Gap year programmes have become increasingly popular as young adults seek to travel and gain invaluable experiences before launching their careers.
While taking a gap year was once a typical choice for school leavers, gap year options are now pursued by university students between their studies or after graduation.
Gap years are a great way to enrich your understanding of the world, meet new people, learn new skills, intern in your future career or just have an adventure. But with so many options, it can be difficult to pick the right programme.
It’s important to find reputable organisations that offer worthwhile work, safety and support. To help you, we’ve put together a list of some of the best gap year programmes in the world.
1. A Broader View
There are many programmes out there to help gap year students volunteer abroad, but experts recommend taking part in an established charitable effort to have a greater impact. A Broader View (ABV) is a registered non-profit organisation based in Pennsylvania, US. You will travel to areas where they have created strong ties to the community, use local accommodations and services, and devote much of your trip fees to their community projects.
ABV offers a great number of programmes in areas around the globe and assists you with every step of the way. You can have a positive impact in a community and learn valuable cultural, language and practical skills for your chosen career. Options include volunteer childcare, medical assistance, sports instruction, arts and entertainment, as well as animal care, conservation and rescue work.
Trips range from 1 to 12 weeks, so there’s an option for every budget. Lodging and meals are included. Start the process on the ABV website to select a programme, submit an application, and create a fundraising campaign to cover costs if necessary. Depending on the programme you choose, you’ll need the appropriate volunteer visa and vaccinations.
2. G Adventures
If you’re looking for an adventure in some of the world’s most exciting and picturesque locations, G Adventures could be for you. Founded as Gap Adventures in 1990, the ever-expanding company has experience putting together tours that include scenic and fun activities and that encourage socialising with your group and the locals.
Trips can range from five to 65 days and can vary from exploring rainforests and Mayan villages in Central America to touring Cuba to going on a National Geographic wildlife tour in Africa. You can travel solo or with a group of friends and select a backpacking style tour or one that immerses you in one culture for the whole trip. Trips are also rated based on the physical demand that is required, ranging from ‘easy’ to ‘challenging’.
Each programme varies, but typically, accommodation, transportation, and some meals are included in the price. Use the G Adventures search page to find and book available trips.
3. Lattitude Global Volunteering
Lattitude is a UK-registered charity that offers immersive global volunteering opportunities to those aged 17-25. Many of their programmes involve working with children as language instructors, camp counsellors, social support at boarding schools and more. While open to everyone, UK residents especially can find many opportunities close to home as well as overseas.
If you’re not sure what your gap year should look like, Lattitude is one of the best options. After filling out an application on Lattitude’s site, you’ll also be interviewed about your skills and interests. The programme operators take ample time to find a placement that suits you best.
While accommodation and meals are included in the programme fee, the specifics can vary. You’ll need to demonstrate adaptability as you may be staying in a school dorm, sharing a room or living with a host family. Lattitude also has a full support system in place for every step of the process, and social media groups to keep in touch with other volunteers.
4. The Aegean Center for the Fine Arts
Artists seeking knowledge, inspiration and a quiet place to work will revel in this gap year programme. Students reside in studio apartments in Paros, Greece with classrooms, the town centre and picturesque spots all within walking distance. Expanded programmes include an extended stay in Tuscany and tours to Pisa, Rome, Athens and other historically-rich sites.
The faculty of practising artists teach the fundamentals of art that existed long before our modern dependence on technology. Small classes and individual study operate without the constraints of homogenised curriculums. If you are still deciding on which creative career to pursue, you can take courses in multiple disciplines, including writing, drawing and photography. Plus, you will have the opportunity to expand your experience by taking language courses and learning from local students.
This gap year programme accepts all ages and experience levels and is based in English. If you’re interested, you can apply online. As their FAQ page states: ‘applications are not judged on the level of artistic accomplishment but on enthusiasm, spirit and willingness to learn.’ Tuition covers lodging, travel within the programme and most meals, and financial aid is also available.
