When I was about to graduate from high school, I spontaneously postponed my college start date and pursued a gap year. A gap year is a year off taken between high school and college, or after college. While really popular in countries like England and Australia, it’s pretty unusual to hear of someone taking a gap year in the United States. Research has shown that gap years actually are great for students, and can even help with securing a career. Some students choose to spend their year volunteering, traveling or working. I did a combination of the three, and it was easily the best year of my life. I’ve decided to share some of the best gap year programs I’ve come across, and hopefully, they will inspire you to consider taking your own gap year!
Semester at Sea
I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to travel around the world with Semester at Sea for the first half of my gap year in 2013! Semester at Sea (known as SAS) is a cruise ship turned college campus which travels with 500 students around the world each semester. I was able to travel to 19 countries on my trip, and not a day goes by where I don’t think about this amazing experience. While traveling to new ports is exciting, by far the best part is life at sea. The special traditions like Sea Olympics, Taco Day, and Neptune Day make Semester at Sea a once in a lifetime opportunity to live amongst a floating community of travelers. While SAS is mostly for students hoping to study abroad in college, they do host a handful of gap year students each semester. To learn more about my experience on Semester at Sea, check my post here.
Global Gap Year
Hosted by Thinking Without Borders, the Global Gap Year program offers seven months of cultural emersion and hands-on education. Learn about food systems, health, and the environment by exploring countries such as Guatemala and India with a group of like-minded students. Learn how to change the world from leading experts and on-the-ground organizations in these off the beaten path destinations. Finally, finish your seven-month experience with a visit to Washington DC to learn about cultural representation in our own country.
West Africa Semester
As someone who has traveled through West Africa, I can’t really think of a better place to explore for a gap year. The West Africa Semester, sponsored by Where There Be Dragons, allows students the chance to experience the beauty and history of West Africa through cultural immersion. The program allows plenty of homestay opportunities and takes place primarily in Senegal. The trips last 83 days and are hosted during the Spring and the Fall semester.
Language Immersion in Spain
If you’ve ever studied Spanish in the classroom, odds are you still a ways to go. If you study Spanish in Spain, you’re guaranteed to see progress quickly. Explore the beautiful country of Spain while you earn college credit or gain internship experience with the EF International Language Program. With three different city selections and an extensive course list, the EF Semester in Spain program remains one of the best gap year options for students looking to increase their language skills.
If the Semester at Sea cruise ship lifestyle isn’t appealing to you, consider the Ocean Passages program which allows students to travel on a 130 ft sailboat. You don’t need any prior sailing experience to embark on this journey sailing from Canada to Cuba. On this three month expedition, students will learn how to navigate with the stars and will engage in conversation about a post-embargo Cuba.
Work in Ireland
Combine travel and work experience with this unique opportunity to work abroad in Ireland. The BUNAC program assists students and recent graduates with securing a work visa, finding housing, and coordinating travel for 3-12 months, so there’s no hassle that usually comes with working abroad. Explore the land of sprawling hills and Guinness while boosting your resume!
Work in a resort in Canada
Banff, Alberta, is a stunning destination in the Rocky Mountains many skiers and vacationers travel to each year. Take advantage of this opportunity to work in one of the many luxury resorts around this area, meeting people from around the world while building hospitality experience. The Stepwest program helps place students in a position which best suits their career experience and goals and students have the option to extend their stay for up to two years!
Teach English to A French Family
There are a lot of opportunities around the world to teach English if you’re a native speaker, but the Aliore program is special in that it pairs native English speakers with a host family in France for a month-long immersion experience. In exchange for room and board, participants are expected to participate in family activities and assist them in learning English. Explore a new city in France while exchanging with a real family!
Create your own Gap Year Experience!
The best thing about gap years is that you have the freedom to customize them to whatever you wish. Honestly, if spending a year working at home sounds great, then that’s perfectly acceptable. However, if you’re open to new experiences, there are a lot of opportunities to explore and learn while taking a year off from school! Also, keep in mind that while traditional programs might be expensive, there are always scholarships and financial aid opportunities available. In addition, there are many options which cost little to no money, such as volunteering, working, or home exchanges. Here are some additional resources to help you get started!
- Workaway – Work + travel in exchange for labor
- Hostelworld – Cheap accommodation
- Couchsurfing – Cheap/free accommodation
- Au Pair World – Search available Au Pair jobs internationally
- WWOOF – Work on an organic farm
Would you consider ever taking a gap year? If so, where would you go?