For an alternative to going straight from the halls of high school to the academia of college, many young adults are taking a gap year as a chance to explore new skills, travel, or volunteer.
We've rounded up a selection of some of the top gap year programs as recommended by educational experts. For additional choices, including how to get started and how to self-plan a gap year, check in with the Gap Year Association, which provides a wealth of information about options.
EF Gap Year
Essentially a "greatest hits" collection from the popular, teen-centric Education First (EF) Tours, these gap year programs incorporate time in internships, at language schools, and participating in service activities, all in different parts of the world. Students can tailor their semester or year-long program so it best helps them round out the skills they'd like to develop before starting at university. Some options include cultural immersion in London, Amsterdam, Barcelona, and Paris; language instruction in Nice; sustainable development programs in Thailand; internships in Tokyo; and leadership academy at EF's executive education campus at Ashridge (a literal castle outside of London). All of which will empower young adults to "come home fueled with life changing experiences and new tools to power lives of fulfillment and positive impact," says EF Gap Year president Christian Meyer.
A leader in educational travel and experiential learning, WorldStrides offers gap year programs that can include performing arts, language immersion, career exploration, service-learning, study abroad, and sports. "Each of these experiences helps students to see beyond the classroom and to see the world—and themselves—in new ways," says CEO Robert Gogel. In addition, ISA (International Study Abroad) by WorldStrides gap program contains a diverse array of opportunities and allows participants to 'choose their own adventure' in designing their path. Participants can prioritize elements they feel are important to them while fostering their own personal growth from the security of a community of like-minded travelers.
If you want lots of choices for a gap year travel abroad program, this is the option for you. Go Abroad is an online search engine and clearing house for international travel programs, so you'll have all the gap year info you need at your fingertip, and is a good way to find specific programs for specialized interests, such as where to teach English as a second language.
Where There Be Dragons
Although the name may sound a little dreamy, Where There Be Dragons is firmly planted in reality, with some of the most in-depth foreign travel programs available to gap year students. It offers political science, history, sustainability, economics, and language immersion in far-flung locales such as Madagascar or Nepal, or closer to home in spots like the Colorado Basin. Dragons offers college credits as part of their programs (check, though, with your college of choice if these will be transferable). This is one of the most expensive options, but financial aid is available.
Habitat for Humanity
For young adults who want to volunteer and spend time helping others, Habitat for Humanity offers a number of ways to be of service in their "Youth" programs. For gap years, the most immersive option is with their joint program with AmeriCorps that offers full-year service positions at local Habitat organizations across the U.S. where you can learn and develop new skills while serving a critical role in helping Habitat create homes, and stable environments, for those in need. There is a small living allowance for those who qualify.
Speaking of AmeriCorps, this is another top option for those looking for service opportunities. There are short term State and National Programs for ages 17 and up, and full-year Vista programs working in nonprofit offices, or NCCC physical projects, for 18 and up that include free room and board and living stipends.
A favorite option of Ed Zamora, a college advisor and director at Principia Prep, Raleigh International is a student-led, volunteer program with opportunities around the globe focusing on sustainable development in remote areas such as Nepal and Costa Rica. Note that there is both an application process and a cost (although not as high as the educational travel companies).
This UK-based organization offers volunteer travel options both in group "structured" environments and independent plans (a rarity). The Leap creates hands-on opportunities to travel while working on sustainability projects such as repairing coral reefs in South Africa or conservation efforts on the beaches and forests in Costa Rica (and other cool stuff that we'd love to do, too). Note that these options incur tuition costs.
Workaway encourages cultural exchange through work, from WOOFing (WOrking On a Farm) in British Columbia to teaching art to children in Peru. These are less structured than regular gap year travel programs, and your child will be working in exchange for room and board, but if they're interested in seeing the world for free, this can be a good option. Best for young adults who don't need a structured program and area comfortable being on their own.
This site is similar to Workaway in that it lists hosts who need volunteer help, allowing students to travel the world for free in exchange for their work. However, one advanced option on HELPX is the ability to connect with possible companions of the same age and interests to create a support network. This is best for independent students who are comfortable traveling on their own.