Tufts University Wednesday celebrated the kickoff of a new gap year program for incoming freshmen, which will offer a year of full-time public service experience before they start their studies at Tufts in the fall.

Retired General Stanley McChrystal delivered the keynote speech at the Symposium on Service and Leadership to highlight the importance of public service and urge other universities to take the same initiative as Tufts to prioritize it for young people.

The program, which is called Tufts 1+4, is in conjunction with the school’s Tisch College of Citizenship and Public Service. Starting in the fall of 2015, the university will be placing the inaugural group of students into pre-selected national or international service organizations.

According to TuftsNow, the experience will include academic content, as well as a focus on developing civic leadership skills. The group of about 50 students will begin their experience with an orientation at Tufts before they embark on their individual experiences. Each student will be assigned an advisor to guide them throughout the year and will receive support from the program even after it’s over in the form of workshops, meetings and other events.

A focus of the program will be in giving equal opportunities to those of all economic backgrounds and make the gap year an affordable experience. Gap years — a regular rite of early adulthood in countries such as Australia and the U.K. — is catching on in the United States as a time when students can take a break from schooling and gain valuable work experience instead of rushing into college right away.

Tufts says they aim to “‘democratize’ [the gap year] so that no student will be precluded from participating because of limited financial resources,” though there are no further details yet about how this process might work.

Image via Steve Eliopoulos for Tufts University