Choosing the Right Program for You
After hours of research and planning, you’ve made a decision—you’re going to take a gap year! Perhaps you’re a few months away from graduation or you’re at a crossroads when it comes to the next step in your career. Whatever the situation, you’re looking for something out of your element. Something that takes you completely out of your comfort zone, pushes you to grow, and challenges the way you see the world.
So, now it’s time to make another decision—what gap year programs do you apply for? You’re already familiar with the different types of gap year programs, so you’ve kind of narrowed your search for “the best gap year program.” But, the best gap year program looks different for everyone. The only thing that should be consistent is that the program is accredited by the Gap Year Association. Otherwise, here are five key things to consider when it comes to choosing the best gap program for you.
The first thing to look at is how a gap program’s outcomes align with your goals. What are you really looking to achieve from taking a gap year? If you want to participate in a volunteer gap program, what kind of impact do you want to make and on who? Maybe the Latin American community has a special place in your heart or you’re really passionate about preserving the world’s rainforests.
If you’re opting for an academic gap program, what are the skills you’re going to have when you finish the program? Are these skills that are going to help you prepare for college or that can help move your career in the right direction? Maybe you’re just looking for an opportunity to learn something you’ve always been interested in like building houses or cooking traditional Ecuadorian dishes.
Even if your main goal isn’t to nurture a lifelong interest, it’s still important to consider what your interests are before you start applying. Gap year programs provide a fun and engaging opportunity to discover and develop your interests in the real world. Being able to work on an organic farm in Uruguay or to create art with a classroom of children on the other side of the world may be exactly what you need to solidify what you want to major in or to make that career change.
While using your existing interests to guide your decision is helpful, one of the most rewarding things about gap programs is discovering a new hobby or interest in something you never even knew existed!
The name “gap year” can be a bit misleading because a gap year doesn’t have to be a year long. A gap year can be any duration that you choose—it can be longer than a year or maybe last for a few months. Make sure that whatever programs you’re applying for take place when you’re planning to take a gap year and for the amount of time you plan to be away.
Be mindful of application due dates and other milestones that may impact your eligibility to apply for a program or that may conflict with your timeline.
Participating in a gap year program means living in a different environment for an extended period of time. Before committing to any programs, make sure you know what the climate and environment is like where you’re headed.
If you’re not too fond of hot and humid climate or lizards scampering up and down sidewalks, make sure the programs you’re applying for offer an environment that’s more consistent with what you’re comfortable with. But, if you’re truly looking to get out of your comfort zone, this kind of destination might be exactly what you’re looking for.
Aside from the weather and what creatures you may encounter day-to-day, you also want to think about things like how often you’d be able to call home or what the transportation is like. For example, if you get motion sickness on buses or find it challenging to walk for long periods of time, this may play into your final decision. Gap year programs are meant to get you out of your element, but you do want to balance challenging yourself with ensuring that you have the bare necessities to maintain a positive attitude and have fun.
Programs that are accredited by the Gap Year Association are programs that professionals have dedicated significant time and effort to developing. As such, these programs typically have a well thought out curriculum or “theme.” For example, at Amigos de las Américas (AMIGOS), we offer programs with themes like Public Health and Education & Youth Development. While these themes don’t dictate every second of the gap program, they do have a strong impact on the types internships and community projects you may embark on.
When narrowing your gap program choices, you want to review example itineraries and curriculum overviews. Consider whether the program theme and related activities support your goals and interests.
Taking the time to find the gap program that’s right for you is a small effort compared to the big reward of an unforgettable experience. Gap year programs are full of surprises and careful planning during the program research and application phase ensures that those surprises are all good surprises—like building lifelong friendships or seeing exotic animals on a beautiful sunrise hike.