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Best Gap Year Programs for Students After High School

Gap Year Programs: It is understandable why so many American students choose to take a gap year before committing to a career, undergraduate degree, or higher degree after spending many years in a row in formal school.

A gap year is exactly what it sounds like: a year, or prolonged length of time, where someone hits “pause” on a trajectory that, depending on their circumstances, may not be the ideal one for them. At times, this trajectory can feel automated and predictable.

There are various justifications for choosing to take a gap year. It’s a great chance to gain experience in the workplace and earn money to put aside for upcoming academic or career goals.

If your passion wasn’t discovered until later in high school or college, a gap year can give you the time and space to explore it and determine what to do next.

What exactly is an Academic Gap Year?

A gap year is the time between high school graduation and the start of college during which a student works, volunteers, travels, or otherwise prepares for college. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, a gap year is not usually 12 months long and can be either shorter or longer depending on the needs of the student. The fundamental purpose of a gap year, regardless of how long it is, is to give the student time to reflect, gain life experience, and make a decision about what they want to study in college.

A student can use a gap year in a variety of ways, including:

Working – When you are not enrolled in school, saving money for college is simpler.

Volunteering – You have the rare chance to take on a significant volunteer role while a career or college path is not imminent, and you’ll even find that there are volunteering gap year programs created especially for young people in your situation.

Traveling – Whether for work or just for leisure, a gap year gives you the chance to take trips and experience the globe for yourself.

gaining life experiences – Discover some crucial “adult” abilities that you’ll require in college and your first few years of employment. This personal development is quite valuable.

A travel or cultural component is a staple of most gap year programs. Sometimes leaving one’s own nation might offer enlightening perspective, particularly if one has never ventured elsewhere.

Many gap year programs also include a component of volunteer work, and many more have adventure components. For instance, some participants in gap years may finish their program with a number of qualifications or trainings that will help them become outdoor guides.

A gap year will introduce you to like-minded individuals and helpful resources, whether your goal is to learn a new language, relocate to another country, or simply to live your life to the fullest.

Benefits of Gap Year Programs

In order for students to join college with the correct job route in mind, gap years can assist them get some understanding of their own particular abilities and ambitions. Additionally, it provides perspective, enabling the student to consider their objectives without the pressure of testing or writing papers. The following are some advantages of taking a gap year:

1. Get experience working

It’s likely that you didn’t have much time to work while you were a high school student, at least not in a position that resembled a profession. You can acquire some work experience by taking a gap year. You can use that work experience to assess whether the career route you are thinking about will be a suitable fit for your own life experiences, objectives, and skills.

2. A Pause to Refresh

You’ve just completed at least 12 years of education. Maybe you should take a break before getting into another four (or more)? This can be quite reviving as you replenish your intellectual energy. After the difficulties of high school, taking a year off before college allows you to rejuvenate.

3. Investigate Possibilities

Outside of school, there are many different life experiences available. You might have the freedom to go on trips, discover your local area, or meet people who are outside of your comfort zone. These kinds of experiences are worthwhile and valuable in distinct ways from classroom ones.

4. Improve Your Life Skills

You will acquire new life skills along with those new experiences. Learn time management skills, how to cook, how to keep a house or apartment tidy, and how to get around in your neighborhood during your gap year. You will find the college experience much less intimidating if you have these life skills under your belt before you leave for college.

5. Get Paid More

You can work full-time hours if you take that extra year off before college. You can use the additional income you generate from this to pay for your college tuition and other costs. You can accept any and all hours that come your way because you are not constrained by the requirements of a school schedule.

Possible Drawbacks of Skipping a Gap Year

For some students, taking a year off before college is not the ideal solution. Your academic goals may be derailed, making it more difficult to get back on track. Think about the advantages and disadvantages before choosing to do this:

1. Returning to school could be more challenging.

You’re already living in “school” mode. It can be challenging to get back into the routine after taking a year off. As you take that year off, your study habits and learning skills can deteriorate. This is a thing to take into account if schooling is not your main passion.

