Updated for 2019
While taking off a year between high school and college is immensely popular in the United Kingdom and Australia, the ‘gap year‘ is just starting to take off in the United States. Gap years recently came into the spotlight when Malia Obama (President Obama’s daughter) announced she would be taking a gap year before starting her freshman year at Harvard. Read on to learn more about the gap year and get recommendations for gap year programs!
Gap Year Travel Abroad Programs
As the competition to get into a good college, graduate school, internship, and full-time job heats up, it’s important to take a break and give yourself an opportunity to recover from the non-stop pressure to succeed and the stress of competing with your peers. Whether it’s before college enrollment or even a year off from work, there are myriad reasons why we decide to take time off from whatever we’ve been doing to explore, relax, and realign. And gap years increasingly are a common option for students transitioning from high school to college: each year, it’s estimated that 30,000 to 40,000 students take this route, whether it’s to travel, earn a professional certification such as Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL), work, or pursue other goals before enrollment in their college or university.
In a nutshell, a gap year is a hiatus from academia, which allows students to pursue a meaningful adventure (however they define it) and arrive at college focused on their goals and with a greater measure of independence than they may have had before. Popular in Europe – particularly the U.K. – the concept of a year in limbo has only recently begun to catch on in the United States, where parents are concerned that their children will accrue debt and decide not to attend college at the end of their break.
The Rise of the Gap Year
The good news: there’s little need for concern, says Robert Clagett, former senior admissions officer at Harvard College. Gap years are part of a positive trend, he noted, writing, “It is by no means a new idea, and for university-bound students in some parts of the world, it is practically the norm. But since the convention for most in this country is to graduate from high school in the spring, then head off to college the following fall, it has taken time for it to take root.”
In fact, gap years can provide the opportunity for students to earn money, not spend it. “It’s not unusual for students to spend maybe half their gap year with a job,” Clagett said in an interview with the New York Times, discussing a gap-year student who spent the first third of her year tending llamas in North Dakota, then moving on to an internship with an Oklahoma City judge. She wrapped up her experience as a volunteer working with children in the Dominican Republic.
Harvard is one of many universities nationwide that encourages incoming students to defer application or enrollment for a gap year. Harvard admissions officers who were concerned that applicants were facing intense pressure to succeed – even as early as pre-kindergarten – collaborated on Time Out or Burn Out for the Next Generation, which discusses the advantages of taking a gap year: “The pressure of gaining entrance to the most selective colleges is commonly blamed for much of the stress we observe. But those of us who work in college admissions recognize that college is only one of many destinations in the fast lane. The accumulation of ‘credentials’ simply continues to intensify as the stakes increase. The ‘right’ graduate school looms after college, and the ‘right’ sequence of jobs is next. Such attainments make it possible to live in the ‘right’ kinds of communities and to begin the job of bringing up the following generation, one that might need to vault even higher hurdles.”
How Does a Gap Year Benefit You?
Gap year programs made the news in May 2016 when the Obamas announced that their oldest daughter, Malia, will be attending Harvard University in the fall of 2017 – and taking a gap year first. Malia graduated this spring from Sidwell Friends, a Washington, DC Quaker day school. Malia’s choice, and her parents’ permissive response, has received mixed reviews in the media. An article in the The Atlantic warns, “While Malia Obama’s decision to take a gap year appears to be a personal choice and there is no reason to think she won’t earn a degree, other students put off college for financial and other reasons that can lessen the likelihood that they enroll at all.”
And a New York Post article about Malia’s gap year reviles the concept as an “ultimate sign of luxury.” Amanda Uhry, founder and chief executive officer of Manhattan Private School Advisors, states, “Gap years are for the rich. It turns into a big vacation a lot of the time. Is a poor kid going to take a gap year? Forget it! With the cost of tuition climbing each year, they can’t afford it.’’
Actually, students of all backgrounds can afford a gap year. Florida State University highlights research showing that gap years not only contribute to students’ professional and educational pursuits, but they also boost their academic performance once they start their degree programs. Because of this, FSU offers freshmen scholarships of up to $5,000 to support their gap year. In addition to Florida State University, schools such as Princeton, Tufts, and University of North Carolina have begun offering financial aid and structured programs specifically for students pursuing this option.
According to US News and World Report, college-sponsored gap year programs often cover some or most of the expense. In the University of North Carolina’s Global Gap Year Fellowship, students are given $7,500 to create their own six-month service experience. And Princeton University’s Bridge Year invites students to take on nine-month service projects throughout Brazil, China, India, Peru and Senegal.
The American Gap Association, a nonprofit accreditation and standards-setting company, reports that American students participating in gap year programs climbed 27 percent between 2012 and 2013. Its member organizations awarded a combined total of about $2,800,000 to students seeking financial assistance for their gap years – and 90% of students who took a gap year returned to college within a year.
Ready to Start Your Gap Year?
Most people who choose a gap year find that they are actually challenging themselves, searching for their strengths and overcoming their weaknesses. They also discover extraordinary people along their journey. The gap year opportunities listed below are a great way not only to explore the world, but also to learn more about yourself as you help to better communities all over the globe. From coaching sports in Kenya, to scuba diving in Portugal, to climbing Mount Kilimanjaro, to volunteering with marine conservation in the Seychelles, to earning your TEFL certification in Nicaragua, to getting paid to teach English in Thailand, and even providing support for those affected by HIV/AIDS in Kenya, there are so many options to explore. The following organizations (a few of the many out there to choose from) have lots of opportunities for anyone who needs a break and is looking to wander while educating yourself – and even the world around you.
IVHQ offers a huge number of volunteer abroad opportunities perfect for gap year students. Most of IVHQ’s volunteer programs start from one or two weeks, though you’re welcome to stay longer or try out a variety of programs during your break. And it’s one of the most affordable volunteer abroad programs in the world, with placements starting from just $180 for your first week overseas.
One option is a trip to New Zealand, where you can work on several different conservation projects. IVHQ’s Coastline Conservation and Education program has a focus on keeping the New Zealand coastlines and beaches as beautiful as can be. You’ll assist with coastal cleanup and educational presentations teaching local schools and businesses how to prepare for scientific analysis of the litter and debris found during these cleanups. You’ll also work on “trash to art” recycling projects along with data collection to further understand the effect of the debris on the ecosystem.
