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The Best Gap Year Programs in 2018-2019

What makes the best gap year programs?

The best gap year program is the one that’s best for you. In other words, what might be the best, perfect fit for someone else might not have anything to do with your interests. Just like you shouldn’t choose a college by ranking alone, you shouldn’t choose a gap year program by prestige or reviews alone.

When it comes to choosing the best gap year program for you, you need to think about your goals. Are you looking for work experience that will set you apart in your career? Are you trying to support yourself by teaching a language or skill abroad? Would you like to get immersed in a language or launch a new educational path? Depending on where you want to end up, the top gap year programs for you will be completely different.

That said, there are some good benchmarks to follow when evaluating a gap year program. If you’re looking for top gap year programs that are sure not to disappoint, here are some factors to keep in mind whether you’re looking for the best gap year programs after high school, during college, or after your college career.

standing on top a mountain in Italy

Finding the best gap year is all about knowing what YOU want.

 

Reviews and alumni experience

When you’re looking for the best gap year programs, check out the reviews online, but also ask the organization for the contact info of alums that you can talk to. Hearing from people who’ve been there can help you to best evaluate the experience, hear all the good and bad parts, and understand if it’s a good fit for you.

Clarity and availability of information

The best gap year organizations make information about their programs available clearly without having to jump through hoops. You should be able to find prices and what they include, detailed curriculum information, housing and meal information, travel logistics, and any other information you need either online or by talking to a program representative.

Organizational partnerships 

While some fantastic programs have no partner organizations or run their own facilities, most of the best gap year programs are partnered with or work with other respected organizations. Ask about university or organizational partners, and research organizations where you might intern or volunteer on the program. If you believe in the mission of those organizations, you’re more likely to find that the program is a good fit for your goals.

Resources for alumni 

Your gap year should be a valuable experience on its own, but it should also contribute to your future in a positive way. The best gap year programs have resources for alumni support, whether helping you place you in a teaching job, write you a recommendation letter for medical school, network you with other alumni in your field, or whatever else might help to support you on your journey. So ask!

Respect for local culture, environment, and individuals

The best gap year programs are always evolving, learning, and growing. Look for experiences you can be proud of that treat the country you are visiting as a respected equal instead of just a playground. Is there local ownership of service organizations? Are local staff respected and treated well? Is there are orientation to the local culture and language? If you are volunteering, are you supporting ongoing projects in an educated way that is under local guidance? Volunteering abroad has grown and improved a lot over the last decade—make sure you’re choosing an organization that’s keeping up!

interns in front of bulletin board

Do you want to get real-world work experience with an internship?

 

Level of support and assistance 

Top gap year programs support you through the whole process. Can you talk to someone who’s been there before? Can you speak with faculty? Can they help you with your questions about everything from securing a visa to how to get vegan meals during your program? Is there 24/7 support staff available during the program, and if so, how available are they: will they just answer the phone, or can they come to you and help you? You may find the best program for you is more independent, but if you’re looking for support and assistance every step of the way, the best gap year programs for you have it available in a personal, friendly, consistent way.

Respect within your field

If you are looking at gap year programs in medicine, law, veterinary medicine, business, or another profession, research how they are known within the field. Top gap year programs will be run by respected professionals in the field and will follow professional standards of practice and ethics throughout the program.

Gap years are always improving—what’s new?

As more and more students consider a gap year after high school or college (thanks, Malia Obama, for making gap years even cooler!), program offerings expand. So what’s new?

New and niche 

When it comes to finding the best gap year programs after high school and beyond, remember that oldest doesn’t necessarily mean best. Experience does add value, but there are some new additions to the gap year game that are helping to make waves and create niche programs that might be the perfect fit for you. Keep in mind that just because an organization has been around for fifty years, that doesn’t mean the staff with you have been there that long. So don’t shy away from new programs, but talk to them about the staff who’ll support you and their experience.

Do it yourself

As social media such as instagram becomes ingrained in our culture, more students are putting together their own gap years by following bloggers and influencers who’ve traveled before them. It’s easier than ever to get connected to others in the places you want to visit and find real-time travel information, which is great for the solo traveler who is on their own path. If you want to combine a short-term program with your own adventure or stay in-country after your program to volunteer on your own, you can talk to your program organizer about options, or get online and find out for yourself as you design your break year after high school.

building volunteer in Uganda

Do you want to lend a hand with volunteer projects?

 

Spend your first semester abroad

Anyone applying for college now may have noticed that many schools offer you the option to spend your first semester on the abroad branch of their campus, whether it happens to be in England, Dubai, or anywhere in between. These programs are sometimes called a “bridge year” or a “bridge semester.” But you might not know that this is a fairly new phenomenon! While a semester abroad through your school isn’t technically a gap year, it can be a great chance to explore a new culture while in a setting you find familiar, and it can also be a great gateway to a gap semester or gap year during or after college.

Are these gap year trends the perfect fit for you?

No matter who you are, you can benefit from the fact that it’s becoming easier than ever to communicate across cultures, more valued than ever to have intercultural experience, and more flexible than ever to pursue your education. If you’re looking for the best gap year programs after high school, your options have only increased!

 

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