Taking a gap year has become almost a rite of passage for young people across the world. As travel has grown easier and more accessible, it has become increasingly common to take the opportunity to not only experience new countries and cultures, but to broaden your mind and gain more empathy for other life experiences through taking a gap year.
But even so, you may find yourself not knowing how to plan a gap year. What do you need to know, and how do you even get started? To help you out, we have put together a complete gap year planner. While you will still have a lot to do, and some decisions to make, this gap year planner should point you in the right direction for how you can get started.
WHAT MAKES THE BEST GAP YEAR PROGRAM?
The best gap year program is the one that is right for you! Consider what you want from this once-in-a-lifetime experience. Consider what countries or cultures interest you. Think about what kind of impact you want to make. Do you want to work with your hands, or help grow a local business abroad? Would you rather learn a new dance, or experience and cook international cuisine? Your study abroad can be whatever you make of it, but there are a few things you should look for in a gap year program.
Volunteering, not voluntourism
Volunteering is a great thing, and an invaluable way to gain experience and empathy for people you serve. However, many gap year programs parade “volunteer while you travel” as their main selling point. This creates a danger when the volunteering becomes tourism, and the participants sometimes do more harm than good with their short term stays. Look for a program where you will become involved in the community and work alongside locals, but preferably as a member of the community. This is the kind of volunteering that makes a real difference to both those working and volunteering, as well as the people or children being served.
Skill building opportunities
When you plan a gap year, take into consideration what opportunities and projects the program is offering. Whether it’s leadership training, teaching skills, construction ability, a language, or even business management, make sure that you are going to be engaged in building yourself while you build those around you. This is a key part of planning an amazing gap year.
You may not expect to see this as an item in a gap year planner, but you should plan a gap year with an organization that will help you build a network. It’s one thing to go and work and travel and do all the positive things you find in a gap year — but to elevate your entire experience you need a great team. This team and network can be composed of fellow participants, locals, and program administrators, but it’s one of the best things you’ll receive from your time abroad.
A COMPLETE GAP YEAR PLANNER
When Are You Going to Take Your Gap Year?
This is the first, and arguably most important, decision you will have to make. Taking a gap year will require taking time away from your traditional, in-classroom education or whatever else you have going on in your “normal” life. While there is technically nothing from stopping you from taking a year away to travel at any time in your life, the best time to go on a gap year trip is usually after high school and before college.
This is because you are at a time in your life that is naturally transitional, and not only will this allow you to augment — rather than interrupt — your education, but it will provide you with a coming of age adventure that will prepare you for college like no other can. That is why Global Citizen Year’s gap year programs are for students at this specific stage in life.
Where Do You Want to Go?
Once you have decided that you are going to enter a gap year program after high school, another big decision will be choosing where you want to go. There will be a lot of different things that go into that decision, and it is largely personal. As tempting as it is to ask “Can’t someone plan my gap year for me?”, these decisions have to come from you. However, there are some questions that you can ask in order to direct your thought process.
- Do you know any languages? While you will not be required to know a language before you go, perhaps you are already fluent, or at least confident in a language that you might like to learn better.
- Would you like to learn a language? Alternatively, is there a language that you have always wanted to learn, but never had the chance before? The opportunity to learn a new language is can be one of the best things about a gap year experience.
- Do you have an interest in a certain culture? Certain food? A new language is not the only thing that you may have the chance to experience on your trip. Perhaps you have always been fascinated by a certain country or culture — maybe you are a fan of music from there or famous countryside or landmarks. Maybe there’s a certain kind of food or dance that you want to try. These should perhaps not be the most important reasons for deciding, but can certainly play a role.
- Is there somewhere you have always wanted to travel? It’s a simple question, but it might end up being the most important. At the end of the day this is a once in a lifetime opportunity, so think long and hard about where you want to go.
Global Citizen Year gives you the option to travel to Brazil, Ecuador, or India, and you can take our destination quiz to get a better idea of which country you should select.