If you’d like to visit South America, IVHQ has several programs in Bogota, Colombia. The Construction and Renovation project invites you to help build and repair homes, schools, and hospitals throughout the city. You won’t need any experience in the project area, but you will need to be fit and able to take on work outdoors. Throughout this program, you’ll work with a local foreman to carry out projects like tearing down walls, installing kitchens, painting walls, and more.
Spend up to six months of your gap year as an IVHQ volunteer on the island of Chios in Greece. You can choose to volunteer for one, or all four, of IVHQ’s programs here: Food Outreach, Kindergarten, School Support, and Special Needs Care. When you choose to work with the Food Outreach initiative, you’ll be helping at a local kitchen that feeds 700 people each day. Duties include food prep, cooking, cleaning, and packing and distributing food to churches and community centers. School Support, Special Needs, and Kindergarten volunteers have the opportunity to work in local schools under the supervision of teachers, assist with administrative tasks, and play with the children during break time. Located on the Aegean Sea, you’re invited to spend your free time on this program exploring the archaeological ruins dating to the Neolithic era. Or visit Nea Moni, a monastery with fine mosaics from Constantine IX’s reign and a World Heritage Site.
Can a gap year experience prepare you for a new career? One that promises you technicolor sunsets in exotic locales? It could if you’re adding Scuba Diving to your resume! IVHQ offers an excellent volunteer program in Environmental Scuba Diving in Portugal that introduces beginners to the undersea world of professional diving. As part of this program, you’ll earn your Open Water PADI certification. Or take speciality diving courses and advance your training if you’re already certified. The certifications you complete depend on your diving experience and duration of your stay, so don’t limit yourself. While volunteering with IVHQ, you’ll work with a local diving school in Cascais to help contain underwater pollution and conserve marine life. Volunteer tasks include trash removal on the seafloor, recording items collected, observing, identifying and counting fish, and learning how to protect the marine ecosystem. Program fees start at $375, and includes the required PADI manuals, crew packs, PIC cards and full scuba equipment.
If you’re interested in either of these programs or want to learn more about opportunities in the many other countries IVHQ works in, check out: https://www.volunteerhq.org/
What Volunteers Say
5 star rating for a 5 star experience!International Volunteer HQ offer a wide range of volunteering programmes in countries all around the world. They are so affordable, and your money goes a long way! There is not one part of my experience that I could fault. The coordinators was supportive from the very beginning, they really cared and made sure that my questions never went unanswered. Because of this support, including an amazing customer service/coordinator team, information booklets outlining the programme, online training and even checklists, I never once felt uncomfortable or nervous about the trip. Thanks to IVHQ I was never left in the dark and was very well prepared for what was to come.
This was my first volunteer experience, and certainly not the last. The simplicity of the application process, affordability of programmes and ongoing support once you are booked in is definitely why I am going to book through IVHQ again, hopefully once a year for many years to come!
I would love to give some suggestions for improvement, but I honestly can’t think of any, my experience was just that good! I have already got the word out and recommended IVHQ to friends and family. Thank you for an amazing experience! Bring on more to come!
Plan My Gap Year is a great organization that hosts over 3,000 participants per year and offers gap year programs and volunteer adventures in Africa and Asia. Volunteer projects include medical volunteering, wildlife conservation, childcare, community development, teaching, and much more to help you make a positive impact anywhere you visit. PMGY’s placements are also very affordable, starting from only $225 for your first week abroad, depending on the program you sign up for. This organization also offers guided adventure and volunteer tours, where you can combine service work with tourism and exploration – a wonderful way to learn about new cultures, make friends, and try out a variety of service projects to help local communities.
Plan My Gap Year is offering several different trips to Bali right now, including an English teaching program, childcare project, a South East Asia Encounter where you’ll spend three months volunteering and traveling to three different countries, and an Ultimate Round the World Encounter, where you’ll spend 36 weeks visiting and volunteering in nine different locations in Africa and Asia. Bali is PMGY’s top up-and-coming travel destination, and is a wonderful place to enjoy the beach, hike through mountains, or just relax and meditate. PMGY’s Bali volunteer program is also extremely affordable, starting from only $330 for your first two weeks in Indonesia.
PMGY also offers several different volunteer trips to Tanzania, including a Mount Kilimanjaro charity challenge, English teaching program, medical volunteer program, and more. One opportunity to check out is PMGY’s Real Tanzania Experience, which includes four weeks of travel and volunteering – highlights include visiting Arusha, volunteering with children, climbing Mount Kilimanjaro, seeing elephants at Tarangire National Park, visiting the beaches of Zanzibar, and much more. Plan My Gap Year’s Tanzania programs start from $375 for your first two weeks, depending on which program you sign up for.
If you’ve always wanted to experience India, Plan My Gap Year has lots of opportunities for you to visit and make a difference. A few projects you can focus on include supporting disabled children, teaching English, assisting with medical care, and helping out with women’s empowerment initiatives. PMGY also offers a four-week Real India Experience, which takes you on a tour of the Golden Triangle and to Kerala – on this adventure, you’ll visit the Taj Mahal, volunteer in a slum, ride elephants, visit a monkey temple, and much more. Depending on the program you sign up for, PMGY’s India volunteer programs start from you two weeks at only $330.
Test your limits with the Mount Everest Charity Challenge, an epic 21- or 28-day fundraising and volunteering experience with Plan My Gap Year! Especially of interest to previous volunteers, this program invites you to trek the Everest trail starting in Kathmandu. You’ll be escorted by qualified, expert mountain-climbing guides, and stay in guesthouses and teahouses as you reach the basecamp of the world’s highest mountain. Highlights include climbing to Kala Pattar at 5,545 meters, exploring the flag-festooned mountain monastery of Tengboche, and learning the Sherpas’ spiritual perspective. You’ll have a fundraising target minimum of about $4,800, but as part of that, your expenses such as flights, transfers, insurance, accommodation, and meals and fees are included for this 21-day program.
