There are countless ways to spend a gap year. Deciding what you want and need, what to do, and how to pay for it can feel overwhelming. At Thinking Beyond Borders, we are proud of the quality and positive impact of our gap year programs. But, we also know they are not the right fit for every student and family. The following resources will help you identify the best gap year option for you.
What Do I Need from a Gap Year?
Determining the right fit starts with determining each student’s needs and interests. As a family (and possibly with your school guidance counselor), discuss the ways you may need to grow to be prepared to take full advantage of college. Will it take “real world” experience, social or academic confidence, inspiration, or a combination of all of these? What types of experiences and supports will help ensure this growth? Make a list and be as specific as possible.
Choosing a Program
Next, start looking at programs. There are LOTS of them out there. The USA Gap Year Fairs website is the most comprehensive list of programs based in the US. Here is a blog post that will help you find the options quickly and narrow the choices to those that look like the best fit. Ideally, you’ll have a shortlist of 3-5 programs.
The final stage of choosing the right program is determining which among your finalists is the highest quality. There is not currently an organization that ranks programs based on quality and safety. However, if you know what to look for, it’s fairly easy to tell which of your final choices is best. A phone call to each of your top choice programs will help you understand which will be the safest, highest quality, and best fit.
* Learn more about determining safety and quality in our blog post: Making the Right Gap Year Choice.
Paying for a Gap Year
Even in a struggling economy and with the price of higher education climbing every day, it’s important to remember one thing: Everyone can afford a gap year. In fact, some would argue that you can’t afford not to do a gap year. It’s a bold statement, but consider these two things:
Students Who Take a Gap Year Get More Out of College – Bob Claggett, former Dean of Admissions at Middlebury College and TBB Board Member, was quoted in Time Magazine in September 2010 saying that the gap year was the single best indicator for success of students on his campus. Gap year students widely report being more focused, driven, and directed during their college years. With as many as 50% of students dropping out of college before graduation, a gap year may be the best way to ensure the money invested in college tuition will be well spent.
Gap Years Can Help Pay for College – There are a number of gap year options that will pay students both a living stipend and an education award. City Year and AmeriCorps provide a range of service learning opportunities. A year of service is rewarded with a living stipend and a $5500 Segal AmeriCorps Education Award toward college tuition. Many colleges around the country will augment that award, sometimes even doubling or tripling its value.
There are many gap year options, and the best fit for you may charge tuition or a fee. While money is a factor when comparing programs, it’s important to not let it limit your search. Ultimately, you want to find a program that is both affordable and the right fit for what you want to learn and gain. Here are some things to consider when evaluating the cost of the programs you are considering:
You Get What You Pay For – Remember to look carefully at what you get for the money you spend. Small groups, safety precautions, support services, itinerary details, and quality of learning opportunities are all details to investigate.
Scholarships and Financial Aid – Many gap year programs offer need-based scholarship and financial aid. Scholarships range from a few hundred dollars to full tuition. Some programs will assist students in raising funds to cover tuition, as well. Organizations like Rotary International provide scholarships for student exchange. If you are planning to apply for scholarships or raise funds it is critical to apply early.
Earn Your Keep – Students should plan ahead and schedule time over weekends, summers, or holidays to work and earn money to put toward the gap year. Additionally, some students choose to spend the first few months of their gap year working full time locally to finance programs or travel later in the year.
* Learn more in our blog post: Paying For A Gap Year.