Understanding Bridge Year Programs & Others Like It

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ATTENTION to all incoming college freshman. Congrats, y’all! You did it. You’ve graduated high school and are moving on to the next exciting phase of life… college. As the violin plays the Graduation Song by Vitamin C in the background, we know you’ll miss being closer to home and seeing your childhood friends everyday, but hey. You are ready. As you’re looking at your options for classes, clubs, and other extracurriculars at your university, don’t forget to look into signing up for something maybe even greater…bridge year programs. 

Graduating class throwing caps in the air

As we go on, we remember. All the times we had together….Little did they know, there were even better times to come. 😏

Wait, what? We’re sure you’re thinking “isn’t that where you... umm ahh... I got nothin’.” No worries, GoAbroad is here to help explain! If you’re an adventure seeking human being who’s on a mission to serve the world around them, do a bridge year. They’ve been known to make a lasting positive impact on your life and they make you even more prepared for the real world.

So, what’s a bridge year? 

Imagine you’re to start your freshman year of college. You hear a lot of talk how not too many freshman study abroad their first year, but plan to their junior or senior year. But you’re dying to see the great wide unknown and to immerse yourself into a new culture. Then boom. You hear the words: Bridge Year. And this is where you learn how you’re making your dreams into a reality. 

  • Bridge year programs are only for freshman going into college and offered by your university. It’s a nine month to a year long TUITION FREE program. Whoa, wicked cool. The term bridge year is popular amongst the Princeton University crowd; hence, they're known for their bridge year. Other schools might have a very similar program, but just a different name.
  • During this time, you’re placed in a country that your school chooses, where you’ll be serving the local community through a volunteer project or internship and living with a host family. You could be an English teacher or a work at a small pottery business that keeps the city afloat. 
  • While you’re there, these programs automatically put you in language immersion courses. Since you’ll be there for roughly a year, the odds of you becoming advanced is very, very likely. What a resume booster, #amiright?!

A bridge year is different than university-sponsored programs for freshman year, fall semester study abroad. If you're more keen to take a gap semester than a gap year, a bridge year program in its purest form might not be the right fit.

Where can I go?

Girl holding textbooks

Prepared for college? Maybe. Prepared for an epic education and adventure abroad? You. Have. No. Idea. 🔥

Out of all those countries out there, some of the universities already have relations built with certain regions, such as Western Africa, Central America, or East Asia. Usually, in your application, you can submit a request on where you’d like to go, but a majority of programs will pick your placement country for you, based on your goals and skills. We only recommend requesting a specific destination if you have a project in mind that aligns with that location, or the success of your project relies heavily on incorporating local ecosystems, cultural values, climate, etc.

Instead, leave your bridge year destination up to the gods! How exciting is that?! It’s like a super awesome, mystery trip. 

Many countries common in bridge year placements will be developing countries. This gives you the advantage to show off your techy skills, drive impactful results, and live off the grid. Sometimes the best places are the ones you don’t know much .

Who does a bridge year?

Can everyone do a bridge year program? Depending on your university’s regulation, not everyone can participate. Schools select highly motivated students who are eager to learn and want to live a positive imprint on foreign lands. They represent their university on a high level and are willing to work hard for the next year. There’s usually an application process one fills out at during their senior year of high school. Every school’s open and deadline dates are different. Check in with your university’s study abroad office or bridge year counselor to get the right deets for you. 

To say you’ve done a bridge year is a massive accomplishment. Again, this is only for incoming freshmen, so make sure you’re planning ahead on your college tours to ask all your questions on your gap year options.

4 benefits of bridge year programs

Just like any trip, there are always benefits to travel. But bridge year programs bring a sophisticated and high value set of prosperity. Remember, being accepted into these programs is a big deal. Schools only choose top-notch students to support on a bridge year.

So, what are the benefits of a bridge year—not only for you, but for the country you’ll be serving?

1. Make a difference in the world. 

Be the change you want to see in the world. With a bridge year, you will be. Not only will you be volunteering and dedicating your time to helping those less fortunate, you will be the bridge. You are the linking connection for you home country and university to this region. Leave your mark and make a good impression with those you’re aiding. 

Watch grades rise as you assist in the classroom, protect a wild plant species that is a possible cure for a rare disease, or feel good to greeted by a home cooked meal after a long day of farming. Every day something needs to be done, but with optimistic attitudes, you can accomplish more than you intended. You are the change in the world. 

