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15 Best Gap Year Programs

15 Best Gap Year Programs

6 min Read|June 08 2024
|Written by:

Thomas Babb

Contents

Have you ever considered taking a gap year before starting college? A gap year is a break from formal education that allows students to explore various interests through travel, volunteering, internships, or study abroad. Taking a gap year offers numerous benefits, such as personal growth, cultural immersion, and the development of new skills. Considering the gap year pros and cons is crucial before making the decision to take a gap year.

These programs are available for high school graduates, college students, working professionals, and older adults, and can include adventure travel, community service, sustainability projects, and personal development. Students can gain hands-on learning experiences, improve their language skills, and even earn college credit.

To help you find the best gap year programs, we have evaluated programs based on their focus on youth development, leadership skills, experiential learning opportunities, and support from reputable gap year organizations. This guide will introduce you to the top gap year programs available, each offering unique opportunities for growth and adventure.

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How to Choose the Right Gap Year Program

Choosing the right gap year program can be overwhelming with so many options available. Here are some key factors to consider to ensure you select a program that aligns with your personal and academic goals:

  • Consider Your Interests and Goals: Reflect on what you want to achieve. Are you looking for cultural immersion, language skills, or hands-on learning? Programs like EF Gap Year and Projects Abroad offer diverse experiences tailored to different interests. If you're looking for more gap year ideas, consider programs that offer a blend of volunteering and adventure travel.
  • Determine Your Budget: Evaluate the costs associated with the program, including tuition, travel, and living expenses. Some programs provide financial aid or opportunities to earn money, which can help manage expenses while you gain valuable experiences.
  • Think About the Location and Duration: Decide if you prefer a short-term program or a year-long adventure. Consider if you want to stay in one country or explore multiple countries. Programs like Global Citizen Year offer extended stays, while others like Rustic Pathways provide shorter, impactful experiences.
  • Research Program Credibility and Support Services: Look for programs accredited by reputable organizations, such as the Gap Year Association. Check for reviews and testimonials to ensure the program provides strong support and meets safety standards.
  • Align with Future Academic and Career Plans: Choose a gap year experience that complements your future academic and career goals. Programs offering internships, such as Dynamy Internship Year, can provide relevant experience and college credit.

Gap Year Programs

15 Best Gap Year Programs - Choose the Best For You

When selecting a gap year program, it's essential to consider various factors to ensure it aligns with your personal interests and future goals. Here are some top gap year programs to help you explore your options and find the best fit for your unique journey.

1. Global Citizen Year

Global Citizen Year offers an immersive gap year program that places students in host communities across India, Brazil, Ecuador, Senegal, and South America. Over eight months, participants engage in service learning and community development projects, gaining firsthand experience in local cultures and societal issues.

The program emphasizes leadership skills and personal growth, preparing students for future academic and professional challenges. For those concerned about the difference between college and university, this gap year can help clarify future educational goals. Additionally, Global Citizen Year partners with universities to offer college credit, ensuring the time spent abroad contributes to academic progress.

With a strong focus on cultural immersion and practical learning, this program stands out as one of the best gap year opportunities for students looking to make a meaningful impact while developing essential skills for their future careers.

  • Location: Various countries (India, Brazil, Ecuador, Senegal, South America)
  • Duration: 8 months
  • Focus: Leadership, cultural immersion, service learning
  • Cost: $21,000
  • Unique Features: Partnership with universities for college credit, leadership training

2. Where There Be Dragons

Where There Be Dragons offers an enriching gap year program that immerses students in diverse cultures across the globe. With program durations ranging from 4 to 12 weeks, participants engage deeply with local communities, enhancing their cultural understanding and language skills. The small group sizes foster personalized learning and ensure each student receives ample support and attention.

The programs also include extensive travel, allowing students to explore unique landscapes and traditions. Emphasizing outdoor adventure, students develop resilience and leadership skills while participating in activities such as trekking, homestays, and community projects.

