Everything You Need to Know About Taking a Gap Year

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High School Gap Year

High School Gap Year

Thinking about taking a gap year abroad? You may have a lot of questions varying from cost to length of time, and even where to go.

Big decisions can be hard, so we want to help. Read on for a thorough overview of everything related to the gap year.

What Is a Gap Year?

A gap year is an intentional break from school, typically taken after high school graduation and immediately before starting college or university.

What Can You Do on a Gap Year?

Since no one gap year is alike and every student's experience is different, the world can truly be your oyster.

Students typically take a gap year to experience a different culture abroad before dedicating time to another four years of higher education.

Depending on where you go and what you want to accomplish, there are hundreds if not thousands of things to explore.

high school students hiking in monteverde costa rica

Some of the most popular gap year abroad programs focus on:

  1. Foreign language study and immersion to gain a better understanding of how people live and work in other countries
  2. Volunteer work to help give back and make the world a better place
  3. Internships to learn if a passion could turn into a future career path

There are so many opportunities to pursue that it can be overwhelming at times.

To make things simpler, we've compiled a list of our most popular gap year programs below:

Want an even deeper insight into what life is like on a gap year program? The CIEE Gap Year Abroad blog is written by students and educators to showcase their day-to-day lives abroad. 

Where Would You Stay?

Most gap year programs would assign you to a homestay.

A homestay is a type of accommodation in which local residents share their house with a student. They are a great way to truly immerse yourself in the city in which you’re studying. 

Homestays help you practice your newly-acquired skills, especially if you’re learning a new language, as well as intimately experience the country’s food, culture, and traditions. 

food on a homestay in tokyo japan

How Long Does a Gap Year Last?

Most programs last as short as a semester (13 to 15 weeks) to as long as a year.

If you’re looking to travel for a shorter period of time, CIEE offers high school summer abroad programs that are a month long or shorter.

How Expensive Is a Gap Year?

Costs vary based on location and program length. As a general estimate, shorter programs (13-15 weeks) average around $12,000 to $15,000. Longer programs (31-36 weeks) run from the low to high $20,000 range. 

We recommend browsing our list of gap year programs and checking out the Dates & Fees sections on the bottom of each page for more accurate costs.

Staying home comes at a cost too. According to The Washington Postit costs on average $17,000 per year to raise a child in the U.S. A student could easily find a program less than that amount and live the experience of a lifetime abroad. 

If cost is an obstacle, we have a list of fundraising ideas to help ease the burden. 

We also recommend that you check out our summer travel programs, which are shorter in length but great for those looking for a less expensive option. 

How Do Colleges and Universities View Gap Years?

Most colleges and universities look for variety in college applications, and what is more unique than time spent studying abroad?

According to the 2020 Gap Year Alumni Survey, a survey conducted by the Gap Year Association, only 3% of their program participants faced resistance from their respective colleges and universities when planning their gap year abroad.

In fact, the most common obstacles to taking a gap year were deciding which program was the right fit (44%) and financial constraints (37%).

What Are the Benefits of Taking a Gap Year?

Benefits are often subjective, but data shows that studying abroad can make quite an impression. 

The aforementioned Gap Year Alumni Study asked students the impact of their gap year experience.

The top three self-reported skills that increased for this particular group of participants were:

  1. Cultural competency (98%)
  2. Maturity (98%)
  3. Self-confidence (97%)

84% of participants also reported that studying abroad increased their academic motivation, while 82% stated that it gave them a competitive advantage when applying to college and/or jobs. 

high schoolers riding camels in morocco on their gap year

Is It Safe Right Now to Study Abroad?

While the COVID-19 pandemic has been a huge burden to us all, from a health and safety perspective, study abroad providers have adapted by being more transparent and communicative with students, parents, and educators. 

In fact, now may be one of the safest times to study abroad, especially as we continue to actively monitor and measure risk. Read more about CIEE’s Health, Safety, and Security pledge

If you want to take a deeper look, check out our recently released CIEE Health, Safety, and Security Data Report. The study reports on 6 years (2016 to 2021) worth of data covering roughly 76,000 participants. 

Should You Take a Gap Year?

That’s entirely up to you and your family. Doing your research and discussing your options are great first steps to making what could be a life-changing decision. 

How Can I Apply? 

Here at CIEE, we want to make your application process as simple as possible. Apply online by clicking the button below or apply from the program you're most interested in on our Gap Year Programs page.

Do you still have questions? We have answers.

We wish you the best of luck with your research, and to those who decide to take the leap, bon voyage!

Start your application today!

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