Two Years Abroad: Overkill?

by Judge Josh on July 16, 2010

We’ve been talking a lot lately about studying abroad, but I haven’t had anyone ask me about spending two years out of the country until today.

Michelle’s eager to spend that second year abroad, but she’s worried that the American college that’s interested in her won’t wait around forever.

Say hi to this guy for me in Finland.

Dear Mr. Judge Josh,

Hello my name is Michelle and I am 17 years old. I graduated high school this year, when I was still 16, and decided to pursue a high school exchange program / gap year abroad. I will be in Finland this August and won’t come back until January. My GPA is a 3.0, but I read what you feel about GPAs.

Now, now, I like GPA just fine. :)

My question is that, because of my age, I am able to pursue a second abroad program, and was wondering if I should.

I don’t know what the financial situation is regarding this second year abroad, but if it’s doable, then sure, I’ve got no problem with it at all. If you’re 17, you’ve got loads to time to do something like that. If it were me, I might wait until I hit the legal Finnish drinking age of 18, but then again you’re probably less of a degenerate than I was at 18.

My college of choice is the Art Institues of Colorado, and I have done my interview and all that basic beginning stuff. I was told I was a perfect match for them. My only problem is that I have not been able to afford the meager tuition fee. That being said, they are pressing for me to send in my application.

What’s the nature of the study-abroad program in Finland? Is it through a college? I’m assuming it’s not through the Art Institutes of Colorado, anyway. I’m just asking because I don’t 100% understand why you’re applying if you’re not planning on attending. I’ll assume for our purposes that your mind just isn’t quite made up yet and you’re covering all your bases, which makes sense.

The catch to going abroad again is that the college might be angry with me for not attending it for at least another two years. I am worried that they will not want me and see me as a slacker because I am, essentially, ‘taking a break’. Although I will still attend classes while abroad.


Frankly, I wouldn’t worry about this too much. I can see your college getting pissy with you if you’re giving them the idea that you’ll be attending in the fall when you’re really going to Finland. In that case, I’d probably just ask if they’ll hold your admission until Fall 2011, and if they won’t, just re-apply whenever you get back.

I hope that that was not too confusing. In a nut shell, I want to know what your opinion on a second year abroad is?

I’m completely fine with it.

How would it affect my application?

I think if you’re an 18-year-old who has two separate international/study abroad programs under your belt already, then you’re a stronger applicant than you were before the second year abroad. That’s a rare thing, and there should be no lack of colleges who will jump at the chance to admit you.

And how should I let the college know of my plans, especially without making it look like I have no real intention to go to their school or study hard?

You should just tell them straight out what you plan to do. I don’t feel the whole “slacker” vibe at all and I don’t think the college will either, especially if you’re taking courses abroad. If you said you were going to hitchhike across Australia for a year instead of sign up in the fall, then yeah, maybe they’d make some kind of notation in your file about whether you’re a serious student (not saying you’d deserve that, just saying it’s possible).

But if you’re spending a year abroad and you’ll be in college while you’re there, I’d have no reason on earth to think you’re some kind of slacker. If Art Institute thinks you are, then tell them to piss off and move on to another school. (Don’t know how married you are to the school, but as I said above, plenty of schools will find it impressive that you’ve already done two years abroad at 18).

Thank you very much for your time and advice!

You’re welcome! What about you abroad-studiers — got any advice for Michelle? Let us know in the comments below.

I think I’m off to check out “Inception” this evening, I think. Have a good night!

{ 25 comments… read them below or add one }

MM July 16, 2010 at 5:57 pm

Going abroad is such a good thing. Can you think of a better way to distinguish yourself than to do something pretty much noone else who’s applying to the school can match? That’s exactly what admissions officers like.

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Ryan July 16, 2010 at 6:23 pm

I SO wish I graduated at 16. <_< Oh well! Anyways, I spent a short time abroad in France in 2008 and graduated in the class of 2010 from high school. Let me tell you, the more experience you have in world wide destinations the better. We are becoming an economy that does business with each and every nation in the world. The more experience you have with local culture, the better off you will be. GO FOR IT!!!

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Leeja July 16, 2010 at 6:42 pm

My boyfriend is an engineering professor at a major university (he also does graduate level recruiting for the department), who moved here from Denmark to take the job. He has lots and lots of international students who apply to the program, as well as many Americans. As a general rule, international students and those with international experience tend to be viewed as more mature and focused than other students. Once you have 2 years of study at the university of blah-blah-blah to put on your resume, and good transcripts to go with it, they can see that you’re a serious student. In some cases, this could get you additional scholarship or fellowship opportunities.

