Planning a successful and structured gap year should be done with purpose and intent. There are many things to consider in advance. Here are a few simple steps to help you get started on your gap year journey.
[Ready to browse through gap year programs?]
Step 1: Consider the Following Gap Year Questions
• What needs to happen to make college a reality after your gap year? Do you need to defer, take a leave-of-absence, or arrange for a Consortium Agreement (a financial aid agreement between two schools)? What deadlines and deposits need to be paid to secure your enrollment?
• How long do you have for your gap year? It’s best to think about a gap year within the existing academic timeframes of semesters or quarters. Think about what might work best for you to allow for at least two experiences, with the summers to work and earn money. Planning for time to wander and perhaps be a tourist is also a good (and realistic) idea.
• Do you want to go with a gap program or travel alone? Have you historically fared better in teams or by yourself? In most cases, the best advice is to start in a group setting and then graduate to a more independent program.
• How much structure do you need? Is the idea of traveling individually or with a group more enticing?
• Think about location. Where do you want to be? Do you want to stay closer to home in the United States or travel abroad? Think languages, communication potential, environmental attributes, etc.
• What do you want to do? Teach? Environmental work? Study a language? Often, you can choose multiple areas of interest within the same program.
• What’s the budget? Do you need compensation and room and board? Are there currency conversions that work in your favor? Do you need to work and save money first? Are airfares and other expenses accounted for in the program fees? Will you be using part of your college tuition? What scholarships or financial aid options are available to help?
• Is it important to get college credit? Doing so opens financial aid doors, but if done poorly, can inhibit your ability to get the most out of your gap year.
Step 2: Find the Right Program
Once you’ve answered some of the initial questions, you can start narrowing in on the gap year program that will suit you best. Here are some questions to ask gap year organizations about their programs:
• What are the nuts and bolts of your program?
• What sets you apart?
• What’s a typical day look like on your program?
• Who are your typical students?
• What safety structures do you have in place in case of an emergency?
• How much does it cost? Are there any extras like airfare, insurance, or activities that are included?
• Do you have any student references I can talk to?
• How do you suggest I start preparing for my gap year?
Step 3: Prepare Yourself
Once you’ve selected your gap year program, here are some things you need to think about before you head off on your journey.
• For international travel, make sure your passport is valid for six months after your last day of travel. Some places will refuse you entry at the border without that extra validity.
• If you’re traveling with a passport, it’s never a bad idea to email yourself a photocopy of the front photo and signature pages in case you need to get it replaced.
• Secure any necessary Visas and be sure to have all necessary vaccinations taken care of.
• Make a detailed packing list and don’t buy everything new. The travelers that stand out are those with the bright and shiny new backpacks and gear.
• Plan for communication. Do you bring a cell phone? Buy a local phone? How often will you communicate with friends and family? Will you have easy access to email where you’re located or will you have to go to a library or go to town?
• Book airfare. Do this preferably a month in advance and take advantage of student-only fares.
• Make sure that you have a credit card and a backup credit card. When traveling internationally, Visa is simply more accessible than the other major credit companies. Additionally, check with your credit card company about the fees for using your card outside of the home area.
• Again, for international trips, make sure to register your itinerary with the State Department’s Smart Travelers Enrollment Program (STEP).
• Arrange for an airport pickup. Times of transition (jet lag, environmental, etc.) are when travelers are most at risk.
• Purchase or read some travel guidebooks. Lonely Planet, Rough Guides, and Let’s Go are three book series we recommend.
[Read more: Why a Gap Year is Important Before College!
Adapted from the American Gap Association