5. Conservation Travel Africa
Conservation Travel Africa (CTA) partners with existing ethical conservation and community support projects in South Africa, where volunteers can have a tangible impact while being ecologically responsible. Participants interested in wildlife careers have options to work with humpback whales, elephants, and primates, and to assist anti-poaching organisations.
There are programmes for all ages and budget levels, all of which typically range from one to 12 weeks. Some students begin with a shorter commitment during a school holiday and then return to devote more time to the same project during their gap year. Fees include secure lodgings and meals but be prepared for shared rooms and communal facilities.
You can browse the CTA website for detailed information on available projects, costs, visas, vaccinations and other travel requirements. Once you’ve selected a programme, submit the online application to get started. There are no specific requirements, but CTA is looking for individuals with ‘enthusiasm, ideas, flexibility and patience.’
6. Snoworks PRO
Adventure-seekers hoping to have an exciting gap year should consider trying a programme that can lead to further travel and worldwide experiences. Many large gap year programme providers offer ‘paid’ ski instructor training, but you should be wary of low wages that will only cover your room and board. Instead, you should book directly with ski schools like Snoworks, for superior training and more transparent costs and practices.
Snoworks offers eight-week, Level 1 and 2 British Association of Snowsports Instructors (BASI) courses from experienced teachers in Tignes, France. Tuition includes shared accommodation, most meals, BASI membership and exams, ski pass, safety training and race training.
The autumn course ends just before the holidays, allowing newly credentialed students to work the full winter season at resorts around the world. You can also benefit from the school’s job connections in Japan, Italy, Austria and Switzerland. Many students use their season earnings to travel further, and some even pursue careers as ski instructors.
If this sounds like an ideal way to spend your gap year, contact Snoworks to find out more information on gap year bookings, and to assess your skill level for the available courses.
7. United Planet
As a non-profit organisation, United Planet offers volunteer quests from one to 16 weeks as well as gap year quests that either last six months or a full year. You can live and gain work experience in countries in Asia, Europe, Africa and South America. You may be the only international volunteer in the school or project you join, so you’ll quickly learn independence in addition to language, practical and social skills.
Volunteer opportunities vary, but options include grammar school teaching, hospital and clinic support, elder care, ecological farm work and wildlife conservation efforts. You can visit United Planet’s gap year programme page to select a project and submit your enrolment form.
As part of the enrollment, participants undergo a health screening as well as a background check if you are over 18. There are also language skill requirements for Spanish-speaking countries.
Gap year quests for both US and Canadian citizens begin with pre-departure training in Boston, Massachusetts. You’ll also receive in-country orientation and attentive ongoing support.
Fees include food and lodging (host family or shared residence), language training and a monthly stipend for expenses. United Planet is also one of the few programmes that also provide travel and medical insurance.
Erasmus+ is a European Union programme that supports student exchange, youth training and youth work opportunities in Europe. The allure of Erasmus+ is that it can be a totally free option to travel and immerse yourself in another country for up to a year. You can learn a new language, as well as cultural and practical new skills while making new friends and memories that will last you a lifetime.
For those concerned that a gap year might look frivolous to prospective employers, Erasmus+ also gives you the option to book your travel adventure within your current university curriculum. You must work through your current institution in one of the 34 participating countries. Erasmus+ students get full college credit for a year in the partner institution, and grant money is available for expenses.
Erasmus+ also offers internship and advanced degree options, as a way of combining post-graduate gap year travel with valuable credentials for your CV. Beyond university, individuals can take advantage of shorter Erasmus+ exchange opportunities by working with community and youth organisations in their home country.
Gap year travellers often return home with not only a greater understanding of other cultures and global issues but a greater sense of self. Indeed, recent studies on gap year programmes found that students who have taken a gap year, earn higher grades after returning to university, while those entering the workforce usually report higher job satisfaction.
Your gap year can help you learn valuable life skills, including dedication, empathy, organisation, adaptability and patience. We hope this guide has helped you decide on the best gap year programme for you.
Where are you planning to travel for your gap year? Let us know in the comments section below