The thing that you have to be careful about with colleges that are pushing for you to hurry up and apply is that they may be looking at numbers instead of quality. Yes, people who read comments here know that I attend University of Phoenix online, and they have a pretty liberal admissions policy, but I’m attending there to get the degree to advance my career, not to start it. I think that the good college counselor has to understand that you have an awesome opportunity available to you, and once you tell them about it, they will be excited for you.

I say go for it! After all, it’s not that far to Denmark, where the legal drinking age is 15 (but you can’t buy in bars until you’re 18). While you’re there, take all the weekend train trips you can and take in the culture of Europe. My 17 year old son has been to Denmark 3 times, and given the choice would rather live there than in the US. After all, you can’t get good skipperlapskovs and frikadeller in the US!

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Lilichana July 16, 2010 at 6:50 pm

Hey there!

Study abroad is seriously a wonderful thing…I’m hoping to go a year from now. Most colleges let you defer admission for a year; chances are you might have to defer and then re-apply once you’re back. But if you’re a perfect fit now, why won’t you be a perfect fit in 2 years? ESPECIALLY after an experience abroad, which for many (I only have 10 days in France to speak of…a far cry from the years you’re talking about lol) is a life-changing experience. If finances are not an issue, then ABSOLUTELY go for it…don’t think twice. The perception is not that you are a slacker…the perception is that you have the chutzpah to get off your ass, presumably learn a foreign language, indubitably learn a experience a foreign culture, and do something different than most of us were doing at 17! The fact that you graduated at 16 in itself is SO impressive. Good luck to you. =]

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Shelley July 16, 2010 at 6:51 pm

The school is a business first, a place of education second. They want you and your money. Especially in this economy. Keep that in mind if you feel like they are pressuring you. They aren’t the only school, there must be better schools if they are so desperate to fill slots.

A gap year is good. Even though you are actually getting an education overseas. You could easily be accepted at other schools that will offer you scholarships, as your travel experiences, (if you make sure to hilite that info), will separate you from the pack of applicants. Make a point of keeping a diary and documenting with photos to use in your applications so you have references and dates, showing you visited locations that are meaningful to art majors and artists.
My college student took a gap year and spent a month traveling in Japan. She already had been there through an exchange with our sister high school. She had friends from the program who had her stay with them for part of the trip. She has four years of high school Japanese and navigated her way around the country. A tall redhead on a train in Japan is a curiosity and drew the young people to her to practice their English with her. This was of great interest to the colleges during her interviews. The rest of the year she worked and traveled to out of state colleges to scrutinize their environment. The saw the weird stuff she would have missed till it was too late and she was a student there. Several had accepted her and made lots of scholarship offers, but not a good match, no matter how much money they offered her.
Make the most of your opportunity and do it guilt free!!

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Maggie July 16, 2010 at 7:30 pm

One thing to consider is whether you will have to apply as a transfer student if you’ve taken any college classes after graduating. I was granted a deferment, but am not allowed to take any college classes, whether I get credit or not. But as long as you check which application you need to send in, go for it. I had the opportunity to spend 2 weeks in China, and it was amazing.

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Anonymous July 16, 2010 at 7:44 pm

Why is she going to a for-profit institution? She could get a better and cheaper education as a state uni

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J July 16, 2010 at 9:30 pm

I think studying abroad is incredibly beneficial even if one’s area of study doesn’t call for it. I just returned from a study abroad program in Spain and I loved it, that I could take in the culture of another country while getting credits towards graduation. If its something you really want to do, look for the money and go after it. Even better if that’s not an issue.

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Amanda July 16, 2010 at 10:38 pm

There’s no doubt that doing study abroad for any amount of time reaps huge rewards both for your education, career, and mental and emotional well-being. I’m currently about to finish my third and final exchange program, the second one since I’ve been in college.
Although an employer will no doubt look at your resume and be impressed with your amount of world experience, when applying for college, in this case, moderation is key. Many colleges do, unfortunately, view the gap year as a lack of resolve and will therefore not offer you the same scholarships (if any) a first year student straight out of high school would recieve. If this was your senior year, rather than a gap year, I would say go for it, but otherwise, explore opportunities offered by your university. There’s a lot of world to see, but you’ll have plenty of time to see it while in college; and if you’ll be recieving any scholarships or financial aid, it may ultimately be cheaper, as well.
Good luck! keep traveling!