Spend four amazing weeks exploring Vietnam with Plan My Gap Year! North Vietnam has experienced rapid change during the past four decades, but it is still a country that strives to balance the old with the new. It’s a land of diverse, breathtaking natural wonders and a profound, proud people who have overcome the ravages of war and tragedy. The Real Vietnam Experience combines grassroots volunteer work with a whirlwind travel itinerary. Highlights of this program include learning basic Vietnamese, visiting Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh’s Mausoleum, taking an overnight train journey to Lao Cai, trekking through rice terraces, spending an overnight stay with a local hill tribe, sailing the Ngo Dong River through the Tam Coc cave system, teaching English to children, an overnight cruise on Halong Bay, dinner on Cat Ba island, and a visit to the Perfume Pagoda, one of the most important religious sites in Buddhist Vietnam. Plan My Gap Year’s Real Vietnam Experience starts at $1,275 for four weeks.
Maximo Nivel offers many opportunities for you to spend a gap year volunteering, interning, and learning all about Latin America. Travel programs through Maximo Nivel can vary depending on how long you’re available, when you’re taking your gap year – say between high school and college, or undergraduate and graduate school – and your background and interests.
If you’re pursuing a degree in international development, law, or a related field, you may be interested in Maximo Nivel’s Human Rights Internship. With a minimum four-week commitment, this internship is perfect for students who are in a degree program but looking for a break between undergraduate and graduate school enrollment. With this internship, you can spend a month or longer in Costa Rica, Guatemala, or Peru learning about the culture while you help with community outreach, education, research, and fundraising. You’ll be placed with a local organization, NGO, or government agency where you’ll assist with a development project while looking at the roles of politics, religion, gender, and ethnicity within that community. You’ll need to have intermediate Spanish language skills to be able to communicate effectively throughout the project, and will complete a final project at the end of the internship.
In addition to internships abroad, Maximo Nivel offers volunteer abroad opportunities for anyone aged 17 and older. One of the many options is a Sea Turtle Conservation project in your choice of Costa Rica or Guatemala, along both the Caribbean and Pacific coasts. For the first two days of the program, you participate in an orientation, and from there, you’ll travel to the project site to support local biologists and researchers that manage the turtle nesting habitats. You’ll take part in beach patrols each night where you will tag nesting turtles, relocate nests into hatcheries, count eggs and hatchlings, clean the beach, and take on other support activities. This program lasts two weeks’ minimum, and you’ll work five to six hours each day, Monday through Saturday, with alternating night and day shifts. To apply, you’ll need to be flexible with your project activities, responsible and safety-minded, and physically prepared to work and live in a remote area with few amenities. However, you don’t need to have a Spanish language background to participate.
Maximo Nivel also offers TEFL certification perfect for gap year travelers who want to gain new skills while visiting Latin America. For four weeks, you’ll visit Costa Rica, Guatemala, or Peru and gain experience in an accredited certification course, which will open you up to all kinds of paid teaching placements worldwide. Once you have your TEFL certification, you’ll be able to work as an English teacher in a school, business program, through private tutoring, and so much more – and Maximo Nivel even offers teaching placements for graduates in their Native English Program in Latin America. This is an excellent way to gain classroom experience and boost your leadership skills while getting the most out of your gap year travel – learn more at: http://maximonivel.com/tefl-tesol.
If you’d like to gain a truly immersive experience on your gap year abroad, check out Maximo Nivel’s volunteer program with indigenous communities. Based in the rural Andean region of Peru just outside of Cusco, you’ll live for at least one week with an indigenous family while helping them with day-to-day activities such as tending livestock, helping with agricultural projects, constructing and renovating buildings, and even teaching at a local school. To get the most from your experience in Peru, you should be flexible and adventurous, and physically fit enough to take on tough but fulfilling manual labor. Learn more about volunteering with indigenous communities during your gap year at: http://maximonivel.com/volunteers/indigenous-communities
What Volunteers Say
I’ve never participated in an international volunteer organization before and after talking with a few other travelers, found that I was very much treated with Maximo Nivel. Not only do they have an awesome staff to help you out with your stay and answer any and all questions, but their programs are very organized.They start you off with a welcome orientation and tour of the city, which I found very helpful. I couldn’t have asked for a better host family to stay with and the project I am working in is soooo much fun! I also was able to brush-up on my Spanish in a one-week class, which proved to very beneficial. Maximo really makes sure you feel right at home. Furthermore, they provide you with other information for traveling and give you plenty of time to explore!
Your time as a volunteer here is invaluable and the Maximo Nivel staff is always there when any kind of support is needed.
Agape Volunteers is perfect for gap year travelers who’d like to spend time volunteering across Africa – and with programs ranging from one week to a year, you’re welcome to spend all or just a part of your gap year with Agape Volunteers.
One opportunity that’s great for recent high school graduates on a gap year is their sports program in Kenya. As a volunteer, you’ll work with local football (soccer) clubs and Kenyan schoolchildren. Sports are an extremely important aspect of childhood development as a way to forge friendships, stay healthy, and have fun – and while football is the most popular sport you’ll coach, you’re also welcome to introduce the children to your own games and ideas, and bring along equipment for new sports. You’ll also be able to work in a classroom helping the teachers with their day-to-day activities.
While in Kenya, you’ll live with a host family or in a volunteer house close to your placement. When you arrive, you’ll receive an orientation along with an information packet that will explain culture, customs, language, and how to stay safe on a day-to-day basis. Throughout your stay, you’ll have breakfast and dinner with your host family, though you’re encouraged to try local vendors and stalls near your placement for lunch. In your off time, you’re encouraged to explore, meet with other volunteers, and learn more about the community in which you’re living.
To learn more about this program and the others Agape Volunteers offers for gap years, visit: http://www.agape-volunteers.com/
What Volunteers Say
I had one fantastic time in Kenya, fantastic, awesome and surreal are the best words I can use to describe my time there. The people were just awesome and the level of support was fantastic. Thank you, oh and I am planning to return to June for 5 weeks!
Love Volunteers is one of the fastest-growing international volunteer organizations that you can be a part of right now, with more than 20,000 volunteers placed on meaningful programs overseas since 2009 – and 4,000 just in the past year. All of their projects are affordably-priced, starting from only $199 for your first week overseas, depending on where you travel. Love Volunteers works in 34 countries worldwide, with more than 120 different projects. A few popular destinations include:
On this wonderful program with Love Volunteers, you will have the opportunity to provide quality education and support to some of Nepal’s most vulnerable children. Based in a slum close to Kathmandu, this initiative aims to teach and provide basic support to children so that they can pursue greater educational opportunities and careers later in life. As a volunteer, you will assist at an understaffed, underfunded school through helping teachers with their work, providing conversational English instruction to students, and even teaching life skills and hygiene. This program starts from one week at $259, though you are invited to stay longer to make the most of your gap year in Nepal.