This program is ideal for those looking to combine cultural immersion and outdoor adventure with language learning, making it one of the top gap year programs available for gap year students seeking a transformative experience. Such experiences can be beneficial when considering the hardest colleges to get into, as they demonstrate initiative and global awareness.

  • Location: Multiple global locations
  • Duration: 4-12 weeks
  • Focus: Cultural immersion, language learning, outdoor adventure
  • Cost: $6,750 - $18,950
  • Unique Features: Small group sizes, personalized learning, extensive travel

3. Dynamy Internship Year

Dynamy Internship Year offers a unique gap year program centered on real-world work experience and career exploration. Located in Worcester, Massachusetts, this program spans 4 to 9 months, allowing students to immerse themselves in professional environments tailored to their interests.

Participants gain practical skills and insights into potential career paths, enhancing their readiness for future academic and professional endeavors. A standout feature of this program is its partnership with Clark University, which enables students to earn college credits during their gap year.

Additionally, Dynamy provides specialized support for students with learning differences, ensuring an inclusive and supportive environment for all participants. This program is ideal for those seeking to bridge the gap between high school and college with meaningful work experience and academic advancement, which is crucial for maintaining a good college GPA.

  • Location: Worcester, Massachusetts
  • Duration: 4-9 months
  • Focus: Real-world work experience, career exploration
  • Cost: $12,000 - $23,500
  • Unique Features: Partnership with Clark University for college credits, tailored support for students with learning differences

4. Outward Bound

Outward Bound offers an array of gap year programs designed to foster personal development and leadership through outdoor education. Spanning from 10 to 85 days, these programs immerse students in challenging wilderness expeditionsthat teach critical survival skills and build resilience.

Participants engage in activities such as backpacking, rock climbing, and kayaking, all aimed at enhancing leadership abilities and self-confidence. Outward Bound programs are known for their rigorous physical demands and supportive team environments, making them ideal for students looking to push their limits and grow through experiential learning. Understanding the gap year pros and conscan help determine if such intensive experiences align with your personal goals.

  • Location: Various locations worldwide
  • Duration: 10 days to 85 days
  • Focus: Outdoor education, leadership, personal development
  • Cost: $2,000 - $10,000
  • Unique Features: Emphasis on outdoor survival skills, leadership training

5. Sea|mester Study Abroad at Sea

Sea|mester Study Abroad at Sea provides a unique educational adventure where students live and learn aboard a sailing vessel. Programs range from 20 to 90 days and focus on marine biology, oceanography, and seamanship. Students gain hands-on experience in sailing and marine science, working closely with instructors to conduct research and navigate the open seas.

Accredited academic coursework ensures that participants can earn college credits, integrating their gap year experience with their formal education. This can be an important factor for students planning to pursue a college minor. This program is perfect for those interested in marine biology and looking for an adventurous and educational gap year abroad.

  • Location: Global (varies by program)
  • Duration: 20-90 days
  • Focus: Marine biology, sailing, leadership
  • Cost: $14,500 - $24,700
  • Unique Features: Hands-on sailing and marine science education, accredited academic coursework

6. Projects Abroad

Projects Abroad offers extensive opportunities for volunteering abroad and internships across multiple countries, emphasizing the importance of supporting ongoing projects under local guidance. Program durations range from 1 to 24 weeks, allowing students to choose the length of stay that best fits their schedule.

Participants can engage in diverse projects such as community development, wildlife conservation, teaching, and healthcare, gaining valuable experience and making a positive impact. For those exploring gap year ideas, this program offers a wide range of volunteer opportunities.

With a strong support network, Projects Abroad ensures that students are well-prepared and supported throughout their journey. This program is ideal for students seeking to gain international experience, develop new skills, and contribute to local communities.