2. Feel Behind Your Peers

Some of your classmates will be a year older than you when you return to school after a break. You might be one of the class’s more experienced freshman. Many students don’t find this to be a problem. It’s less of an issue now as there are more adult students attending colleges, but you still need to think about if you’ll feel behind if you’re a year behind everyone you graduated high school with.

3. Lack of Momentum

You’re moving forward after high school. The educational opportunities that await you in college have you excited. It’s possible that you’ll lose that momentum if you take a year off to work. The good news is that 90% of kids who take a gap year do enroll in college, so losing momentum is not usually a major issue.

4. Expensive

Working during a gap year can generate revenue. Traveling and taking in life’s adventures during a gap year can be costly. Make sure you can afford the experiences you wish to have before taking a gap year and that you are spending it wisely.

5. Needs Planning

Planning is necessary for your gap year, especially if you wish to travel. You will waste the opportunities presented to you during your gap year if you do not take the time to plan. Make sure to utilize a gap year if you decide to take one.

Ten of the greatest gap year programs have been compiled by us. These programs typically accept participants between the ages of 17 and 22, so people thinking about taking a gap year following high school or college can apply.

Best Gap Year Programs for Students After High School

1. EF Gap Year (Multiple International Locations)

EF Gap Years are based on several program modules and provide recent graduates with global launches.

Gap Year Programs
EF Gap Year (Multiple International Locations)

One of the longest Gap Year programs on this list, the organization’s 25-week program takes participants to three different countries where they immerse themselves in language study, volunteer work, and internships.

Between September 25 and May 3, the EF Gap Year occurs. After completing their orientation in Boston, gap year participants take a trip to a famous city to take part in language acquisition, such as Barcelona, Paris, Seoul, or Tokyo.

Participants are encouraged to have a positive influence at the community level through a four-week service and sustainability component, generally in Peru, Thailand, or the Dominican Republic.

After taking their winter holiday at home, gap year participants depart for a guided tour of Australia and New Zealand before starting an eight-week business project in Stockholm, Sweden.

The culmination of the event is a seven-day leadership academy in London where participants think about how they will apply their newly acquired abilities and talents.

2. Where There Be Dragons (Colorado River Basin, USA)

For those between the ages of 17 and 22, Where There Be Dragons provides a range of study abroad and gap year options. The Colorado River Basin Semester: Sustainability & Resilience in the Western US is one of their most intriguing offers that takes place here in the United States.

The Colorado River Basin Semester is a little more than 10 weeks long and is a gap year program. Both the fall and spring cohorts, which each include 12 students and three mentors, are open to applications from recent graduates.

Courses on colonization and western influences, economic concepts, and global leadership are available for college credit.

On nearby farms, permaculture and sustainability are major topics of discussion. To see the varied ecosystems in the western region of the nation, participants will trek, take a train ride, and float down the Colorado River.

Gap year participants will leave the program with a deepened awareness of how major US industries will be forced to adapt due to climate change and an enthusiasm for getting involved in food justice campaigns.

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3. Irish Gap Adventure & Leadership Program (Ireland)

A gap year can be a fantastic opportunity to travel and experience a new culture in addition to being a good time to develop new skills.

The Irish Gap Adventure & Leadership Program is the best option for someone who likes to immerse themselves deeper into a community while acquiring useful life skills, even if many of the gap year programs on this list transport participants across numerous international places.

The Irish Gap Year, which lasts 75 days and is available for spring or fall dates, is geared toward graduates looking to develop outdoor professions.

Gap year participants will undergo a three-day wilderness trek and 80 hours of volunteer work in addition to exploring some of Ireland’s most beautiful cities.

What does an ordinary day entail? After getting dressed, participants might have a surf instruction at Bundoran’s Tullan Strand before taking part in a team-building leadership session after lunch.

The “capstone” of the experience—planning a five-day road trip from any location in Ireland—is given to students at some point during the course.

4. CityGAP at The Living City Project (New York City, USA)

CityGAP transforms the Big Apple into a studio/classroom, making it arguably the most fascinating gap year program in New York City.

