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The Pros and Cons of Taking a Gap Year 

 December 10, 2023

By  Laura Kosloff

The idea of American high school students taking a gap year abroad before attending college has been gaining popularity in recent years. While there are many potential benefits to taking a gap year abroad, there are also potential drawbacks. Let's explore both sides of the debate.

Why Take a Gap Year?

Proponents argue that taking a gap year abroad can provide students with valuable life experiences and cultural understanding. Students who take a gap year abroad often gain fluency in another language, learn about different cultures, and develop important life skills such as independence, self-confidence, and adaptability. In addition, students who take a gap year often return to college with a renewed sense of purpose and motivation, which can lead to better academic performance.

Taking a gap year abroad can also provide students with opportunities for personal growth and self-discovery. Many young people have never traveled on their own and don't have any idea about what's needed to live on one's own; while an organized gap semester or year program will generally have some oversight, there will be opportunities to develop independence that can help a student move towards adulthood. These experiences allow students to step out of their comfort zone and experience new challenges. It can help them gain a better understanding of their own strengths and weaknesses -- and an increased self-awareness.

Why You Might Not Want to Take a Gap Year

Critics argue that taking a gap year abroad can be expensive. There certainly is some truth to this. The cost of a gap year abroad can be prohibitive. There's the basic cost of travel, much less lodging and food. If a student is participating in an organized program, these costs may be included in the program fees -- but that doesn't make it less expensive. 

Some people are concerned that taking a "year off" may delay a student's academic and career goals. It's true taking a gap year can delay a student's entry into college or continuation of college, depending on when the student is pursuing this experience. Whether such a delay is good or bad, however, will depend on an individual student's own circumstances. 

Another concern is that taking a gap year abroad may not be a productive use of time. While students may gain valuable life experiences and cultural understanding, they may not be developing skills and knowledge that are directly relevant to their academic or career goals. Many different types of gap programs exist, and some students do tailor their own experiences. While no one program is "the best," and there is no single way to define whether a program is "right" or "wrong," the decision process prior to taking a gap year can help determine the degree to which a student will find the experience worthwhile.

Where Does This Leave You?

Taking a gap year abroad can be a valuable and life-changing experience. It is not right for everyone, and the decision to do a gap year is not necessarily an easy one. Even once you have decided "yes, this is for me!" you still need to consider exactly what "this" will be -- perhaps a semester is right for you, or perhaps an internship in your own country in a totally new location. Perhaps you need to find a place where you know that language or can, at least, get around if you are not fluent in the language of your destination. Ultimately, the decision to take a gap year -- and where and how -- should be based on individual circumstances and goals, and not be a decision taken lightly. Students and their families should carefully consider the potential benefits as well as any drawbacks.

Images courtesy of Tumisu and Jensen Art Co. from Pixabay.

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