  • Location: Multiple global locations
  • Duration: 1-24 weeks
  • Focus: Volunteering, internships
  • Cost: Varies by program length and location
  • Unique Features: Wide range of projects, strong support network

7. NOLS (National Outdoor Leadership School)

NOLS (National Outdoor Leadership School) offers comprehensive gap year programs that emphasize wilderness skills and leadership development. With courses available in various global locations, students can choose from a range of environments including mountains, deserts, and forests. Program durations vary from 10 days to a full semester, allowing for flexible participation.

The curriculum includes intensive wilderness training, covering skills such as navigation, survival, and environmental ethics. Additionally, NOLS provides accredited courses, enabling participants to earn college credits while gaining invaluable outdoor experience. This program is ideal for those seeking to develop leadership skills and resilience through hands-on, experiential learning in the great outdoors. This program is ideal for those looking to develop leadership skills and resilience, which can be beneficial when facing the hardest college majors.

  • Location: Various global locations
  • Duration: 10 days to a full semester
  • Focus: Wilderness skills, leadership
  • Cost: $3,000 - $30,000
  • Unique Features: Intensive wilderness training, accredited courses

Global Travel for Gap Year Programs

Global Travel for Gap Year Programs

8. AMIGOS

AMIGOS offers immersive gap year programs in various Latin American countries, designed to foster community development, leadership, and cultural immersion. Volunteering abroad is a key component of the program, with accessible and affordable opportunities available. Over 6 to 9 weeks, participants live with host families, providing a deep dive into local cultures and traditions.

The program emphasizes leadership training, preparing students to take on roles that contribute positively to their host communities. Activities often include service learning projects that address community needs, enhancing both personal growth and social impact.

With costs ranging from $5,775 to $8,875, AMIGOS offers a valuable opportunity for students to develop their leadership skills, gain a global perspective, and build lifelong memories through meaningful cultural exchanges. This program is ideal for those seeking a hands-on, impactful gap year experience in Latin America.

  • Location: Latin America
  • Duration: 6-9 weeks
  • Focus: Community development, leadership, cultural immersion
  • Cost: $5,775 - $8,875
  • Unique Features: Living with host families, leadership training

9. EF Gap Year

EF Gap Year offers a customizable program that allows students to explore multiple countries while focusing on language learning, cultural immersion, and professional internships. With durations ranging from 6 weeks to 9 months, participants can tailor their experience to fit their schedules and interests.

The program includes intensive language courses, providing the opportunity to gain or improve language skills in a new cultural context. Internships and service learning components offer practical experience and the chance to engage with local communities, enhancing both personal and professional growth.

With a flexible program structure, EF Gap Year is ideal for students looking to design their own adventure and gain a global perspective through immersive and diverse experiences.

  • Location: Multiple global locations
  • Duration: 6 weeks to 9 months
  • Focus: Language learning, cultural immersion, internships
  • Cost: $14,000 - $38,500
  • Unique Features: Flexible program structure, language courses, internships

10. Rustic Pathways

Rustic Pathways offers diverse gap year programs that span across multiple countries, providing students with opportunities to engage in volunteering abroad, cultural immersion, and adventure travel. With program durations ranging from 1 week to 3 months, participants can choose experiences that fit their schedule and interests.

The programs focus on impactful volunteer projects that address community needs, fostering a strong sense of global citizenship and social responsibility. Adventure travel is a key component, with activities such as trekking, rafting, and exploring national parks, ensuring a thrilling and educational experience.

The wide range of volunteer projects includes community development, healthcare, teaching, psychology, and wildlife conservation, allowing students to develop new skills and make meaningful contributions. Rustic Pathways’ comprehensive support network ensures that students are well-prepared and supported throughout their journey, making it an excellent choice for those seeking an adventurous and impactful gap year.

