WASHINGTON — A year off between high school and college is becoming a popular choice for U.S. students and it has caught the eye of President Barack Obama's daughter, Malia. The White House says the high school senior will enter Harvard in 2017, not later this year as had been widely expected.
The elder of Obama's daughters is a senior at Sidwell Friends, an exclusive private school in the District of Columbia that helped educate another first daughter, Chelsea Clinton, in the 1990s. Malia is set to graduate in June and turn 18 in July. Her sister, Sasha, 14, is a Sidwell freshman.
Obama and first lady Michelle Obama made the long-awaited announcement about Malia's academic future on Sunday.
Harvard, where both parents earned law degrees, encourages admitted students to defer for one year to travel, pursue a special project or activity, work or spend time in other meaningful ways. The student must not enroll in another college program that would grant the student a degree.
Obama has said he is dreading the day when Malia leaves for college. Her decision to take a "gap year" could keep her closer to home as her family prepares for another major transition next year: leaving the White House and returning to normal life. Obama plans to live in Washington for a few more years so Sasha can finish high school. The Obamas still own a home in Chicago.
The decision also makes Malia's eventual arrival on the Boston-area campus easier for parents who have guarded her privacy. Obama will be out of office and no longer trailed in public by a contingent of news media when she moves into her dorm.
Gap years are more common in Europe and Australia, but a growing number of gap-year programs suggest increasing popularity in the U.S., said Ethan Knight, executive director of the Portland, Oregon-based American Gap Association.
"Students go to college more satisfied and engaged and universities often see these students become leaders on campus," Knight said.
The first lady has said that Malia wants to be a filmmaker. She has interned on the set of HBO's "Girls," starring Lena Dunham, as well as a now-canceled CBS sci-fi drama that starred Halle Berry. Malia has also had internships at the Smithsonian National Zoo in Washington.
The president turned down an invitation to speak at Malia's Sidwell graduation, saying he would be too emotional.
"I'm going to be sitting there with dark glasses, sobbing," he told Ellen DeGeneres during an appearance on her talk show.
Obama grew up without his father, who was born in Kenya and is deceased, and has spoken of his desire to be there for his kids. The bond between Obama and his children was put on display as he held hands with either daughter getting on or off the presidential aircraft or on the family's walks through Lafayette Park to attend services at St. John's Episcopal Church across from the White House.
Malia also joined her father earlier this month on a three-day trip that started at the University of Chicago Law School, where he once taught constitutional law, to discuss his stalled nomination of Judge Merrick Garland to the U.S. Supreme Court. The trip took them to Los Angeles and San Francisco for part of a weekend, where the president attended fundraisers and played golf.
"Both of my daughters are wonderful people. Malia's more than ready to leave, but I'm not ready for her to leave," Obama told DeGeneres. "She's one of my best friends. It's going to be hard for me not to have her around all the time, but she's ready to go. She's just a really smart, capable person and she's ready to make her own way."