For a totally different type of gap year adventure, travel to Cairns, Australia to be part of a local conservation organization’s efforts to research and protect sea turtles! The Turtle Rescue and Rehabilitation Centre where you will volunteer helps to care for sea turtles that are suffering from disease or that have been injured by boats or pollution. A few ways that you can help include preparing food and feeding the turtles, cleaning and maintaining their tanks, scrubbing algae off of the turtles’ backs, transporting and releasing the turtles into the ocean, and assisting with reef monitoring and research. You are invited to stay one week to three months on this program, which starts at $959, and longer stays can be arranged depending on availability.
If you have at least one month to give for a volunteer program, and if you are a pre-med student, in medical school, or if you have some education in medicine, come to Kenya, where you can assist with an HIV/AIDS prevention and support program. You will start with a two-week, intensive HIV/AIDS support course, and after that, you will provide medical care (if qualified) and other support to those living with HIV/AIDS. You also will have the chance to educate adults and children about HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment, and provide much-needed care to children who have been orphaned due to the disease. You are invited to stay four weeks or longer, starting at $1,009, with extensions available on an individual basis.
Based in Surin, Thailand, this volunteer trip gives you an amazing opportunity to care for elephants that have been abused and neglected. These elephants were first used as beasts of burden for logging – a practice that was outlawed in the 1980s – and later they were brought into cities to be used as tourist attractions so that their owners could pay for their care. As a volunteer, you can work with an initiative that takes the elephants out of the cities and brings them back to their natural habitats, while also providing livelihood support for their mahouts. This program starts from one week at $619, and you are invited to stay up to 12 weeks during your gap year.
What Volunteers Say
Love Volunteers is a great organization. They were seamless with all of the pre-event discussions and preparations. The support was top notch. Responses to emails and calls were speedy. The Green Living Planet (ngo) i worked with, suggested by Love Volunteers was very helpful and a safe, reliable and honest organization.I highly recommend Love Volunteers and will use them in the future for my other adventures. Also, how can you go wrong with a name like that?
Based in Cape Town, Via Volunteers caters to gap year students looking for volunteer placements in South Africa. Passionate about ethical volunteering, Via Volunteers only supports sustainable projects where a genuine need exists. They’ve hosted volunteers from over 60 countries. They have a variety of gap year programs, from childcare and community development projects to wildlife and conservation volunteer experiences.
To ensure your gap year volunteer experience is rewarding and meaningful, Via Volunteers helps you every step of the way, from pre-departure preparation to orientation and accommodation once you’ve arrived. They’ve also built the Via Volunteers app, the first ethical volunteering app, to guide you with choosing a volunteer program and traveling around Cape Town.
Want to volunteer with lions, tigers, and leopards? It’s as splendid as it sounds, and you’ll get to protect these majestic cats from commercial breeding and trading (the predators here are captive-bred but have since been rescued). As a volunteer for big cats, you’ll educate visitors about the conditions big cats endure while held in captivity around the world. Other duties at the environmentally-friendly rescue center include maintaining enclosures, assisting with feeding, enhancing the cats’ enrichment area, and helping with daily operations.
So, do you want to volunteer for big cats in South Africa? Fees begin from $460 per week. Reserve your spot here!
Join Mama Rosie at Baphumelele Children’s Home, a refuge near Cape Town for vulnerable, abandoned, abused, neglected, and orphaned children. For this award-winning project, you’ll assist primary caregivers with food preparation, developmental play, fun activities, homework help for older children, and other tasks.
Mama Rosie, Baphumelele’s founder, was awarded the CNN Hero’s Award in 2017 for her incredible work at the center. Many celebrities have visited Baphumelele, including Nelson Mandela, Beyoncé, Sir Elton John, Bono, and the Manchester United football team. How cool is that? As a volunteer, you’ll get to be a part of this highly successful and impactful educare center.
Ready to volunteer with children in South Africa? Fees begin from $247 per week. Sign up here!
What Volunteers Say
Watching the sunset over the mountains with Neptune roaring next to me or walking in the mornings alongside the enclosure with Raise, you feel these cats’ incredible power. There’s a good balance of work and play; the excursions I did while at the Big Cat Sanctuary included cheese and wine tasting, a spa day, horse riding along the beach, and shark cage diving. The sanctuary team and the animals will give you memories you will cherish forever.Via Volunteers is amazing. Having Ed and Heather as a constant support while in South Africa always made me feel very safe. I know I will be back. -Charlie, a volunteer from the UK, on the Big Cat Sanctuary project
Why not get paid to travel during your gap year? Since 2010, International TEFL Academy (ITA) has offered internationally accredited TEFL courses and certifications that open you up to English teaching jobs all over the world. This year, over 5,000 people will take an ITA course online or in one of their in-person classes in 25 locations around the world to become certified to teach English.
With extensive pre-enrollment guidance from expert advisors, you will be matched with the TEFL training course that’s best for you – and once you’re enrolled in one of ITA’s online or in-person courses, you will have excellent training from a university-level professor who will prepare you to become the best teacher you can be. ITA also provides tons of resources for students and alumni, including a job search manual, cover letter and resume workshops, contact information for more than 20,000 schools and employers worldwide, and lifetime job search assistance.
One way to prepare for your gap year of teaching English abroad is to take an online certification course. Through ITA, you’ll have the chance to earn your TEFL certification through their 170-hour online course, which spans 11 weeks and includes training in basic principles of teaching, grammar, classroom management, error correction, lesson planning, use of visual and audio aids, and much more. You’ll start with 150 hours of online lessons, including lectures, webinars, and chats with your teacher, and then you will move along to 20 hours of live teaching practice with ESL learners. Once you’ve completed your certification, you will be qualified to become a full-time, paid English teacher abroad – learn more here!
Another wonderful opportunity through ITA is their Barcelona TEFL class, where you can become certified to teach English in Spain, Europe, or worldwide. Through this four-week, full-time program, you will travel to one of Spain’s most beautiful cities and take courses each weekday from 10:00am to 7:00pm. Topics include basic principles of teaching, classroom management, lesson planning, and much more; plus you will be able to practice teaching with local ESL students. During your trip, you can take Spanish language courses, embark on wine tasting tours, or go on Barcelona city tours. Learn more here!