  • Location: Multiple global locations
  • Duration: 1 week to 3 months
  • Focus: Volunteering, cultural immersion, adventure
  • Cost: Varies by program
  • Unique Features: Wide range of volunteer projects, adventure travel

11. Carpe Diem Education

Carpe Diem Education offers transformative gap year programs that emphasize cultural immersion, service learning, and outdoor adventure across various global locations. Programs range from 3 months to a full year, allowing students to deeply engage with different cultures and environments. Participants work in small groups, ensuring personalized attention and fostering close-knit communities.

The experiential learning approach integrates hands-on activities with academic elements, enhancing understanding and retention. Service learning projects enable students to contribute to local communities, focusing on areas such as education, environmental conservation, and community development.

Outdoor adventures, such as trekking and kayaking, promote physical fitness and resilience. Carpe Diem Education's holistic approach prepares students for future academic and career endeavors while offering a meaningful and impactful gap year experience.

  • Location: Multiple global locations
  • Duration: 3 months to a full year
  • Focus: Cultural immersion, service learning, outdoor adventure
  • Cost: $15,000 - $30,000
  • Unique Features: Small group sizes, experiential learning

12. Greenheart Travel

Greenheart Travel offers diverse gap year programs focused on volunteering abroad, internships, and language immersion across multiple countries. Emphasizing the importance of supporting ongoing projects under local guidance, these programs ensure that participants contribute meaningfully to community development.

With program durations ranging from 1 to 12 months, students can choose the length that best fits their goals and schedules. The organization emphasizes sustainability and community service, ensuring that projects positively impact local communities and the environment. Participants can engage in a variety of experiences, from teaching English and environmental conservation to professional internships that provide valuable work experience.

Language immersion programs help students develop language skills while living with host families, offering a deep dive into the local culture. Greenheart Travel’s commitment to meaningful, responsible travel makes it an excellent choice for students seeking to contribute to community development and gain a global perspective.

  • Location: Multiple global locations
  • Duration: 1-12 months
  • Focus: Volunteering, internships, language immersion
  • Cost: Varies by program
  • Unique Features: Focus on sustainability, community service

13. The Leap

The Leap offers engaging gap year programs that combine volunteering with adventure travel across multiple global locations. These programs last from 6 to 10 weeks, providing a balanced blend of meaningful community service and exciting travel experiences. Participants can engage in a variety of projects, from wildlife conservation and community development to teaching and environmental work, tailored to create positive impacts on local communities.

A standout feature of The Leap is its comprehensive pre-departure support, ensuring students are well-prepared for their journey. This includes detailed briefings, packing lists, and support with the application process. Additionally, The Leap provides all-inclusive travel packages that cover accommodation, meals, and in-country support, simplifying the logistics for participants.

This program is ideal for students seeking a structured yet adventurous gap year experience that fosters personal growth, cultural understanding, and practical skills development in diverse environments.

  • Location: Multiple global locations
  • Duration: 6-10 weeks
  • Focus: Volunteering, adventure travel
  • Cost: $3,000 - $10,000
  • Unique Features: Pre-departure support, comprehensive travel packages

Gap Years Program

Gap Years Programs

14. GVI (Global Vision International)

GVI (Global Vision International) offers impactful gap year programs focused on volunteering and conservation across various global locations. Programs last from 2 to 24 weeks, providing flexibility to fit different schedules and commitments. GVI places a strong emphasis on conservation and sustainable development, allowing participants to contribute to important environmental and community projects.

Students can engage in diverse activities such as wildlife conservation, marine conservation, community development, and teaching. These hands-on experiences not only benefit local ecosystems and communities but also provide participants with valuable skills and a deeper understanding of global issues. GVI's programs are designed to be immersive and educational, ensuring that students gain a comprehensive understanding of the areas they work in.

The relatively affordable cost, ranging from $2,000 to $5,000, makes GVI a viable option for students seeking meaningful volunteer opportunities that foster personal growth and global awareness. This program is ideal for those passionate about sustainability and making a positive impact on the world.