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Brittany July 17, 2010 at 4:53 am

You’re only young once. If you’re financially able, go for it! You may not have the opportunity to go abroad in the future (though I hope you do!), due to school, job, finance and/or family.

Just be sure to take all that you can from living/studying abroad. I’m certain that, to admission counselors and scholarship judges, it’s not the just the fact that you lived somewhere else. It’s how you spent that time (guess I’m pretty much just reiterating what Judge Josh said, eh?). Learn multiple languages. Compare and contrast what is valued in different cultures. Think about how each country you visit contributes to our global economy and community! Open your mind to new ideas and new people, and think about how you want to fit into this world. Who knows, maybe a year from now you have a completely different view and plan!

And I say don’t feel too tied down to that school. There are soooooooo many schools to choose from these days in any major! And if you’re already thinking internationally, maybe you can go to school and MOVE abroad? It would take a lifetime and then some just to explore most of Europe!

I wish you the best! =)

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Laura Lam July 17, 2010 at 5:40 am

Do it. I did a three week France exchange when I was 15, and then I met my boyfriend who live in Scotland. For the next five years, I went to Scotland twice a year, and now I’ve been living here for nearly a year and I’m married to the guy.

I think it’s so beneficial because it does broaden your horizons. I want to be a librarian but the competition is quite fierce just now. But I would go anywhere in the world for a job (within reason) because the world is my oyster. Those who have only lived in the US or the UK have been far less likely to want to leave their comfort zone, in my experience.

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Traci July 17, 2010 at 8:12 am

The Art Institute of Colorado will understand. You have the awesome option to go overseas or start applying to U.S. colleges. Go overseas; see a big more of the world!! Chances are you can get some sort of college credit for either the classes or the overseas experience should you inquire about it. Another possibility is you decide to apply to colleges outside the U.S. Have a good time and don’t worry what colleges here might think. :)

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Bridget July 17, 2010 at 10:44 am

Isn’t the Art Institute of Colorado one of those colleges I see advertised all of the time?? I don’t trust any of those schools that advertise through television commercials….if a college is advertising on Television then they will take anyone’s money. It will not matter if you go this fall or in five years. They are never going to refuse your money. They are only pestering you so you will write them a check. Please don’t listen to their BS of how “you are a perfect fit.” Of course you are…..anyone that can pay them money is a perfect fit. I hear that the University of Pheonix is outrageous too. I just looked up the Art Institute of Colorado and read that the annual tuition is over $24,000 a year. That is crazy! Get your degree abroad or at a cheap state school.

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Marissa July 18, 2010 at 1:10 am

I dont think that two years is too much, upon your return home and continuation of studies, it will have shown not only a great opportunity taken, but more like you were so good that above all others YOU were chosen to go. It shows that you have ambitions in life and that not even distance or language barriers will become an obstacle, just a sppedbump easily overcome. Can you imagine how few people get an opportunity, a chance to even travel abroad for more than two weeks, but to be immersed in culture, sharing thoughts and learning “tricks of the trade”? Almost as an ambassador for your own people, you bet that you’ll get far in life and that if anyone can help you, they’ll sure as hell try!

Good luck and have fun!

Marissa

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Kate July 18, 2010 at 2:13 pm

Wait- if Michelle cannot afford the “meager tuition fee” at the Art Institutes of Colorado, why is she studying abroad?

Wouldn’t it be smarter to take the money that you would spend on the year abroad and instead put it towards your college education?

Perhaps I have misread what Michelle said, and if so, then I would say go for another year abroad. I know I would have loved the chance to do that.

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Jane July 19, 2010 at 1:29 pm

Hey Michelle, I see a larger issue you should probably think about. Do you want another year abroad because you don’t want to be in the states? Or did the opportunity just fall in your lap and you are thinking about taking it?

I ask because you have more options than you think you do if you just don’t want to be in the states. They have fantastic art schools in Spain, France, and England that you could apply to and do your entire 4-year college education in Europe. Some of the art schools in these countries are more prestigious than most American schools (the only school I can think of on the same artistic level as the European schools is Julliard). Remember, Europe has been dominating art for millennia; making America the baby in the room on the art scene. And who knows, you could be training under the leading artist in the field.

