Why 2020 Is The Best Year Ever For a Gap Year

 It’s no secret to anyone that the current “Stay at Home” world we live in is challenging on many levels.  Many people are learning to work from home for the first time bt others have been telecommuting for years.  However, for most of the students that JSU works with, and their families, the Covid-19 pandemic has been a tectonic shift in their lives because almost none of them have done any sort of distance learning before.  

This has a particular impact on graduating seniors.  Most other students will simply be beholden to whatever decisions their schools make regarding starting in the fall and what that start will look like.  Seniors on the other hand are making incredibly important and potentially life changing decisions regarding their colleges and higher education.  Faced with the reality that their college of choice (and tuition of upwards of $70,000) might be starting off the year at least with a purely online curriculum, the idea of taking a gap year this year especially is an attractive one. 

JSU consistently recommends to our students that we work with to take a gap year, particularly one of the many amazing study programs in Israel and this year especially that options makes more sense than ever.  Here are 5 reasons why the class of 2020 should take a gap year.

Get the educational experience you want

These days the internet makes accessing all sorts of information convenient and easy.  In fact, some universities such as MIT make ALL of their coursework available for free to audit for anyone.  When you pay to attend a university, you want not only the content that you could get from reading a textbook, you want a particular experience.  That can include the students you interact with in classes, live with, work with, as well as relationships that you can build with professors and faculty.  While this is possible remotely, it is not the same.  While many people’s educational goals line up just fine with an online college experience, many people’s do not, and the thought of paying a full tuition for a semester or even a year online isn’t what many students are looking for. 

Become the student you want to be

According to survey data from the Gap Year Association (https://www.gapyearassociation.org/data-benefits.php) students who take gap years before attending college graduate with higher average GPAs vs those who do not, earn more upon graduation and considered themselves to be more employable on account of having taken a gap year.  Major universities such as Harvard have reported encouraging their accepted students to defer and take a gap year as it makes them more well rounded students.  The benefits of the year itself are many and can directly impact future success in higher education.

Save some cash

A lot of students and parents are worried about “wasting” a year and spending money without progressing towards a degree however there are many gap year options that not only help progress towards a degree but can do so for a fraction of the cost of some typical American tuitions.  For instance the Israel XP program at Bar Ilan University (https://israelxp.com/) offers a full year of transferrable college credits, room, board, trips, enrichment activities, Jewish educational opportunities and more for a single tuition of under $25000. Through various scholarships, and grants that JSU has access to we are consistently able to reduce that cost by up to $10,000. This is an obvious substantial savings over a popular options like Tulane or Indiana (both upwards of $70,000 tution and board per year).  There are prestigious universities that accept the full year of credits from the Israel XP program that cost nearly three times that amount for tuition and board.  Additionally, the classes you will typically take on a program like Israel XP or one of the many others available are the early general educational classes that are the least likely to differ in content from your chosen college.  Spend a year abroad and save a chunk of change at the same time sound like a win?

Experience something major, at the major right time

 Universities, families and students have all recognized the value in study abroad programs for decades.  The opportunity to learn in a totally foreign place is an experience that can help mold an individual, bring maturity and if I may be so bold, help them to “find themselves”.  So many students entering colleges as freshmen still have very little idea what excites them or what they want to study.  They also recognize that a study abroad program can help them to grow as an individual and expand their horizons.  There is no better time to do that than BEFORE you spend the next few years delving into what you really want.  It’s quite advantageous to tackle the rest of a college career with a headstart on the personal growth that will help to make you successful at what you decide you want to do.  

When it comes to Israel, there is no substitute

Gap year programs can be character building and valuable no matter what they are focused on or where they are, but in JSU we almost always recommend that Jewish students spend their gap year studying in Israel.  Israel is a vibrant, diverse and welcoming place where Jewish students can experience an absolute wealth of learning and living across the entire spectrum of the Jewish world.  With a culture that values learning at all levels, a rich history of both Torah and secular study and the highest per capita production of academic papers in the world, it is a country that LIVES the learning process.  There are customs and norms as well as infrastructure in Israel catering specifically to gap year students attending either secular college based programs or Yeshivas and Seminaries.  Ultimately, if you are a Jewish student there is simply no better place on earth to learn and grow academically while connecting to an ancient heritage. 


JSU of St. Louis offers gap year counseling for any interested students that we work with and we are familiar with the variety of options that exist for students wanting to travel and learn in Israel.  Please do not hesitate to reach out to any of the JSU staff for questions regarding study abroad or gap years.  You can email RabbiMike@jsustl.org , RabbiYitz@jsustl.org or Samz@jsustl.org .