NY Times readers weigh in on gap year travel

Backpacker taking a photo in sunset.

Backpacker taking a photo in sunset. Photo: Jhong Dizon / Flickr

The New York Times had a commentary article that argued in favor of students taking a gap year before college.  In response, their inbox got flooded with comments from readers.

Naturally, many of the letters were from parents worried about the cost of travel.  One example:

Great advice in theory, but for some families, like ours, the financial aid consequences can be prohibitive. Our younger son probably would have benefited from a gap year, but when we ran the financial aid calculators, we discovered that it would end up reducing his older brother’s financial aid by about $20,000 and reduce his own financial aid in a few years by about $25,000.

The letter reveals the perverse incentives on debt in the United States.  If it’s true, it’s like young people get punished for wanting to travel.  Some scholarships and financial aid programs have conditions that dictate students should enroll in college right after high school.  By deferring college, you may lose your chances of getting financial aid.

Gap years often involve working abroad to help defray the cost.  However, due to America’s immigration policies, many countries have reciprocal policies that prevent U.S. students from easily getting working holiday visas.  This sharply reduces the chances of students paying for their gap year by getting jobs overseas.

I realize this is particular to American students.  I would love to hear from our readers outside the U.S. on how their countries treat the gap year.  In some places, it’s much more encouraged and a normal rite of passage.  Friends from England have told me that their student loan repayment schedules are based on income level, not on time.  In other words, they don’t have to start paying off their loans until their salaries reach a certain level.  This grants more flexibility than how some U.S. student loans are structured, where the repayment starts within months after graduation.

Have you done a gap year?  How did you pay for it?  Was it a worthwhile experience?  Please share your stories in the comments.

Posted by | Comments (6)  | January 13, 2012
Category: Backpacking, Notes from the collective travel mind, Working Abroad

6 Responses to “NY Times readers weigh in on gap year travel”

  1. Chris Says:

    I’m about to do one AFTER college.Luckily, I’m not in debt as I worked through college and obtained scholarships. I think the worldview you are provided in college is great and would be enhanced with a prerequisite gap year.

  2. Monsieur Dedalus Says:

    I know that in Germany, a gap year after high school is really common and seen as a traditional rituel of passage too. I’ve met plenty of 18, 19 year-old German girls (even a 17-yo one!) and boys travelling on the Australian east coast or in Asia, taking time to decide what carrier they should follow. I’ve also met a German girl taking 6 months off from her medicine studies to relax and see the world, as studying medecine can be so intense. And travel is really a cultural thing in Germany.

    In France, it’s getting more and more common, mainly with the Australian WHV, with students discovering in the first or second year of their studies that they have no clue whatsoever about what to do in life. French education tends to leave young students completely lost. But people see it as some time off to think about the future before entering “real life” rather than a life changing experience. For a lot of 20-something, it’s one year of fun and nothing to worry about except your hangover in the morning and sometimes money.

    As for the money, the French public uni is still really cheap (it costs 400 euros per year for uni and the living expenses can be around 600 euros per month – if you know how to live on a tiny shoestring and certainly not in Paris though) and you can postpone your studies as long as you want (still only in public uni) even though it gets more and more difficult to go back into studies as you grow older. But in general, there isn’t as many consequences as USA, Canada or England for exemple, except maybe the desire not to come back…

  3. Rod Says:

    Why anyone would voluntarily submit to the student debt slavery scam in America is baffling. One look at this chart gives me the chills:


    The best thing you could do after high school is travel and find a place in the world where you can easily set up a business and make good money. Right now the Philippines, Thailand, Chile are booming. Instead of starting your lifetime of indentured servitude to the government and banks, why not get your life going? Travel, think, write and then take your ideas and make them a business reality.

  4. Fabio Says:

    Love the fact that in Brasil (my home country) Uni is free and they encourage internships and gap years abroad!

  5. Todd Muchow Says:

    I think this is one of the most pertinent discussions of our time. As an U.S. citizen, I find it extremely ironic that gap-years are discouraged. I think that it would be clear and efficient resolution to the U.S. image abroad, the prevailing ignorance of many Americans to the rest of the world, and to the adverse affects that the military and many international private institutions can have. I myself took a gap year, vis-a-vis, studying abroad, which seems to be the most financially reasonable way for Americans to do it. My freshman year of college, I attended Fort Lewis College in Durango, Colorado. Fort Lewis is/was an incredibly inexpensive liberal arts institution which can offer an amazing education, plus, it is situated in one of the most picturesque settings in the world. This small college’s study abroad department, headed by Susan Holgate, is also the best that I have found in the U.S. Fort Lewis has University exchange programs set up with 15 different institutions across the world, where-in, the student simply pays the meager Fort Lewis tuition, and is enrolled directly in the foreign institution. There are also 5 or so various direct enrollment programs set up by Mrs. Holgate which enable a student to enroll directly into an institution in Czech Rep, France, Spain, or Japan…and this can be even cheaper. Fort Lewis also work in collaboration with 8 or so private Study-Abroad companies, which can be a bit pricey, but offer students with a myriad of programs already set up all across the world, and in many cases, these provide host-family stays or student residences. I chose to study abroad in Chile during the first semester of my sophomore year through Fort Lewis..which was a fraction of the cost of many study abroad courses. While there, I soon learned about opportunities to teach English in order to subsidize the cost. I also gained more work as a climbing guide. This enriching experience dragged on for an entire year. It plugged me into the fluent level of Spanish and provided me with a wide-arrange of knowledge and international experience. I would say that I learned more during that year than I did in all three of the following years that I spent at the University of Colorado. For any graduating high school student looking to travel but worried about the affect that it might have on student-aid, definitely look up Fort Lewis College and Susan Holgate. Buena suerte.

  6. Colin Q Says:

    Gap years are unheard of where I come from, Singapore.
    Guess its to do w the culture of schooling 1/4o ur life away.

    I do noticed the stark difference between my overseas friends who had a gap yr and myself. The openness of mind and thinking flexibility. Something rare and valuable.

    So I will take my ‘gap yr’ coming soon. I’m 35, long graduated from uni.

    Hope tt gap years or vagabonding will catch up.