  • Location: Multiple global locations
  • Duration: 2-24 weeks
  • Focus: Volunteering, conservation
  • Cost: $2,000 - $5,000
  • Unique Features: Focus on conservation and sustainable development

15. The Experiment in International Living

The Experiment in International Living offers immersive gap year programs designed to provide deep cultural immersion and language learning experiences. Spanning 3 to 6 weeks, these programs place students in various global locations where they live with host families, allowing for authentic cultural exchange and daily practice of a new language. Participants engage in experiential learning activities that include community projects, local excursions, and interactive workshops, enhancing their understanding and appreciation of different cultures.

The program emphasizes hands-on learning and personal growth, encouraging students to step out of their comfort zones and develop global perspectives. With costs ranging from $6,000 to $8,000, The Experiment in International Living ensures comprehensive support and structured programming, making it an ideal choice for students seeking a short-term, impactful gap year experience focused on cultural understanding and language acquisition. This program is perfect for those looking to gain language skills, cultural insights, and lifelong memories through immersive and experiential learning.

  • Location: Multiple global locations
  • Duration: 3-6 weeks
  • Focus: Cultural immersion, language learning
  • Cost: $6,000 - $8,000
  • Unique Features: Homestays, experiential learning

Conclusion

Taking a gap year offers invaluable opportunities for personal growth, cultural immersion, and skill development. It's a chance to explore your interests, gain new perspectives, and make meaningful contributions to communities around the world. When selecting a gap year program, consider your personal interests and career goals to ensure the experience aligns with your future plans.

Thorough research and careful planning are essential to finding the program that best suits your needs and aspirations. By doing so, you'll be well-prepared for a transformative and enriching gap year experience.

FAQ

What is the ideal time to start planning for a gap year?

Ideally, students should start planning for a gap year at least a year in advance to ensure they can meet application deadlines, secure funding, and make all necessary arrangements.

Can I defer my college admission to take a gap year?

Many colleges and universities allow students to defer their admission for a year. It’s important to check with your institution’s admissions office to understand their specific policies and requirements.

How do I fund my gap year?

Funding for a gap year can come from savings, scholarships, grants, and part-time work. Some programs offer financial aid or fundraising support to help cover costs.

What should I pack for a gap year abroad?

Packing essentials include appropriate clothing for the destination, travel documents, health and safety items, personal care products, and any specific gear required by the program. It’s advisable to pack light and consider the cultural norms of the destination.

Are gap year programs safe?

Most reputable gap year programs have strong safety protocols in place, including emergency support, health insurance, and pre-departure orientations. It’s crucial to research and choose programs with good reviews and accredited by recognized organizations.

How can a gap year improve my college application?

A gap year can enhance a college application by demonstrating maturity, independence, and a commitment to personal growth. It can also provide unique experiences and skills that can be highlighted in essays and interviews.

Can I earn college credit during my gap year?

Some gap year programs offer opportunities to earn college credits through partnerships with universities. It’s important to verify the accreditation and transferability of these credits with your future college.

What health precautions should I take before traveling abroad?

Consult with a healthcare provider to ensure you have necessary vaccinations and medications. It’s also important to have comprehensive travel health insurance and be aware of health risks in your destination country.

How do I stay in touch with family and friends during my gap year?

Staying connected can be done through regular internet access, phone calls, and social media. Many gap year programs provide communication support and guidelines for staying in touch with loved ones.

What if I face challenges or issues during my gap year?

Most programs offer robust support services, including on-site staff, counseling, and emergency assistance. It’s important to utilize these resources and communicate any issues promptly to ensure a safe and successful experience.

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Thomas Babb

Written by: Thomas Babb

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Oxford University - PhD Mathematics

Thomas is a PhD candidate at Oxford University. He served as an interviewer and the lead admissions test marker at Oxford, and teaches undergraduate students at Mansfield College and St Hilda’s College. He has ten years’ experience tutoring A-Level and GCSE students across a range of subjects.

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