Since 2006, GoEco has offered affordable volunteer abroad programs and internships in over 45 countries throughout Africa, Asia, Australasia, Central America, Europe, the Middle East, North America, and South America. With more than 170 different programs, GoEco is a great organization to check out if you’re looking for a variety of impactful trips to choose from, from wildlife conservation to teaching English. GoEco was recently recognized as the Top Volunteer Abroad Organization from GoAbroad, Top Eco-Enthusiast by Greenmatch, and has been recommended by Buzzfeed, Huffington Post, the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification and more. As a volunteer, you will have 24-hour support from the GoEco team, from start to finish.
Gap year adventures are meant to be exciting! Live and volunteer on a tropical Fijian island, and do your part to protect native fish species, preserve coral reefs, and educate the public about environmental awareness. To start the program, you’ll earn PADI Specialty Diver certification in open water and coral reef research, which means you can contribute directly to research aiming to save marine biodiversity.
What’s also great is that you can enjoy life on Fiji during free time. Relax on the cozy beaches, enjoy meals with locals, take in the stunning volcanic mountainous landscapes, and more. Already getting your luggage ready? The program costs $4,100 for four weeks, and you can stay up to 24 weeks. Register here!
Head to Rio and teach art in the favelas. Go out after school into the local community and beautify the area with art. You’ll have a blast painting walls, staircases, and other areas with the children. And by doing so, you’ll be giving them something fun and engaging to do after school.
This program is great for a gap year adventure also because it’s held in Rio, a huge seaside city with beautiful beaches, incredible entertainment, and a vibrant culture. Interested? Fees start at $800 for one week, with stays up to eight weeks available. Apply here!
Lend a hand in the settlements of Cape Town for a unique type of teaching volunteer program abroad! Rather than teaching English language skills, volunteers on this program will teach the children in the settlements how to swim, surf and skate after school! Volunteers who choose to can also teach in the local schools in the morning. You can stay up to 12 weeks! Learn more.
Dive into the waters of Mozambique to observe and collect data on the local population of the giant whale shark! Volunteers on this program have identified over 400 whale sharks and added them to a global, online database that is accessed by conservationists and marine biologists. Volunteer here for up to 12 weeks! Learn more and sign up.
A Broader View is another fabulous organization that encourages volunteers to follow a path that best suits them. With volunteer abroad programs in dozens of countries around the world, A Broader View invites you to take on a gap year adventure where you’ll do some good for a community in need.
One such opportunity that’s great for students looking to go into pre-med or nursing school, but wants to take time off from traditional learning is A Broader View’s Quito, Ecuador Pre Med/Nurse Internship. The center you’ll work in provides free services to patients who cannot afford other treatment, and has more than 300 beds for hospitalization. Throughout your internship, you’ll rotate to different projects every two weeks and perform weekly monitoring supervised by local nurses and doctors. You also will be able to provide medical assistance at the Health Center, and can choose the station you work at based upon your interests, experience, availability, and language skills. This two- to 12-week program is offered year-round, and you must know basic Spanish and/or take the organization’s Spanish immersion lessons in order to apply.
If Pre-Med and Nursing are not your cup of tea, then maybe you want to try you hand as a museum volunteer in Costa Rica. The Children’s Museum of Costa Rica is the first in Central America that was created to help children and their families become active citizens of their community. Volunteers work alongside local staff to encourage the children to play and learn hands-on as they experience science, music, geography and much more. During this two- to 12-week program you will help to set up displays, explain exhibits, and assist with guided tours. During your time in Costa Rica, you will be staying with a host family with all three meals included in your fee along with orientation upon arrival.
A Broader View offers many different opportunities that are great for anyone who wants to take a gap year – if you’d like to learn more, visit: https://www.abroaderview.org/
What Volunteers Say
This was the best experience of my life. The ABV team was really helpful both in the USA and in-country. I was very prepared for the trip. It was really easy to get settled and used to the new surroundings. There was never a time that I felt uncomfortable or unclear on travel instructions or anything. Definitely going to go back some day!
Use your gap year with Projects Abroad to discover yourself and fulfill your potential and help create positive change in the world. The Global Gap program takes you around the world, allowing you to visit three continents and five different countries in 27 weeks. With a group of passionate volunteers by your side, you’ll support local communities and gain practical work experience.
On your gap year abroad, you’ll work on long-term, sustainable solutions to specific problems. Your efforts aren’t just a quick fix. Projects Abroad works directly with local community members and organizations, so you can be sure your work meets real needs, wherever you are.
You’ll start in Ghana with a week of orientation, before working with children in a rural village for two weeks. From there, you’ll travel to South Africa, Peru, Nepal, and then finish your journey in Thailand. You’ll work in education and healthcare, protect precious marine environments like coral reefs, and more. Throughout it all, you’ll get first-hand insight into global issues and the challenges people face every day.
It’s a program designed for high school graduates who want to take a year off for personal growth and experience before college. Projects Abroad provides a hassle-free experience and its dedicated in-country staff are there for you 24/7. It’s an all-inclusive program for $29,995 and includes:
- Airport pick-ups and drop-offs
- Three meals a day
- Travel and medical insurance
- Sightseeing tours and activities
Projects Abroad also offers custom gap year programs if Global Gap doesn’t fit your goals. Most staff have been volunteers themselves, so they’re well placed to answer your questions, big or small.
What Volunteers Say
“As a whole, the entire project is something that has helped me grow as a person and discover who I am and how I want to live my life in the future. As I go back home, I know that I am bringing with me the life lessons of seeing those less fortunate than me still live life to the fullest.” -Macrina, Global Gap
Your initial research may have you overwhelmed. After all, there are so many gap year travel abroad programs, internships, and experiences out there that it can be hard to make a decision. Abroadly, Volunteer Forever’s new booking platform, simplifies that process by enabling you to easily search hundreds of programs across dozens of organizations at once. From construction projects in Colombia to wildlife rescue in Australia, you’ll find it all here.
Find a gap year project that matches your interests and budget in no time, and apply with ease. Your application fee on Abroadly is 100% guaranteed refundable if you don’t get into the program you like most. By applying, you also can enjoy free use of Volunteer Forever’s crowdfunding platform, as well as the opportunity to win a $500 scholarship.
So, get started now – your gap year adventure awaits!