Friends sitting on cliff overlooking sunset

You. Yes YOU. Can be be THAT sophomore entering college with multiple friends around the globe. #LinkedlnOnPoint

2. Prepare yo’self for college. 

If we had a penny for how many time an incoming freshman was unsure of their major or decided to change during their four(ish) years, we’d be millionaires. Freshman year is a new start that everyone looks forward to, but if you’re not sure what you want to study, a bridge year is right for you. By learning another language and taking time to think what you want to do in your life, it will help you realize your passion, which will make you more targeted and focused in your course selections as well as how you spend your time in extracurriculars

3. Gain heaps of new friends. 

Don’t worry it, you won’t be totally by yourself. Each school send a group of student to a select area in the country. You’ll take courses together, hang out on your off time, and explore the region. These people could be some of your best friends since they’ll all go to your same university. Also, make sure to be making friends with the locals! It’s super important so you can become more fluent in speaking their native tongue and grow your relationships. 

4. Learn a new language. 

They say the best way to learn a new foreign language is to live in a country for a year or two. Since this style of programming typically offers/requires intensive language courses, all we can say is “Holy cow! What an amazing opportunity!” Not only will this help you during your bridge year, but once you graduate college. Future employers will you want since you can open the door through a second language. 

Bridge with hot air balloons in the background 

Just as bridges connect cities, a bridge year program abroad will connect you to meaningful relationships & a brighter future. 🌉

Which universities offer bridge year programs?

Universities generally offer this type of program, but sadly, not everyone does. Why? It takes a lot for a school to fund a select amount of students for a years time overseas. Before you make your college decision, ask your prospective institutions if they offer this track for incoming freshmen.

To jumpstart your research, here are some of the most popular bridge year programs offered by universities:

Home of the most popular program out there. The Princeton Bridge Year program is known throughout the country and has a remarkable reputation, leading these 20 selected students into high success. Students have the option to travel to Bolivia, Senegal, China, India, and Indonesia for nine months during their freshman year. With the Princeton Bridge Year acceptance rate being lower than average, that shouldn’t stop you from apply. 

Tufts University, located out in Medford, Massachusetts, has made some waves within their 1+4 Bridge Year Service Learning Program. This program’s focus is to make gap years more affordable for students and granting help to those from low-income families. Students can volunteer in the U.S. or internationally in India, Ecuador, Nicaragua or Brazil. Applying is soooo easy. This program does cost some if you don’t have financial aid. To go in the U.S. it’s $8,000 and $36,000 overseas. Write an essay on why you’d be the BEST candidate along with your college application. 

Want to do your own thing, but still have high quality bridge year program? Check out UNC - Chapel Hill’s Global Gap Year Fellowship. You can create your OWN gap year program and it’s the first of its kind. Have a service mission in mind? Great, their staff will give you full assistance throughout the entire year you’re away, plus $7,500. This program is awarded to seven high school graduates who apply to their college EARLY. So get on the ball and sign up!

Global Citizen Year

This group is slightly different than a university. It’s a bit more open to all students who are over the age of 18. They offer four destinations to India, Senegal, Brazil, and Ecuador. This program isn’t completely paid for, for all students, but 30% of the attendees get a full ride. You won’t get to pick your type of volunteer work, but you will be with other bridge year students during your eight month adventure.

Other Options

Depending on your course load and working with your college advisor, yes, you can totally get college credit! You can easily apply your work to basic general credits or major courses. Your school might have you keep track of hours, post a blog, write a paper, or sometime of activity to show you learned something from your time abroad.

What if my university doesn't offer this type of program?

No sweat. You can defer enrollment in college for a year and take the traditional gap year route instead. There are plenty of programs and resources out there to help you make the most of your "time off"—to help you better prepare for life, for college, for a meaningful existence. Yeah, there's all that and more. Check out these articles to learn more gap year programs:

Princeton University

Bridge year programs FTW!

Why would you not? Take a breather and truly find yourself before you hit the books. Immerse yourself and see the difference you can make within a year's time. Living in a foreign land gets you out of your shell to see the light in a new perspective. Show what you can do for society, but prove to yourself that you can accomplish anything. What are you waiting for? Get out there and take on the world during your bridge year!

Find gap year and bridge year programs now