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Tufts University offers financial aid for students' year off

BOSTON (Reuters) - Tufts University will launch a program next autumn to help cash-strapped students take a year off to travel and perform public service before starting their undergraduate classes.

The program puts Massachusetts-based Tufts among a handful of American colleges offering to pay for a 'gap year' to explore the world and absorb different cultures after high school, a tradition that is more common in Europe.

"The idea behind the program is to give incoming students a transformational experience that will inform the next four years of their education," said Alan D. Solomont, dean of Tufts' Tisch College of Citizenship and Public Service.

The program, called Tufts 1+4, is intended to provide a structured year of full-time national or international service. The school said it has raised money to help pay for airfare, lodging and other costs to students who qualify.

"By providing financial support, the bridge year will be within reach of students who traditionally have been unable to participate in such experiences," Tufts said on its website promoting the program.

Princeton and the University of North Carolina also offer aid for a structured gap year focused on building international experience, but most other schools in the United States do not, according to the American Gap Association.

The AGA is a non-profit group that advocates gap years as a way to improve the college experience.

"Generally, the thinking is that students who take a pause to explore the realities of potential careers, and get clear on their goals for college, will perform better once they matriculate," the organization said on its website.

Tufts said its program would include 50 students in the first year and then ramp up over time. The students will be assigned to one of the university's "service sites" in the United States or abroad, which have yet to be announced.

Tufts said it will work with organizations that offer volunteering positions, such as Global Citizen and City Year, to identify the service sites.

(Reporting by Richard Valdmanis; Editing by James Dalgleish)

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