Planning your Gap Year should be done with some purpose and intent. While there is a lot of positive aspects to taking a Gap Year, one of the central tenets of having such aspects hold true in your case, is that your Gap Year be structured. In all of our years of working with this type of education, there are many considerations to make, so please take the time to do your research so that whatever mistakes you make can be learned from and don't become permanent. Simple things, like establishing your own rules for yourself (e.g., policies around self-care, relationships, and academics) can be the difference between a Gap Year that transforms you, and one that's just "passing time."
Below are a few simple steps to consider as you're working through all these myriad questions. If you don't follow every paragraph, at least read the highlights to know what's important. One of the best sayings about an experience like this is simply that "you don't know what you don't know" … so please take the time to educate yourself.
Step 1: Answer the following Questions.
- What needs to happen to make college a reality after your Gap Year? Do you need to defer, take a leave of absence, or arrange for a Consortium Agreement? What deadlines and deposits need to be paid to secure their position? It's best to have a plan post-Gap, but many times students find a better-fitting college as a result of their Gap Year so establishing communication while the student is gone to save time and impart deadlines are vital.
- How long do you have for the Gap Year? It's best to think about a Gap Year within the existing academic structures for both framing and continuance purposes. Semesters work best and allow for at least two experiences, with summers to work and earn money.
- Do you want to go with a group or alone? Have they historically fared better in teams or alone? Where would be best for them to grow?
- How much structure do you need? Will you be able to go it alone and fend safely for yourself? If you need to go to a doctor do they have the wherewithal to ask the right questions and advocate for their own best interests?
- Where do you want to be? Think languages, communication-potential back home, environmental attributes, etc. USA? Latin America? Europe? Asia? Africa? South Pacific? Antarctica? The Moon?
- What do you want to do? Teach? Wildlife? Arts? Environmental work? Study a language or cooking? Learn green building? There is no "right choice," and often you can choose multiple options within the same organization/setup. Planning for time to wander and perhaps be a tourist is a good (and realistic) idea.
- What's the budget? Do you need to find compensation with room and board? Are there currency conversions that work in your favor? Do you need to work first? Are there airfares and other expenses to factor? Will you be using part of your college tuition? What scholarships and FAFSA monies are out there?
- Is it important to get college credit? Doing so opens financial aid doors, but if done poorly can inhibit your ability to get the most out of their Gap Year.
Step 2: Find the right program.
- For less-structured programs or for the do-it-yourself-er you can visit www.goabroad.com, www.wwoof.org, www.transitionsabroad.com, www.americorps.gov, or www.wiserearth.org. Don't be afraid to inquire with your own personal relationships too.
- Do your due diligence: call the organizations and ask for references.
- Google the organizations and seek write-ups or reviews.
- Don't discount something that's "out there" without first having done the research. Many people only think of the dangers from 30 years ago without knowing what's currently going on.
- Apply to those that hold your interest and have any necessary safeguards in place and researched. Most are done as rolling admission, and the height of the Gap Year admissions takes place usually April - July for the fall semester.
Step 3: Know your resources.
Please refer to our Resources pages herein for great ideas and important notes about everything from airfare to money to visas.
Step 4: Prepare yourself.
- For international Gap Years, make sure your passport is valid for 6 months AFTER the last day of travel. Some places literally will refuse you entry at the border without that extra validity.
- Make arrangements for any visas and vaccinations. Build or buy a small medical kit.
- Book airfare. Do this at least a month in advance and take advantage of student-only fares.
- Arrange for a Visa Debit card and a backup credit card. If traveling internationally, currently it appears that Visa is simply more accessible. Additionally, check with your bank to know the fees for using your card outside of the home area.
- Again, for international trips, make sure to register your itinerary with the State Department's Smart Travelers Enrollment Program (STEP)
- Arrange for an airport pickup. Times of transition (jet lag, environmental, etc.) are when travelers are most at risk so set yourself up for success. Language Schools often can arrange this and if traveling alone are a great way to settle a bit and get oriented to the area before braving strange streets and towns.