The Living City Project participants are 17 to 22-year-olds who are looking for a social, personal, and outdoor experience with other like-minded thinkers and adventurers.

The first 14 weeks of each semester are dedicated to a social landscape, neighborhood, and institution orientation in New York City.

Throughout the course of the program, scholars adopt one of five Living City lenses. Participants in The Form of the City look into how cities are created and how well urban architecture fits with the rapidly advancing technologies.

The City of Memory lens is equally fascinating since it asks participants to think about how cities create and reconstruct their identities over time.

Individuals and small teams begin with a question or problem, progress into the research and inquiry phase with the addition of exploration and excursions, and then analyze their results over the course of a 10–12 week project cycle.

From there, they will create and display a podcast, video, work of public art, policy proposal, or other artifact that provides an answer to their initial problem or issue. How would Broadway reopen in reaction to the COVID-19 stoppage was one of the earlier queries.”, “What are the alternatives to zoning in NYC, and how does it influence development?”

5. Gapforce Trekforce Expedition Leader Training (Multiple International Locations)

Comparable to the “Inception” of gap year programs is the Trekforce Expedition Leader Training. Gapforce involves participants in a demanding adventure travel and outdoor training curriculum to essentially prepare them to run gap year programs themselves. This is definitely not a pleasant vacation option.

Gap Year Programs
Gapforce Trekforce Expedition Leader Training (Multiple International Locations)

GapForce’s expedition begins in the Welsh mountains and then travels into the Costa Rican and Panamanian rainforests. Working together, participants will earn their First Aid certification and finish their basic navigation coursework in Wales.

Expect to learn how to make fires, use machetes, and travel alone in the rainforest in Central America. For all Gapforce expedition guides, completing the three-day solo survival trek is a prerequisite.

The gap year program’s graduates will be skilled in kayaking, snorkeling, cycling, and dealing with medical emergencies in the outdoors.

Participants will be given ongoing feedback to assist them identify their areas of strength and development. Many students who complete the program land jobs with Gapforce managing other teams around the globe!

6. Sea|Mester Study Abroad at Sea (Multiple International Locations)

Join one of the few gap year programs held on a live-aboard sailboat! With Sea|Mester, gap-year programs are offered on 20 to 90-day cruises throughout the world, with a focus on the Caribbean islands.

The immersion offers the chance to obtain SCUBA, sailing, and other navigational skill certifications. With an average age range of 17 to 22, the majority of participants have just completed high school or are in their second or third year of college.

At sea, the tides fluctuate daily! On passage days, student crew members captain the ship while it travels to new ports or locations. The curriculum structure can often be divided into “shore days” and “passage days.” Participants can go to classes, work jobs, or keep an eye out for navigational difficulties.

Participants in gap year programs dock during shore days and partake in exciting excursions like scuba diving, caving, sightseeing, or trekking.

Imagine that you wish to pursue a unique career on the ocean. If so, you are able to get your rescue diver, divemaster, emergency first responder, and other certificates over the Sea|Mester gap year.

7. Raleigh International (Costa Rica, Tanzania, Nepal)

In comparison to the other gap year programs on this list, Raleigh International stands out because it places the greatest emphasis on volunteer work.

A Raleigh International program combines philanthropy and sustainable travel in Tanzania, Nepal, and Costa Rica for people aged 17 to 24.

Participants live in more isolated areas that are less regularly visited by tourists and work on worthwhile initiatives that can improve the quality of life for people.

What specific initiatives may participants in gap years work together on?

In Tanzania, they might construct hygienic restrooms for use in school buildings, while in Costa Rica they support the delivery of clean water to remote villages. The pursuit of philanthropy is contrasted with international travel, outdoor activities, and language study.

The most well-liked gap year program lasts for ten weeks and involves participants in learning about community development, water sanitation, and natural resource management. Nearly 50,000 volunteers from more than 90 nations have worked with Raleigh International since the program’s beginning.

