allow me to grow as a person,” Dow said.

Dow plans on interning with one of his friend’s fathers at an investing firm during the summer before heading to New Zealand in the fall. With Seamester, Dow will get both scuba diving and yacht crew certifications while exploring Panama, the Galapagos and the Marquesas.

“You’re spending a lot of time in a small area with a group of people you haven’t met before,” Dow said. “Developing communication skills and learning how to cope with people who may or may not be your type of person or you may not agree with or have the same views as them is also important.”

Other students taking gap years include Lily Cohen and Cale Smith, who have not yet finalized their plans.  

Cohen began considering taking a gap year in February because she felt unsure about attending college immediately following high school.

“I decided that experiencing fully what the world has to offer is something that I wanted to do before I jumped into college because I wasn’t sure that I would be able to do that after I started looking for a job,” Cohen said.

Senior Lily Cohen will spend her gap year working at local farms and traveling abroad.
Senior Lily Cohen will spend her gap year working at local farms and traveling abroad.

On the other hand, Smith has been considering taking a gap year for multiple years due to the influence of his father, who decided to leave his first job out of college because he was dissatisfied and spend a year traveling abroad on a budget of $5000.

“I grew up with those stories of him in Africa and India, and all of these crazy places,” Smith said. “There’s always been that [adventurous] atmosphere in my family.”

Both Smith and Cohen are planning to intern and volunteer during their gap years to gain hands-on experience.

“I know for sure that I will be volunteering at farms and different places to try and learn more about things that you can’t really learn inside of a school,” Cohen said.

Cohen, like Dow, hopes to travel to New Zealand during her gap year, though her plans are not yet set in stone. Smith, an avid surfer, plans to travel to Southeast Asia during his gap year for the surfing opportunities.

“In the world of surfing, Southeast Asia is the last frontier,” Smith said. “We’ve explored everything else and that’s the last place where there are secret waves.”

In addition to the seniors taking gap years, some students such as Anne Laurberg and Kylie Beck will be enrolling in college come fall, but studying abroad with fellow freshman students.

Laurberg will spend her freshman year studying at the American University in Paris through the USC Trojan Transfer Plan.

“I kind of always thought that I might have to spend a year abroad because I wasn’t very academically motivated my first years of high school,” Laurberg said.

After receiving admission offers from schools that Laurberg deemed a poor fit or academically unchallenging, Laurberg found the USC transfer program her best option.

“When I got the email, I felt really relieved,” she said. “It made the transition to ‘Oh, I’m going to Europe’ much easier.”

Beck, who will attend Northeastern University, will be spending her first semester at the University College Dublin in Ireland as part of the N.U. in program along with about 120 other Northeastern freshman.

“A lot of the people who are going to N.U. in, especially in my group, they’ve all had experience outside of the states,” Beck said.

Senior Kylie Beck plans to spend her first semester of college studying in Ireland.
Senior Kylie Beck plans to spend her first semester of college studying in Ireland.

Beck has spent a total of two months abroad in Spain during the summers of 2014 and 2015, which she believes aided in her acceptance to N.U. in and will help her acclimate better to studying abroad. Additionally, studying abroad is quite common for students at Northeastern––a school known for its dedication to global engagement––which Beck said makes her feel more comfortable about studying abroad.

“People leave basically every six months starting your sophomore year, so kids at Northeastern are kind of used to that,” Beck said.

Beck will return to Northeastern for the spring semester of her freshman year.

“Going in January is going to be hard because I’m not going to know people and I’m not going to know the campus, but at least I’ll have a small group of people that I really know well,” Beck said.


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Isabelle Marmur, Author