Join Khaya Volunteer Projects on the outskirts of Port Elizabeth, and help make sure the most impoverished and disadvantaged people in the area are cared for and able to live normal lives. There are many things you can do to help, from being a teacher’s assistant and providing childcare to offering support at an HIV/AIDS clinic and working at a community garden. What you do depends on the needs of the program and your preferences.
You’ll stay with a host family during the project. The program fee is $390 for one week, with stays up to six weeks available. Get even more details here!
Animal lovers rejoice! Cango Wildlife Ranch’s project in Oudtshoorn, South Africa may just be the gap year volunteer program of your dreams. Encounter cheetahs, meerkats, lemurs, white tigers, pygmy hippos, and cape vultures up close. How cool is that? Of course, you’ll have some responsibilities, like feeding and training the animals. Cleaning the enclosures is also a common task. You’ll learn a lot about what goes into caring for these amazing creatures, as well as how the challenges they face are being addressed.
Project fees start at $1,000 for two weeks, with the option to stay up to four weeks. Get even more details here!
Join GROUND on a trip to Angkor Krav, a village outside of Siem Reap that deals with pressing issues like poverty, HIV/AIDS, and inadequate access to healthcare and education. When you volunteer as an English teacher, you’ll be equipping children in the area with a skill they can use to break the cycle of poverty and create bright futures. Use games, activities, and just conversation to get your students to speak and build confidence in their language skills. This is one program where you can feel your impact immediately. And, when you’re not teaching, you can explore Siem Reap and awe-inspiring Angkor Wat, the largest religious monument in the world.
Program fees start at $493 for two weeks, with stays up 12 weeks available. Get even more details here!
Join Global Vision International on a trip to Quepos, where you’ll assist in an educational program that focuses on life skills, emotional development, and conversational English. A truly rewarding way to spend your gap year, you’ll get to use art, music, and games to improve students’ English and build their overall self-confidence. You’ll even get to take part in community development initiatives in the area. During free time, you’ll be able to explore beautiful Quepos and the surrounding area, which includes Manuel Antonio National Park (it’s time for the beach!).
The program fee starts at $1790 for two weeks, with stays up to 12 weeks available. Get even more details here!
Join Plan My Gap Year in gorgeous Arusha, Tanzania, and help primary and secondary school students improve their English language skills. You’ll be working at schools with staff shortages, which means you’ll have the opportunity to plan and teach your own lesson plans. You’ll also help teachers with their daily work and provide one-on-one tutoring to those students falling behind. You may have the option to teach Math, art, and other subjects as well. During free time, spend time in the city of Arusha and journey to nearby natural areas. Serengeti National Park and Africa’s largest peak, Mt. Kilimanjaro, are both close!
The program fee starts at $624 for two weeks, with stays up to 24 weeks available. Get even more details here!
Founded in 1995, Cross-Cultural Solutions has provided international internships, volunteer trips, high school and group volunteering programs, and gap year experiences in 9 countries throughout Africa, Asia, Latin America, and Europe. Gap year travel opportunities you can sign up for focus on child development, girls’ and women’s empowerment, and global health, and can be customized to where you’d like to travel and what types of service opportunities you want to pursue. With a 99% approval rating from past participants, Cross-Cultural Solutions has among the highest standards of safety and well-being in its industry, and as an organization dedicated to quality programming, CCS received Special Consultative Status with the United Nations in 2003, received GreatNonprofits’ top award for the third year in a row, and is accredited by the American Gap Year Association.
Cross-Cultural Solutions’ Spanish Immersion Gap Year Program is a wonderful way to explore Latin America, learn about different cultures, and develop your Spanish language skills. With spring and fall semester programs available, this adventure invites you to Costa Rica, Guatemala, and Peru. In Costa Rica, you’ll visit the city of Cartago, where you can volunteer with social service organizations that support healthcare, education, and more. In Guatemala City, you will have the chance to work with NGOs, schools, and health clinics while taking Spanish lessons. And in Lima, Peru, you will volunteer with initiatives that support children and the elderly. Along the way, you will be able to hike a volcano, learn to cook local cuisine, explore Machu Picchu, zip line in a national park, and much more. Learn more about this 12-week gap year adventure here!
If you’ve always wanted to visit Africa, check out Cross-Cultural Solutions’ Gap Year in Africa, which brings you to Morocco, Ghana, and Tanzania. Volunteer projects focus on education and literacy, child development, girls’ and women’s empowerment, global health, HIV/AIDS, support for people with disabilities, and more. During this 12-week program, you will tour the city of Rabat, visit Kilimanjaro, view the ruins of Chellah, take Arabic language lessons, travel across Lake Volta, go on a safari, and much more. Learn more and register here!
For a truly unique gap year adventure, take a look at Cross-Cultural Solutions’ Global Gap Year program, where you will travel to Peru, Tanzania, and India for 12 weeks. This spectacular, round-the-world program will let you make a difference through volunteering, get out of your comfort zone by immersing yourself in new cultures, connect with like-minded travelers, and much more. Volunteer activities focus on education and literacy, global health, HIV/AIDS support, children’s development, women’s empowerment, and other important issues. During your trip, you will tour New Delhi, explore the Himalayas, cook Peruvian food, visit Machu Picchu, go on a safari in the Serengeti, and much more. Learn more and sign up here!
Have you always wanted to visit Africa? Alongside many other impactful volunteer abroad opportunities, Global Vision International (GVI) offers a four- to 12-week program in the Seychelles you’ll help with a marine conservation expedition, including scuba diving, surveying, and hands-on education in biodiversity. As part of this program, you’ll take PADI Advanced and Coral Reef Research Diver courses, along with extra dive courses locally at a discounted rate. You’ll also learn out to identify fish and coral in the Indian Ocean, visit and dive among the tropic islands – with sharks, rays, and dolphins – as you develop different techniques that will help you survey coral reefs at five different sites. Plus you’ll have the chance to visit breeding areas for hawksbill and green sea turtles and enjoy your time in one of the most beautiful areas of the world.
Depending on weather, the goal is to have every volunteer dive or snorkel one to two times a day for five days a week. Other than diving, you may be able to take on additional activities such as training sessions, marine debris surveys and removal, environmental education sessions, or alternative income training, based on local and project needs. The base you’ll live at offers dormitory-style accommodations along with shared cooking and cleaning duties – and during your weekends you’re free to explore the surrounding areas and islands of the Seychelles as you embrace the Creole culture.