8. High Mountain Institute Adventure (North American West; South American Patagonia Region)

Unsurprisingly, a High Mountain Institute Adventure’s main focus is developing outdoor skills. Rock climbing, whitewater rafting, and other sports that are typically covered in outdoor adventure curriculum will be advanced for gap-year participants.

The ability to negotiate difficult domestic and international terrain, be comfortable for lengthy periods of time while traveling, and identify local hazards will all be taught to students.

Participants are prompted to reflect on some fundamental questions via an environmental studies and service component, such as “Can we restore the landscape to its natural condition?” and “How do we balance conflicting values while managing natural resources?”

Attendee participation in “evening circles,” where they discuss their views and findings, fosters personal growth as participants focus on leadership.

The HMI Gap semester is the program’s signature offering. Over the course of 80 days, participants travel with a small group of peers and guides while learning outdoor adventure skills, conservation values, and leadership qualities. In the American West and Patagonia (South America), there are numerous alternatives for gap year programs.

9. Gap Year at The School of The New York Times (New York City, USA)

The Gap Year at The School of the NY Times is open to participants ages 18 to 21 who are either delaying college or taking time away from school to evaluate their next steps. It is another fantastic choice in one of the greatest cities in the world.

Participants are encouraged to develop transferable skills in critical thinking, cooperation, and cultural humility throughout programs that last six or 12 weeks.

Two six-week terms are included in the same 12-week option, which spans from September 10 to December 8 overall.

To encourage additional research into a significant global or societal issue, the curriculum each week focuses on a certain section of the New York Times.

Each study often includes a service learning component, such as volunteering to coach young athletes in various skill areas or working at an art gallery.

Lectures, readings, guest lecturers, round-table discussions, and a culminating project are all included in the modules of the gap year program. Completers leave their gap year program with a more inclusive perspective on the world and advanced management abilities for juggling challenging undertakings.

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10. Carpe Diem Education Innovative Gap Year Programs (Multiple International Locations)

At Carpe Diem Education, don’t just take the day; seize the year by participating in one of the organization’s Innovative Gap Year Programs on one of five continents!

Graduates who want to immerse themselves in a new culture should choose this gap year option.

Students can take part in a gap year program and, if necessary, receive college credit at the same time.

Every year, there are new placements available, and the list for 2023–2024 is intriguing! Consider enrolling in a program in, say, Hawaii, India, or Italy/Greece.

Participants in the Semester in Spain & Morocco program are challenged to research cultural preservation activities in one of the most breathtaking regions on earth.

No matter where they decide to spend their gap year, every participant gets a focused volunteer placement (FVP).

Prior instances include supporting HIV prevention programs in South Africa, rehabilitating manatee populations along the coast of Belize, and many more possibilities.

Before the winter break, the group semester runs from September 20 to November 29. Then, from January through April, participants complete their individual FVP semester.

Gap Year Programs
Gap Year Programs

Should You Enroll in a Gap Year?

Should you take a gap year in light of these perks and potential drawbacks? This question has a very personal answer. Families must realize that taking a gap year is a viable option for a student’s development and does not signify the kid is abandoning college completely.

  • If you have particular life experiences you wish to have before beginning your profession, you should take a gap year. It could be challenging to integrate such experiences once you start college.
  • If you are not going to make a good plan, you shouldn’t take a gap year. You’ll squander the academic year that you could have spent in school.
  • If you need to work to pay for college fees and you have a job lined up, you should take a gap year. There is nothing wrong with taking your time to save in this manner for college.

Finally, if you’re thinking about quitting school completely, you shouldn’t take a gap year because it can derail your plans.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the gap year program?

This educational interlude is described by the Gap Year Association as "a semester or year of experiential learning, typically taken after high school and prior to career or postsecondary education, in order to deepen one's practical, professional, and personal awareness."

How much cash will you require for a gap year?

The cost of a gap year varies greatly. Depending on vacation style—solo, couple, or family—destinations, activities, and price range—expect to pay between $5,000 and $40,000 per person.

Is Gap Year accepted in the USA?

The US educational system accepts a one-year study break, but if the break is more than a year, the student must give a good cause and supporting evidence.

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