Whether you have just finished up high school, earned your bachelor’s degree, find yourself between jobs, or have time on your hands for another reason, a gap year may be a great way to recharge before you dive into your next challenge.
No longer regarded as a sure way to end up wasting a year slacking off, the concept of the gap year has grown in popularity, so much so that many parents and guidance counselors even encourage it. A well executed gap year can help you find out a lot about yourself and take you a lot farther than you ever imagined. Of course, there’s a lot more to having a successful gap year than just postponing your college enrollment or a new job. Here are some important factors to keep in mind.
What To Do?
Before you can figure out the “how’s” surrounding your gap year, you need to know what you’re going to do. In all likelihood, you want this year away from school or work to be as worthwhile as possible, but don’t make it all about being productive. Take time to explore your options and choose an activity that really gets you excited.
Some of the more common gap year opportunities include volunteering abroad, taking up environmental causes, teaching, studying the arts, language immersion and adventure travel. Find out what a typical day looks like in your chosen gap year activity before you commit, so you can feel confident that you’ll follow through.
Balancing Pros And Cons
Every gap year includes both pros and cons, and you’ll have to decide if the sacrifices you are making are worth it. In many cases, a gap year can change your life by showing you a world you never knew existed. You will meet new people who share your passions, and you may even decide on a new life path based on your experiences.
Of course, you will also be starting college a year later than your high school friends, you’ll graduate a year later, and you will be entering the workforce later. Some people fear losing the academic momentum they’ve built up through high school by having a gap year, but if you can regain your focus once your year is up, the experiences you’ll have will last a lifetime.
Planned vs. Unplanned
There is a big difference between finding a specific gap year program and just “taking a year off.” Depending on what you want to get from your gap year, and whether you do better in an organized setting vs. a more relaxed setting will help guide you in this regard. It’s a good idea to be honest with yourself when deciding if you should plan your gap year carefully or go with the flow. If you’re not a self-starter, then you’ll get the most out of your year with a planned program.
Finding Appropriate Financing
Perhaps the biggest challenge for most gap year participants is financing. The whole point is to find something rewarding and exciting to occupy your year, and holding down a regular job isn’t usually in the cards. Once your plan has been created and you know exactly how much you’ll need, you have a few different financing options.
Some of the most popular include:
- Fundraising online (Go Fund Me, Indiegogo, and, of course, Volunteer Forever’s free crowdfunding platform))
- Borrowing money from family
- Saving up money from your part time job during school
- Cutting out extras to save as much as possible
- Using severance if between jobs
- School-sponsored programs
- Financial aid for different volunteer programs
From volunteering and teaching English to interning and working abroad, you have countless opportunities for your gap year. Here’s a detailed list of organizations that specialize in gap year programs.
Exceptional Organizations With Gap Year Programs
Global Vision International offers volunteering and internship programs across the world, including countries like Costa Rica, Mexico, India, Greece and Thailand. The organization has programs for those under 18, such as the volunteer and adventure experience in Fiji (price starts from $2,695 for two weeks). GVI also hosts many longer programs for those on a gap year, including a volunteer program with Buddhist monks in Laos (price starts from $1,900 for weeks).
IVHQ offers more than 150 different projects in over 35 destinations. The great thing about IVHQ is that their programs are very affordable. Teach English in the ancient Chinese city of Xi’an (just $280 for one week), help with turtle conservation in Guatemala ($310 for one week), or work with the elderly in Sri Lanka ($285 for one week).
At Maximo Nivel, you have the opportunity for international internships, volunteer projects and study-abroad programs in Latin America. For instance, you could learn Spanish in Cusco, Peru, where a four week program costs just $270 for two hours of classes each day. Or you could assist with building construction in San Jose, Costa Rica (price starts from $680 for one week).
Love Volunteers provides “intercultural” experiences across a wide range of opportunities, such as childcare, healthcare, teaching, wildlife and conservation. Volunteer for the Women’s Empowerment program in Arusha, Tanzania, where you can help fight injustices like human trafficking and teach young women important life skills (just $499 for two weeks). Or teach sports in Bamenda, Cameroon, where you can alleviate health and social issues facing Cameroon’s most vulnerable children (just $200 for two weeks).
Plan My Gap Year offers a variety of programs in Africa, Asia, the Pacific, and beyond. What may specifically interest those taking a gap year is the Ultimate Round the World Encounter(priced at $7,275). The program lasts 252 days, with stops in numerous countries, including Ghana, South Africa, India, Vietnam and other countries. It’s a great way to experience life in various places across Africa and Asia.
Teach, travel, and experience–that’s the motto of International TEFL Academy. With this organization, you get certified to teach English as a second language, and then get placement. Countries where you can teach English during your gap year include Poland, Argentina, Jordan, Malaysia and many others. Teaching English is a great way to make money and gain work experience while enjoying life in another country. It’s actually one of the most practical ways to take a gap year.
Cross Cultural Solutions is an organization that’s dedicated to solving some of the world’s most pressing issues, like hunger, disease and human rights. The programs in Morocco are particularly noteworthy, as you can choose to volunteer with children, support women’s empowerment or assist with health care. Fees start at $1,750 for one week. Other locations include countries like India, Peru and Guatemala.
If you want to go to Africa to volunteer, Agape is a good organization. From volunteering in orphanages to helping out in hospitals, there are lots of volunteer opportunities for gap year students with Agape. For example, you could combat HIV/AIDS in Kenya or protect endangered species in South Africa (both programs start from around $640 for one week).
Projects Abroad sends around 10,000 students abroad each year on service projects and internships. Realize your potential during a gap year of volunteering with Projects Abroad. Before starting the next chapter of your life, you can explore the world, gain experience, and give back. Explore a career path on a global internship while you gain practical experience to boost your resume and realize your potential. Another option is to impact the world through service work. Explore Projects Abroad’s amazing 8-month Global Gap Program designed for the ultimate gap year volunteer experience.
A Broader View has opportunities in 25 countries, with a total of more than 245 volunteer and internship opportunities. Popular programs with the organization are Spanish-language immersion courses, elephant conservation and projects with street children.
Taking The Leap
If you or someone you love is planning a gap year and want to learn more, take a look through any of the programs offered by the organizations listed here. Choose one that fits your budget and preferences, and you’ll have an amazing experience abroad!
To make your volunteer trip a reality, consider crowdfunding on Volunteer Forever’s platform. Here, you can get the funds you need to make your gap year dreams a reality, and have the time of your life.