How to Choose the Best Gap Year Program After High School

How do you find the best gap year programs and opportunities for after high school? And how do you choose the best one for you? 

Knowing what is important can help you narrow down your search and make an informed decision.

What is a gap year?

A gap year is traditionally the name given to a year-long  pause in education, taken after high school and before college. Similarly, a gap semester program refers to a pause in education that lasts 3-4 months, or roughly as long as a college semester.

Gap year programs are one of the best ways to gain both life experience and useful skills for college applications and future careers. The biggest challenge for a lot of people can be knowing where to find the information necessary to organize and plan a gap year after high school. Many people don’t even know how or where to start looking.

So, how do you find the best gap year programs and opportunities for after high school? And how do you choose the best one for you? What sorts of scholarships and other funding options are available? Whether you read the news and reviews, or you prefer word of mouth, there are many variables that can impact your experience abroad. Knowing what is important can help you narrow down your search and make an informed decision to find the best gap year programs that fit your personality and interests.

Finding the Best Gap Year Programs After High School For You

A quick online search will turn up dozens of different gap year programs, but what exactly makes one gap year program different from any other? Each program has its own pros and cons that offer new experiences and different areas of emphasis. If you’re going to be spending several months of your life exploring a new culture and place, it’s important to find a program that emphasizes what you need, and what you want to get out of your gap year. So what makes a gap year program the best one for you? Consider these 6 key factors for finding the best gap year programs.

What Makes the Best Gap Year Programs 

Each individual gap year program offers a unique experience which can make it hard to choose which one is the best for you. The key factors that you should be considering as you explore different gap year opportunities include:

  • Diversity
  • Price
  • Destination
  • What you’ll be doing
  • Your living situation
  • Duration
  • College credit


The best gap year programs give you the opportunity to broaden your perspective. That’s a lot harder to do if you’re traveling with a pack of students who are all just like you. In the best gap year programs, you’ll get to connect with students from diverse backgrounds and life experiences. With a diverse cohort of peers, you’ll gain a broader perspective not only from your travels but from the friends you make in your cohort.


The cost of high school gap year opportunities can vary greatly. Likewise, scholarships and financial aid offerings vary quite a bit. But don’t let initial sticker shock deter you from applying, and don’t let the cost scare you into not pursuing the best gap year programs. Gap year opportunities should be available to everyone, so certain programs and scholarships offer significant financial aid to students — and they may even cover your full program costs!


Perhaps the biggest draw for a gap year is the potential to live in a country that you have always dreamed of visiting. Are you passionate about spending a year in a specific place? If so, look for the gap year programs after high school that offer that destination, keeping in mind of course, that you’re avoiding tourist spots in favor of real-life experiences. The best gap year programs are an opportunity to experience life abroad, in a place you’ve never been before, and take part in the global community. That’s why you should choose a program that offers a location you want to visit and, especially, be a part of.

What You’ll Be Doing

You may already have a good idea of what you’d like to do during your gap year between high school and college. The best program for you will give you the opportunity to pursue new experiences in an area you’re passionate about or curious about. Opportunities to learn, explore, and be a part of a completely different culture and the global community are what elevate gap year programs to something far more rewarding than just a glorified vacation or “time off of school.” If you’re unsure, read what other gap year participants are doing to get a taste of what is available. These kinds of “a day in the life” readings and blog posts can give you a sample of what your life would be like. You can even look at reviews and alumni experiences so you can evaluate their experience and hear all the good and challenging parts of the program.

Living Situation

How deeply would you like to be immersed in the culture? Living situations in gap year programs can vary from hotels full of tourists to living with local host families. The best gap year programs after high school offer an immersive situation where you can truly maximize your time and learn the culture, language, and customs around you. This is dependent on your preference, but you’ll have to consider what is most important to you to make it a gap year you won’t forget.


How long would you like your experience to be? The term “gap year” can sometimes be misleading, because some programs last only a semester or take place over the summer; not all gap year opportunities after high school last a full year or need to be if you don’t want to be away that long!

Fortunately, that means that there is a variety of gap year traveling programs to fit your schedule. Look for one that fits with your intended timeline, but also keep in mind that shorter programs might not provide you with as many experiences or give you the ability to master a language if that’s what your goal is.

College Credit

A gap year doesn’t mean you’re falling behind a semester or two; it means you’ll be better positioned for success when you get to college, with more experience and a new sense of maturity. As such, it’s always worth taking part in, even if you cannot get college credit for it. However, many gap year programs and colleges do allow you to earn college credits during your experience. Even if college credit isn’t an option, you’ll maximize your college experience by developing independence, leadership, focus and grit, giving you a leg up on the other students before you even step foot on campus.

Considering a semester abroad?

See how Take Action Lab could align with your goals.

Respect for the Local Community

The best gap year programs go beyond “voluntourism” to make sure they are making a responsible, positive, and sustainable impact in the local communities. You want to ensure you are selecting a gap year organization that prioritizes the local culture and respects the community and environment. Doing research on the gap year programs you are considering and reading reviews from your peers that have had the opportunity to take part in their programs can tell you a lot about how the gap year participants will contribute to the local community.  

It is important to be able to distinguish the difference between “real good” and “feel good” gap year programs. In a “real good” program students will work together with community members on existing local initiatives. Working alongside community members on projects they deem impactful, will help ensure you make a positive and sustainable contribution. A “feel good” program will simply drop you into a community, take some pictures, maybe build a few new structures without consulting the community at large, then leave without ever considering the actual needs and wants of the local community. 


These details are some big items you should consider when finding the best gap year program for you. But, this is just the beginning of your cultural journey. When deciding on the best gap year programs, the key is to ask yourself what is the most important to you, and then find the program that best fits those requirements. Start by considering a gap year with Take Action Lab and discover the most beneficial gap year program that may just become one of the best years of your life and an experience that you will never forget!



Sources: New York Times: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/10/05/your-money/an-often-costly-year-to-bridge-the-gap-between-high-school-and-college.html?_r=0


You might also be wondering…

What should I do in my gap year before college?

If you are exploring the idea of taking a gap year before college you should first consider what you would like to gain from the experience. There are tons of gap year programs out there that will teach you and nurture your development in different ways. Entering a gap year program abroad after high school and before college is a good way to:

  • Experience a new culture
  • Get hands-on experience
  • Learn a new language
  • Make a new network of friends
  • Gain leadership skills


What are gap year programs?

A gap year program is typically a year-long break between high school and college, where a graduated student takes time off to work, volunteer, and/or travel. The best gap year organizations will have specific goals in mind. Some common goals or themes for gap year programs include developing leadership skills, volunteering, cultural immersion, or academic development.


Where should I go for a gap year after high school?

When deciding where to go on a gap year, the key is to ask yourself what experiences are the most important to you. Do you want to use your time volunteering, immersing yourself in a new culture, defining your purpose, or developing yourself academically? The best gap year programs before college will fit your individual goals and aspirations.


Can you still get college scholarships or financial aid if you take a gap year?

Yes! In fact, it may even give you a leg up on other applicants.


What does a gap year program mean?

Gap year programs provide the opportunity to gain both life experience and useful skills for college and the rest of your life. When a gap year program involves international travel, it will help provide you with the support and resources you need to have a transformative experience abroad. This usually includes logistical support with travel, housing, and local connections as well as programmatic support to set you up with local projects, excursions, or curriculum.



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Global Citizen Year is moving forward as part of our new, larger brand: Tilting Futures. New name, same mission, expanded programs and impact.