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Thinking About a Gap Year or Study Abroad.

My daughter is 14 and just starting high school, but I’m already heavily into thinking about college. Call me crazy, but if the previous 14 years went by so quickly, is there any doubt about how fast a measly 4 will fly by and she’s out the door?

Philosophically, I think that college years are for doing something that educates you about the world and stretches your horizons.  Since I’ve hauled my family from Asia to Europe via Navy duty assignments, my kids have pretty stretched horizons already, but my daughter is eager for more and I’m thrilled.  I love my kids, but I want them out in the world doing stuff, not hanging around the ol’ homestead.

Besides just going off to school somewhere, there are great options like taking a gap year (a year off after high school and before college to work, travel or volunteer) or taking a semester or a year to study abroad.  I’m not saying that a regular 4-year degree program isn’t challenging enough, but there are so many great options for the college years that it would be a shame not to explore them during the most flexible (and free) years any person probably has in their lives.

Budget Travel Online has tips for comparing study abroad programs and a PDF checklist for parents to help kids with the nitty-gritty of study overseas.  Lonely Planet has a book on the gap year concept that I’m dying to read (maybe it’s ME that wants a gap year, not my daughter!)  The UK’s Independent has a nice set of links to many articles on study abroad and gap year. 

The BBC News has a good gap year article as well (gap year was mostly a British phenomenon until recently.)  Interestingly, that year is increasingly supposed to be almost a resume-builder, to help a student stand out in the job hunt.

Lonely Planet

Says the founder of gapyear.com:  “If you ask people whether it is better to spend a gap year in China teaching orphans English, or to sit on a Thai beach then most people will opt for the orphanage,” says Mr. Griffiths. “But that misses the point. What matters more than what you do is what you got out of it. Did you do what you did on your own initiative and did you raise the money to do it yourself? If you reached the Thai beach all by yourself then that is more impressive that a structured stint in China paid for by Mum and Dad.”

Geez, I don’t want my kid to do this to impress some corporate recruiter, I want her to do it to learn and grow from the experience. 

What do you think?

Update 28 Sept 2006:  Wish you could have a gap year rather than your child?  Here’s a post from the Oh Maya My blog (about Guatemala….what a great title) about Gap Years for Grown-Ups.