Back to the books? Time to plan your gap year abroad

AV volunteers in China with smiling pupils

The summer’s over and millions of young people across the world are back at school, back to saving for college or university and back to planning their future.

Now is the time when students should start thinking about whether they want to head straight into the next phase of their education after this academic year or if they’d benefit from some time out.

The argument for a gap year abroad

There is, of course the risk, that someone taking a gap year might not return to their chosen study path but the evidence to support taking a year between school and higher education is strong.

The Harvard Political Review explains the history of the gap year, saying: “The pre-college gap year tradition dates back to the “grand tour” in the 17th century, when young men from upper-class British family travelled to learn about art, music, and architecture beyond textbooks. This tradition evolved to be a gap year among high school graduates in the UK in the 1970s and started to gain popularity in the United States starting in the 1980s.”

A recent article in Forbes suggests that the benefits identified in the 17th Century are still relevant today although they have evolved to include volunteering in another part of the world, learning languages and truly immersive experiences.

The article states that some students have been on a college preparedness marathon their entire academic careers and are ready to keep going. But others aren’t ready for a variety of reasons, often a desire for maturity, a growth opportunity, exploration, refueling after academic burnout, or to participate in a service program. In some cases, students may want time to develop skills that didn’t come through as desired in high school.

We’re pleased that colleges in the USA not only understand the benefits of a gap year abroad, but are also showing their support in different ways. Florida State University is one such example of an institution that is actively encouraging (and in some cases financially supporting) high school seniors to consider deferring for a year and investing time in their personal growth, through a gap year. It follows prestigious Universities, such as Harvard and Princeton in its understanding of the benefits of taking a year out in between studies.

What we have found is that the individuals who embark on one of our programs do so because they want a break from studying but they don’t want to waste their time – they want to build confidence, see the world and learn about other cultures. The perfect gap year looks different to every person we talk to, prior to their trip, but the outcome is the same…people come back feeling emotionally richer and ready to enter the next stage in their personal and/or educational development.

“Thanks for a life changing experience that will stay with me forever.” Roy Hekmatpanah, Kenya 2004.





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