But what does this all mean? GVI is the leading marine data collection organization in the Seychelles, meaning that a lot of their data is used by other organizations in the area. This data is used to show an accurate account of the overall health of the local coral reefs – necessary information when setting and creating new management policies.
If you’d rather travel to Mexico, GVI offers a short-term internship on the Yucatan Peninsula, where you’ll help to assess the health of the Mesoamerican barrier reef system, increase awareness of marine issues, and provide data to help with policymaking around the marine ecosystem. You’ll start with an extensive training program – including a diving assessment – followed by practical application of your studies. Throughout your internship, you’ll complete weekly written assignments and field discussions, watch presentations to learn about the work you’re taking on, and work alongside researchers in the field to assess reef health, determine species and breeding success of sea turtles, develop the expedition base as an ecological research and awareness center, and set up an education and awareness program within the community. After successful completion of the internship, you may have the opportunity to work with GVI or local partner organizations in Mexico or in other countries. This program lasts six weeks to six months, and starts from $4,900. To learn more and to apply for GVI’s internship program in Mexico, please click here.
If you’ve always wanted to visit Africa, GVI has an excellent opportunity for travelers who love animals and want to conserve the environment they live in. Through GVI’s Wildlife Research in South Africa program, you will travel to a Big Five game reserve to volunteer alongside a local wildlife research team while they track animals, study their behavior, and learn about the habits of some of the world’s most exotic predators. You will start with a training session to learn about the program and the many different types of animals that you’ll study, and after that, you’ll volunteer with your team to track wildlife, conduct research, help with data entry, and even help with community education initiatives focusing on conservation. This trip lasts two weeks to three months, and starts at $2,390 – to learn more and to apply, click here.
Another impactful and immersive gap year opportunity through GVI invites you to the UNESCO World Heritage Site and city of Luang Prabang, Laos, to teach practical and conversational English to Buddhist novice monks and to other lay students within the community. If you want to learn about a culture that might be different from your own, while also making a positive impact, this is a great way to do it: as a volunteer, not only will you be teaching local students, but you also will be learning about their way of life, their religion, and so much more. Through your efforts, these students will be able to build bright futures for themselves by pursuing better employment opportunities and improving their socio-economic status. This program starts from two weeks at $1,900 – learn more and sign up here.
To sign up or learn more about the many gap year opportunities GVI offers, visit http://www.gviusa.com/. And to learn more about gap year travel, be sure to download GVI’s Gap Year Guide, which covers all the questions you’ll have about embarking on your adventure abroad!
What Volunteers Say
I was a 6 month intern on the Thailand elephant conservation project and it was just amazing. I got to live with a family and learned their language which let me communicate with them and see how funny and amazing they are. I got to actually make a difference and see beautiful elephants in the forest! I taught English and conservation at the school, played with the nursery children, make some amazing friends, and live in the middle of a beautiful forest! It was the best experience of my life! -Rosie
If you’re interested in a gap year at the beach, Naturally Africa Volunteers may just have the perfect option: their Ghana Turtle Conservation and Ecotourism project is a great opportunity for students who’d like to learn more about wildlife conservation and sustainable travel. Available each year between September and March (sea turtle nesting season), this program creates a powerful relationship between its volunteers and host community, all of whom band together to plan, manage, and carry out important work in conservation and ecotourism.
As a volunteer, you will be based in Ghana’s Green Turtle Lodge, which has been working closely with community development projects since 2003. During your stay, you’ll contribute to vital work in conserving nesting sea turtles, providing education workshops in the fishing village and schools, and learning about sustainable lifestyle and tourism practices. From day to day, you might take on beach patrol to monitor turtle nesting and prevent the females from being disturbed while laying eggs; gathering and analyzing data to monitor the different sea turtle species that lay their eggs on Akwidaa Beach; and coordinating workshops with fishermen and visiting schools in the area to educate the community on the importance of protecting sea turtles. You’ll also learn about ecotourism and help promote responsible tourism throughout your stay.
If you would like more information about this program or any of the other opportunities Naturally Africa Volunteers offers, please visit: www.volunteerafrica.com
What Volunteers Say
My time in Malawi was amazing. Meg, Sam and Aug were the main reason. They provided a balanced view on how to go about my role as a volunteer. I can not describe how inspired I was by the whole trip and the staff at the cottage. The structure of the project was brilliant. You can clearly see the priorities. Keeping a good relationship with the village population and the elders was their main focus. Providing amazing support to the wound clinics, HIV support groups, nursery and home based care groups was incredible. I am very lucky I was part of the development of the different village I visited. At the weekends I got to experience other parts of Malawi. Like the landscape and culture outside the village. I wish I could have stayed for longer. I hope to return to Malawi in the near future.
i-to-i offers many different opportunities for you to travel all over Asia, Europe, the Middle East, the Americas, and Africa. From paid internships to job placements abroad, there are a plethora of options for anyone looking to spend a gap year with i-to-i.
One amazing trip you can take on your gap year is i-to-i’s Thailand TEFL Experience, where you’ll be able to travel to amazing cities and beaches, and spend two months teaching English in a rural village. To start, you’ll take i-to-i’s 120-hour online TEFL course, after which you’ll travel to the ancient city of Ayutthaya for orientation, more training, and an introduction to Thai history and culture. The village you’ll work in for the next 7 weeks is Kanchanaburi, where you’ll teach basic English to beginner students. After that, you’ll travel to Koh Samet, an exotic island where you can relax on the beach and reflect on your wonderful experience teaching and traveling abroad. Learn more here!
For more information on these programs and all that i-to-i has to offer, check out their website at http://www.i-to-i.com
Since 2014, Volunteering Journeys has offered volunteer placements in Asia and Africa perfect for gap year travelers interested in community development, medical care, or wildlife and conservation.
The basis for Volunteering Journeys was formed when founder Ridhi Patel quit her job in 2009, and volunteered for three months in South Africa. This life-changing experience encouraged her to build Volunteering Journeys in her home country of India, with a goal of providing an amazing opportunity for travelers who want to explore the world, give back to the communities that welcome them, and learn more about themselves.
Volunteering Journeys sets itself apart by providing personal attention and tailored trips for its participants, committing to high-quality service, and engaging doctors, teachers, scientists, and community leaders on all programs. This also is an affordable option for travelers on a budget, starting from less than $1,000 for a two-week placement.
