Practical Guide to Finding the Best Gap Year Program
Considering a gap year program? In this article we explore the pros and cons of taking a gap year, the types of programs available, and how to find the best one for you.
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What is a Gap Year?
A gap year is a period of experiential learning, usually taken after high school and before beginning university.
For those who choose to take one, the goal is generally to broaden their horizons in a different setting and foster personal growth and self-discovery whilst developing new life skills. The focus is very much on enrichment.
Gap year experiences can include volunteer opportunities, internships, language programs or even spending a semester at a university abroad.
Often, although not exclusively, gap years are associated with experiences in a foreign country.
While many young adults take a gap year prior to beginning higher education, some college students elect to take a gap year in the middle of pursuing a degree.
How long is a gap year program?
Gap year programs generally last somewhere between a few months to a whole academic year or full year.
Sometimes, people undertake gap year programs as part of wider travel plans, spending time completing a project before exploring the region more substantially.
Pros and Cons of Taking a Gap Year
Taking a gap year isn’t for everyone, and will ultimately depend on each person’s circumstances. Here, we explore some of the advantages and disadvantages of taking a gap year.
- A break from study will help you return refreshed. High school, especially the latter part, can be very intensive and sometimes a year’s break before starting new studies at university level can be a great way to re-charge and come back refreshed and raring to go!
- You'll meet new people and gain a broader perspective. Often, a gap year will take you out of your comfort zone and into entirely new surroundings. Along the way, you’ll meet a host of new people in new situations, which can’t help but broaden your perspectives and horizons. Whether you’re trekking in Peru, working on a conversation project in Madagascar, or doing some community service locally, the more people you meet the more you will learn about yourself, and life in general.
- It can be a great opportunity for career exploration. Whilst some people who undertake a gap year already have an idea of what study and career path they’d like to follow, others do not. Sometimes, using your gap year to explore professions or interests that you are contemplating can be a great way to assess whether they are right for you before you move into higher education.
- The skills you will develop can really enhance your resume. There’s no doubt that a productive gap year can be a very valuable addition to your CV, or to a university application. There are a range of skills to be learnt depending on how you choose to spend a gap year, but some of those most commonly referenced include independence, leadership skills and cultural awareness; a gap year is an excellent way to become a ‘global citizen’.
- You'll return home with a new sense of maturity and confidence. Often, gap year experiences can be life-changing. Exposure to new places and experiences, and a heightened reliance on yourself often means that people who do gap years return with an increased level of maturity and self confidence.
- It can be expensive. While the cost of a gap year depends on the destination, duration, and the type of project or activity you undertake, costs can sometimes be high. It’s worth bearing in mind too that whilst ‘volunteering’ is generally associated with unpaid work, in some instances of gap year volunteering the work is not only unpaid, but you will also need to pay for the experience.
- In some cases, you'll be delaying your studies and therefore career for a year. If you are a high school graduate, many of your friends will immediately move on to college, and then again into their first graduate job, which means taking a gap year will put you a year behind. That said, what you spend your time doing during your gap year can be invaluable in terms of growing in confidence, learning new skills and perhaps even helping you establish or cement your intended study and career path. So, in that sense, it shouldn’t be viewed as time wasted. It’s also worth bearing in mind that there are opportunities to do gap semester programs on a gap year, such as Kings’ immersive US campus experiences, many of which can enable you to gain academic credits that can transfer to your future degree, as well as experiencing American campus life.
- Sometimes it can be a distraction from longer term plans. People are often advised to have a clear idea of their gap year goals and to plan their projects or activities in advance. This is partly so that they do not lose sight of their longer term goals, and don’t return with no clear next step in mind.
Top Gap Year Programs in 2023-2024
There are a wide range of gap year options. Here, we look at some of the most popular types of activities available.
Gap year students who want to give back and make a difference, often on an overseas adventure, frequently choose a volunteer program abroad.
Photo by Brian Yurasits on Unsplash
Volunteer projects are available in a whole host of settings and specializations - from learning about sustainability, climate change and wildlife conservation, to teaching English, working with young people and even completing medical and healthcare placements.
What you choose to do will depend on your skillset, your future goals, and of course where in the world you’d like to be a volunteer.
Of course, for those who would prefer to stay in their home country, there is also more local volunteer work available. This can be in a whole range of fields, but could include helping at a a nonprofit organization or charity in your local community.
Those looking to gain work experience and explore their career path in preparation for college or the workforce opt to intern abroad or at home.
Whether you find an internship program independently, or use an organization to help set something up, you can expect to gain first-hand practical knowledge in your intended field, and hone essential soft skills like communication and organization.
A gap year offers the perfect opportunity to master a language through total immersion. Learning the language of your host country will enable you to understand the customs and culture more fully, and make local friends - especially if you board with a host family.
Of course, learning an additional language - especially one of the primary global languages, such as English or Spanish - will also enhance your resume for future employment.
Spanish language programs can be found not only in Spain, but also in many countries throughout Latin America. Anyone seeking to learn or improve their English also has a huge range of options, with language immersion programs available in the UK, Ireland, Malta, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and of course the US.