You could get an art degree in Paris, or London; and travel Europe for inspiration on your breaks (or during the school week, check out Ryan Air). If you will already be taking classes, then this just extends your time in Europe and puts those earned credits to good use. And another thing, remember that university in most European countries is free. To keep the money up, you may need to fly home for the summer and get a job; but when tuition is free, and living costs are low, the degree in Europe could easily be financed without taking on debt if you are money smart (don’t forget scholarships and FAFSA, they count in Europe too).

If, on the other hand, the opportunity just fell in your lap, and you really want to go to an American school; go for it! You will learn a lot and have a lot of fun. It really cant hurt. Good luck.

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Phillip Wochner July 20, 2010 at 6:15 pm

I’m inclined to agree that they’d be pleased that you are studying abroad.

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Idih sunday July 23, 2010 at 3:54 pm

she should thank her god that she has the opportunity to spend two yeas abroad.If i am her position i should be rejoicing instead of complaining. spending two yeas is better than four years in the university, If she has what it takes to deliver in her study. para venture she do not like the idea, she should through it at me, I would jump at the offer, as jumpy as cart.

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Michelle November 30, 2010 at 7:01 pm

I studied abroad once, last spring as a sophomore in college and I am planning on going again in the fall of 2011. I don’t see a problem with it and the college will not be mad, they’ll love it, just make sure you talk to them. Plus you should also check into their study abroad programs because if they have one where you want to go you may be able to earn credit and study abroad at the same time if you’re not already getting credit.

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Celeste December 9, 2010 at 11:53 am

I studied abroad for a year, and it was THE BEST experience of my life. A lot of colleges absolutely love when you spend time abroad, and it makes it much more likely that you’ll be admitted if they see that you’ve spent time abroad, especially if you go abroad twice. They love seeing that people have been exposed to cultures outside of their own. After my study abroad, I even managed to get accepted to the University of Michigan even though my GPA wasn’t the greatest (like a 3.4) – that’s how much colleges love study abroad. So go for it! It’s an amazing life opportunity that you don’t know when you’ll be able to have again, so absolutely GO GO GO!

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Celeste December 9, 2010 at 11:59 am

Sorry, but I also just noticed an error in what another person commented (not to be nitpicky)

“And another thing, remember that university in most European countries is free. To keep the money up, you may need to fly home for the summer and get a job; but when tuition is free, and living costs are low, the degree in Europe could easily be financed without taking on debt”

That isn’t true. College over there is cheap, but not free. It’s around 2000 euros for a full year, at least in Spain and Portugal, and in England college costs about the same as it is in the United States. Using Spain as an example (because I know the most about it lol), it’s only this cheap because of the fact that people there pay a ton of taxes to have it so cheap, and the fact that you’re not a citizen of the country where you could be attending means that it might not necessarily even be as cheap as what they pay. So I would look into that.

Also, living expenses over there are absolutely NOT CHEAP at all, speaking from experience. If you go to school in a big city (Paris, London, Madrid, Rome, etc) living expenses are just as much, if not more, than living expenses in the United States. So going to school in Europe would definitely be awesome if you’re looking into going into the art field, just keep in mind the expenses that come along with that as well and don’t downplay them. :)

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brandy January 8, 2011 at 3:58 pm

As a past exchange student myself, if ur not invovled w/ rotary youth exchange, u should check it out. u’ll make a lot of amazing connections. Were I u, i would go on exchange again, b/c 2 exchanges under ur belt IS quite impressive & ur college will most likely wait for u. but make sure u have all the details tacked down b/c i lost scholarships due to lack of communication & it sucked…good luck!

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viviannelouisa March 3, 2011 at 1:39 pm

I think travelling abroad to study is fun and she should be happy that she is priviledged to school abroad at her age.I believe that this will make her more knowledgeable worldwisely than most of her peers.i really do envy her.

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Jessica August 13, 2011 at 4:13 am

Hi I have the same experience with brandy.
I was an exchange student by rotary when I was 17 (I was attending high school grade). then I came back to my country just for a month to apply for a new visa for my college in California, also abroad. I’m on my sophomore now and I haven’t been back to my country. I think the choice of studying abroad will be so much fun. By studying abroad, you can learn so many thing, you get to know the real you by yourself, independent and many other thing. You could learn other culture and language.
I think if you talk to the admission, you could solve something together.
GOOD LUCK!

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sanober October 14, 2011 at 10:21 am

hey i think its a great idea! if she wants to study more…and abroad, i dont find any reason why she shouldnt!! there isnt any harm if we get more Einsteines in todays world!!

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