Teaching English abroad is an amazing way to broaden your horizons, develop new skills, and meet incredible people. Through Volunteering Journeys, you can sign up for one of many different English teaching programs in India, Nepal, Cambodia, Thailand, Sri Lanka, and Bali. As a volunteer, you’ll work with local teachers and other volunteers to support schools, community centers, and charities to improve teaching standards in poor communities, help children and adults get a quality English education, and support long-term literacy initiatives. Click here to learn more: https://volunteeringjourneys.com/teaching-english
Right now, Volunteering Journeys has an excellent opportunity for travelers like you to take part in a women’s empowerment program in India. Gender inequality can negatively impact all areas of a woman’s life, from education, to employment, to healthcare, and social status. In impoverished areas of India in particular, women and girls face domestic abuse, forced early marriage, lack of access to education, and improper or poor health care. As a volunteer, you’ll work in a community center, women’s college, school, or girls’ home in Kerala or Kolkata to teach English, life skills, and computer skills, while also being part of a supportive group and sounding board allowing women to discuss issues that are important to them. Learn more at: https://volunteeringjourneys.com/womens-empowerment-volunteer-india
Since 1993, International TEFL and TESOL Training (ITTT) has provided TEFL and TESOL certification to allow travelers to teach English worldwide. With an online course, in-class programs, and even a combined online/in-class course, ITTT has certified more than 100,000 graduates to date, with more than 7,500 students completing training each year. This organization also provides lifetime English teaching job support for all graduates, including leads on unadvertised jobs, employer databases, CV and resume review, and much more. ITTT’s online classes start at $249, in-class programs start from $1,490 for four weeks of training, and combined courses start from $1,195.
ITTT provides high-quality, internationally accredited online TEFL courses for students of all learning styles, allowing you to earn TEFL certification from home, at your own pace, and with or without tutor support. You also can choose a specialized training in Teaching Business English, Teaching English to Young Learners, and even an advanced Diploma in TEFL. Courses range from 60-hour introductory programs, to 50-hour specialized ones, to 250-hour TESOL diploma classes. After you’re certified through ITTT’s online program, you’ll be able to travel the world and get paid to teach English during your gap year.
If you’re ready to earn your TEFL certification abroad, and have the opportunity to start teaching English immediately during your gap year, check out ITTT’s in-class courses, which are offered in 25 different locations in Costa Rica, Spain, China, France, and beyond. ITTT’s four-week, in-class programs are divided into six segments to provide you with the best training possible: teaching practice, foreign language experience, language awareness, student profile, teaching techniques, and a materials project. Once you successfully complete your in-class program, ITTT will provide job placement support to allow you to teach English in the country of your training, or even beyond.
If you’ve always wanted to visit China, ITTT offers a wonderful program where you can earn your certification in Beijing, Zhuhai, or Shanghai. Demand for English teachers in China is high – in fact, hundreds of positions are advertised each day – so once you earn your certification, you’re likely to be offered a teaching position quickly. Courses run year-round on a monthly basis, and between the capital city, the Pearl Sea, and the metropolis of Shanghai, you’re bound to find just the right program for you.
If South America is more your style, consider signing up for ITTT’s TEFL course in Peru, where you’ll receive high-quality training from experienced teacher trainers at a school in Cusco. As the gateway to Machu Picchu, Cusco is an amazing place to earn your TEFL certificate while exploring one of the world’s most famous archaeological sites and historic cities. Through this program, you’ll have practice sessions with current English language students so you can hone your skills in a classroom environment – allowing you to gain hands-on experience to be the best teacher you can once you graduate.
ITTT’s combined TEFL course is a great option if you want to earn TEFL certification alongside other students in-person, but if you don’t have the time yet to attend a full, four-week course. This combined program starts with a 120-hour online course that you can complete from home, in your own time. After that, you’ll take a five-day in-classroom course in one of more than a dozen locations in the US or Canada, or an 8- to 10-day program in Spain, Thailand, Italy, France, or the United States. This program starts at $1,195, and you’ll receive full TEFL certification after successfully completing both portions of the combined course.
Founded in 1983, Rustic Pathways offers volunteer trips, gap year travel, and other adventures for students in high school and college. By combining education, travel, and service, Rustic Pathways gap year programs take you to Asia, Latin America, and the Pacific, where you can go island hopping, immerse yourself in different cultures, and explore gorgeous sites. More than 8,000 students are expected to embark on trips this year, and with recognition as WYSTC’s 2015 Best Youth Tour Operator, plus decades of experience from on-the-ground staff, a commitment to safety, and excellent support for travelers on a budget – including more than 100 scholarships awarded each year! – Rustic Pathways is a great choice for your gap year.
Another excellent three-month gap year program to check out with Rustic Pathways brings you to Costa Rica, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, and Peru for a Spanish immersion and service adventure. Starting in Costa Rica, you’ll take Spanish language lessons while also participating in local service projects. After that, you will travel to Peru, where you will have the chance to visit Machu Picchu and the Sacred Valley, explore the historic city of Cusco, and even go sand boarding in the Peruvian desert. From there, you’ll travel to the Dominican Republic, where you’ll take more Spanish classes, work with children and learn about public health initiatives, and much more – and after that, you will end your trip in Cuba for a cultural immersion and exchange program including a tour of Old Havana, a visit to Santa Maria del Mar Beach, and even a service project to protect the coastal ecosystem. Learn more and sign up here!
Ready to Travel?
With so many new opportunities available to college-bound students searching for a year in the field, there’s little doubt that the gap year is a trend on the rise. And consensus is undeniable: university admissions officers agree that a gap year can be a positive experience, while gap year travelers themselves note that they’re able to enter their degree programs with a greater level of maturity and preparation than they may have had otherwise.
Not only do gap year programs offer experiential learning opportunities for student travelers, but they also provide activities that develop leadership abilities – and studies show that most gap year students return to college, and when they do, they perform better. If you’re still unsure: in his 2011 study at Middlebury College, Clagget’s research proved that students embarking on a gap year had consistently higher GPAs than their peers.
If you’re ready to start planning your gap year, check out Volunteer Forever’s volunteer, intern, and teach abroad programs, which are perfect for learning and growing while doing some great work for a community in need. And for a list of colleges and universities that are gap-year-friendly, click here.