Gap year gives students a reason to get away

students lounge on backpacks at an airportCollege applications too much? Tough job market got you down? A gap year might be just what you need to rejuvenate yourself. A gap year is when a student takes time off after high school and before finishing college to explore the world, a hobby, or themselves.

Traditional gap year travel programs like provide high school-aged students with the opportunity to live and travel abroad for three, six or 12 months. The fees for a full year abroad average at about $19,000 and students can choose to live in many locations around the world including the Dominican Republic and Japan. Students can certainly travel on their own more cheaply, but would have to research their own travel, insurance, and boarding options.

It's difficult for the typical student to spend so much money without receiving academic credit or career building experience. Luckily, there are many ways to combine a gap year with valuable learning and work opportunities not available in traditional college setting.

Kadie Ray, 20, is taking classes at international universities to study foreign languages and cultures in ways that just aren't available in her native Wisconsin. "Learning a new language and being able to communicate for the first time in that foreign tongue is a high like nothing else I've experienced so far," says Ray. "And the personal reactions I get when someone realizes I put the time and effort in to learning how to speak to them in their native language ... that makes it worth it."

In the time between her classes at the University of Haifa in Israel, Ray has visited ancient cities throughout the Middle East such as Jerusalem, Alexandria, Amman, Petra (One of the wonders of the world), Wadi Rum Desert, the Red Sea, the pyramids in Cairo and watched the sun rise from the top of Mount Sinai. "Pending my acceptance to the University in Fes, I'll be in Morocco by February," she said, and will spend a semester exploring Africa.

Students can use a gap year to learn more than languages abroad. How about a summer at the Institut Villa Pierrefeu in Switzerland to study the finer points of etiquette and manners? The tuition ranges from $1,200 to $2,000 per week and you'll learn how to be polite in 18 countries in any social situation.

Bring out your inner child -- Julia Child that is -- by spending a semester at Le Cordon Bleau in Paris, France. The tuition is 23,050.00 euros ( $32,055.73 U.S.) per semester, but you'll leave with a world-respected culinary education and certificate.

Gap years can also be spent gaining valuable work experience. "I'm super excited to start [work]," Ray says of her recently-obtained internship within an Arab Women's organization in Haifa, Israel.

Programs like City Year offer domestic work opportunities for students ages 17-24 in several major U.S. cities. Students work full-time on community service, leadership development, or civic engagement projects and are provided with a living stipend and health insurance.

Like children? Then you might want to work as an Au Pair domestically or abroad. You can work in any city the U.S. as well as countries like New Zealand, Netherlands, and Spain. You are typically paid a wage, given time off to travel, and provided with living arrangements.

Taking time off of a traditional high school-to-college-to-work path is not without risk. According to a recent article students who delay attending college for a year are 64% less likely to ever complete their bachelors degree.

In addition to the risk, there is also the cost. Delaying college can mean that you'll end up paying more for your degree. A recent study by the College Board, a not-for-profit that provides information for students, found that last year tuition and fees at public four-year colleges and universities rose at an average annual rate of 4.9% per year beyond general inflation from 1999-2000 to 2009-10. This rise is 1%-2 % higher than in previous decades.

While there are significant costs and risks to consider when planning your time away from the daily grind, most students find that their experience far outweighs any financial sacrifice. Few people ever look back and wish they had traveled less.
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