What Skills Do You Want to Gain?
Planning a gap year should include planning your opportunities for growth. Rather than finding a program that lets you volunteer for a brief time between sightseeing trips while only speaking English, you should look for a program that will challenge you. While you travel, do work that will make a difference to your future, with leadership opportunities and projects that will support your personal development. Identifying what skills you want to obtain, whether it’s small business acumen or organic farming, you should consider what opportunities you’ll get as you work and volunteer with locals in your chosen program.
The Application Process
“I’ve planned my gap year . . . Now what?” Now it’s time to start the application process. This might seem like the scariest part of the gap year experience, but with Global Citizen Year, the admissions process is quite simple.
Online application The best thing about our process is that you can apply online. You don’t have to worry about sending your transcript or taking a test, all you have to do is to fill out our online application, and then hit ‘send’! The initial application process should take you one or two hours maximum.
Interview Once you have submitted your application, we move our strongest candidates to an interview. You will talk to either a staff member or Global Citizen Year alum. This will give you a chance to share more about your life and ask whatever questions you have — in many ways the interview is as much for you as it is for us!
Decision After your interview, it should be about one to two weeks before you hear from us with our decision.
Final review After you have been accepted, you will then have a few more steps to take before being fully ready to go. You will have to: Select your destination
- Select your destination
- Submit a financial aid application (if you are applying for aid)
- Visit a doctor, complete a medical form, and get medically cleared for the program
After that, all you have to do is send your deposit and you’ll be getting ready to go in no time!
You’ve followed this gap year planner, and now you’re all set! Your application is accepted, your financial aid is in place, your country is selected, and all you have to do is go on your gap year adventure. You’ve gone from “how do I plan my gap year?” to “I can’t wait to go!” Throughout this waiting and planning phase, there may be some other things that you will want to do to get completely ready.
First, you will want to start learning the primary language of your destination. As mentioned, you do not have to know any of the language before you apply, but if you take a gap year with Global Citizen Year, we will send you Rosetta Stone so that you can start learning the basics in the summer before you go. And then during your first couple of months abroad you will have intensive language training, followed by weekly tutoring. One of the best things about a gap year is the opportunity it gives you to learn a language while fully integrated with those who speak it natively.
Another thing that you may be worried about is packing for your trip. And no wonder — there are few things that sound more intimidating than trying to get properly ready for an eight month trip abroad. Luckily, we have put together the ultimate international travel checklist for you, to help you know exactly what you need to do. Global Citizen Year alums and others in your cohort will also be excellent resources.
This experience will be unlike anything else you have ever known. As such it can be difficult — not to mention daunting — when it comes to preparing for it. Hopefully this guide has given you some guidance and a good launching pad for taking a gap year. The only thing left for you to do is get started!
EXPERIENCE A DAY IN THE LIFE OF
A GLOBAL CITIZEN YEAR FELLOW
Fellow / Ecuador
— Anna del Savio
I work with a group of indigenous artisans that make fair trade jewelry.…
Fellow / Brazil
— Amari Leigh
After my community garden apprenticeship, I like to hang out at the local waterfall with my friends.…
Fellow / Brazil
— Basil Wiering
I often hail a rickshaw into various parts of the city to meet friends and practice street photography.…
Fellow / Brazil
— Fernanda Tornell
I've developed my public speaking skills and encouraged hundreds of people to take care of our planet.…
Fellow / India
— Luciana Ribeiro da Silva
I apprentice with Teach For India and also volunteer with a non-profit working to end child marriage.…
Fellow / Ecuador
— Noah Hapke
I co-teach English classes at the school in my community.…
Fellow / Brazil
— Sarah Murray
My apprenticeship is at a school for people with disabilities where I help to lead gardening, games, and capoeira.…
Fellow / India
— Alana Poole
In the afternoons, I often go on home visits to meet my students' families and understand where they come from.…