Providers such as Kings offer many different locations and courses in America, from general English programs to specialized courses in English for Business in Boston, English for Film in Los Angeles and English for Fashion in New York.
Semester abroad programs
For those students who already have a high level of language proficiency, another option is to complete a gap year experience at a foreign university. For example, if you are proficient in English, Kings’ Semester Abroad programs in the US can either be a great stand-alone experience, or a springboard to further study in the UK or US.
You will take classes right alongside American students and will follow the same curriculum as them. You also have the opportunity to gain Academic Credits which could be useful for your curriculum or future study.
Cultural exchange can be defined as sharing different ideas, traditions, and knowledge with someone who has a completely different background than your own.
It is something which often goes hand in hand with gap year experiences, where you can immerse yourself in a completely different way of life, as you live, work or study with local communities and learn about their local culture.
Cultural exchange programs can range from living with and supporting communities in far-flung parts of the world, to undertaking educational experiences, such as semester abroad programs.
Whatever the specifics, you’ll go home with a renewed outlook on life and a richer knowledge of people, having got to experience a kind of cultural immersion that would most likely not be possible as a tourist.
Whilst travel for most people is consigned to holidays, when often the main aim is to relax, gap year travel offers a way to see the world, but with experiences that can push you out of your comfort zone. Adventure travel has all the fun of travelling - but with an extra dose of adrenaline!
Photo by Simon English on Unsplash
Whether it’s getting close to wild animals, or scaling mountain peaks in a host of different continents, this different type of travel experience can give you memories that last a lifetime, and teach you things you never knew about yourself in the process.
Tips to Find the Best Gap Year Program for You
With hundreds of different gap year programs and providers out there, it can be tricky to know where to start! Here are some tips on finding the best one for you.
Establish your primary goals
Narrowing down your main goals for a gap year will help you determine what kind of program might be best. How long do you want to be away? What skills do you want to learn or develop? Do you want to earn any money from your project or can you afford to fund your activities from the outset?
Think about your interests and possible destinations
The world is wide, and opportunities for gap year travel are therefore endless. Think about your interests, and what kind of places might align to them.
If you are keen on learning about conservation for example, there are great opportunities in the Caribbean, and in countries in South America such as Ecuador, Costa Rica, Chile, Guatemala and Peru. Countries on the African continent such as South Africa and Madagascar also have many conservation-focused volunteering projects.
Should you be interested in teaching English, you could find opportunities in Thailand, Cambodia or other countries in southeast Asia.
If outdoor adventure inspires you, Nepal, Morocco, or New Zealand might be destinations to consider!
Consider your budget
Gap year programs can range hugely in terms of cost. It’s definitely worth establishing your total budget before starting to research possible options - it’s also important to factor in the cost of travel to get to your intended destination, and the cost of living in different areas to get a sense of how expenses will look when going abroad.
Short-term employment prior to your gap year, or in some instances during, can be a great way to help fund your projects.
Read reviews and reach out to program providers
Once you have an idea of the type of program and destination you’re interested in, the next step is to start researching potential providers. It’s important to establish credibility, taking into account accreditations or affiliations, and also reading reviews. Of course, it’s also advisable to make contact with the organization first-hand, to make sure any questions or concerns you have are answered prior to making a final decision.
We hope that this article has helped you understand more about the options for taking a gap year, and how to go about choosing one.
If you would like to receive more detailed information about Kings and our gap year programs, please get in touch with us at email@example.com.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Q1. How do you officially take a gap year?
Although you don't have to officially declare you're taking a gap year to anyone, if you are planning on going to university and are considering a gap year, it’s worth asking prospective colleges about their gap year policy in advance. Some colleges strongly encourage it, while others don't allow deferment. In some cases, it may affect things like financial aid too, so that’s always worth checking.
Q2. How do you go about selecting a gap year program?
Before selecting a gap year program, you need to establish your goals; gap year programs allow for you to discover new skills, learn about new cultures, enjoy some of the world’s natural wonders, and, overall, grow as a person. A year abroad is a big commitment and you need to have set goals about what you want to achieve as you embark on it. You also need to consider your ideal destinations and think about what type of activities interest you most. If you want to complete a gap year program prior to backpacking around the wider area, think about what type of programs might lend themselves to your intended destination.
Q3. What do gap year programs offer?
Gap year programmes can offer a way to have new experiences and develop valuable skills in the process, making them a worthwhile investment. These programs offer a range of opportunities, including travel, volunteer work, internships and academic courses.
Q4. Are gap year programs worth it?
Research on the benefits of a gap year has led top universities such as Harvard University to encourage students to take one. Some colleges, such as Princeton, even go a step further and offer university-sponsored gap year programs.
A report compiled by the Gap Year Association established that those who participate in gap years report improvements in both internal and external skills. Additionally, gap year experiences influence alumni’s future decisions in academia and beyond. According to the report, the three most commonly improved skills are cultural awareness, communication, and self-direction.