Gap Year

The 18 Best Gap Year Programs (2020)

Anna Pedersen

Anna is a freelance writer and editor, currently based in Portland, Oregon. She has traveled to 40+ countries, lived on four continents, and called the United Arab Emirates home for over two years.

When it comes to planning a gap year, the possibilities are truly endless. After all, a gap year is simply productive time away from a traditional academic or work setting. While there are certain things that a gap year is not (a gap year is not a year you spend on your couch watching Friends reruns), there aren’t too many rules about what a gap year can be.

This is really exciting. A gap year (or gap time...who says it has to be exactly a year?), can literally be anything you can dream of! Interested in learning how to become a ski instructor? There’s a gap program for that. Want to travel the world via boat? Yep, there’s a gap program for that, too.

All of this variety can make choosing a gap program a little overwhelming. So we’re here to make it easier. We’ve compiled a list of the best 18 gap year programs to inspire you to dream big for your next adventure!

Check out the list below for all of the inspiration you need to start planning. These programs are listed in no particular order, so go ahead, poke around, read reviews, and get ready to immerse yourself in these exciting possibilities.

Best 18 Gap Year Programs

Pacific Discovery

What: Gap year, semester, & summer programs

Who: High school graduates, university students, recent graduates

Highlights: Pacific Discovery offers experiential programs that “combine rugged journeys to beautiful places, with authentic immersion, and inspiring adventure.” These programs go everywhere from Southeast Asia, to Hawaii and the Western United States, to Central America and virtually everywhere in between.

Irish Gap Year

What: Semester-long gap year programs and internships

Who: Tailored programs are available to participants aged 14 and up, but gap year programs are designed for recent high school graduates or students currently enrolled in university

Highlights: Irish Gap Year offers two different options for gappers: Adventure and Leadership or Irish Arts and Culture, which means that whether you’re more inclined to spend an afternoon hiking or creating, there’s an option for you! Plus this provider is local, so you’re guaranteed to get a very Irish experience!

NOLS

What: One month to semester-long wilderness leadership programs

Who: They offer programs for everyone aged 14+, though their semester-long programs are specifically targeted at students and recent grads

Highlights: These are true rough and rugged experiences, in the best possible way. Whether you’re interested in wilderness horsepacking, backcountry skiing and snowboarding, rock climbing, or backpacking, you’re sure to find an expedition with NOLS that will challenge you physically and mentally, and leave you with unmatchable experiences.

EF Gap Year

What: Six-week, semester, or year-long programs

Who: Participants must be at least 18 years old; programs are specifically geared towards students in between high school and college

Highlights: The goal of the EF Gap Year is to give students global skills and a growth mindset to prepare them for college and beyond. The program combines immersive tours, service learning, language study, and internships to give participants a well-rounded experience from start to finish.

CET Academic Programs

What: Semester, summer, and customized programs

Who: College, high school, pre-college, and gap year students

Highlights: CET Academic Programs is actually a study abroad provider, so these programs are perfect for students who want their gap years to be academically focused. With a CET gap year, students get to focus on language study while living in community and immersing themselves in the local culture. Destinations include Beijing, Jordan, Brazil, Colombia, and more!

Amigos de las Americas

What: Semester or year-long gap programs

Who: High school graduates

Highlights: Amigos offers immersive programs for gap year students in Ecuador and Uruguay. Participants will live with a host family, participate in an internship with a local organization, and immerse themselves in the culture and language of their host country.

Where There Be Dragons

What: Summer or semester-long gap programs

Who: Students aged 17-22

Highlights: These intentional travel opportunities allow participants to learn about cultures while critically engaging with global issues. Destinations include India, China, Southeast Asia, Africa, Latin America, and more. And if you’re a recent high school grad looking to plan ahead, Where There Be Dragons offers optional college credit.

Global Citizen Year

What: Academic year gap program

Who: High school graduates

Highlights: Global Citizen Year offers high school grads the opportunity to become fully immersed in a community in Africa, Latin America, or Asia and develop skills to become future leaders. Participants will live with host families and support local efforts in healthcare, education, and sustainability. The goal of the year is deep immersion so that you’ll come out of the experience with a global mindset and skills to take you into college or wherever you go next.

High Mountain Institute

What: Semester-long programs

Who: High school graduates and current college students, ages 18-22

Highlights: HMI’s semesters combine outdoor adventure with environmentalism and leadership experience. As a participant, you’ll get to explore beautiful natural destinations while learning about yourself and your surroundings. Destinations are both close to home, in the American West, and far flung, in Patagonia.

Seamester

What: Semester or summer-long voyages at sea, ranging from 20-90 days

Who: High school graduates, college students, and gap year students

Highlights: When it comes to adventures, Seamester knows what they’re doing. These floating classrooms take participants around the world via boat, sailing through the Caribbean, across the Atlantic, from Singapore to South Africa, and every other route imaginable. If you’ve ever dreamt of sailing the ocean blue, this program could be your opportunity to do just that. And the best part is that no prior experience is required!

Warriors Academy

What: Year-long program broken up into four seasonal “quests”

Who: Students or recent graduates

Highlights: This year-long program is broken up into four action-packed adventures that all aim to prepare participants for university, the corporate world, and life in general. Warriors Academy combines adventure activities with community service, self-development, eco-consciousness, and workplace readiness activities, to give students a well-rounded gap year experience. This program is based in South Africa and includes travel around the country and region.

Oyster Worldwide

What: Gap year programs that range from one to 26 weeks

Who: Anyone over 18

Highlights: Oyster is known for their immersive volunteer programs, but they also offer internships, courses, and even paid work experiences. With Oyster, you could train to become a game ranger in South Africa or participate in a medical internship in Romania. Their offerings really run the gamut so they’re a great place to look for inspiration if you’re not sure what you want your gap year to entail.

Plan My Gap Year

What: Volunteer programs from one to 40 weeks

Who: Most volunteers are between the ages of 17-25, though there is no upper age limit

Highlights: Plan My Gap Year offers volunteer placements in 15 countries, with experiences available in childcare, teaching, wildlife, medicine, and so much more. These structured programs offer participants the chance to travel the world and meet like-minded people, all while serving communities in need.

Art History Abroad

What: Four or six-week long courses in art, architecture, and sculpture

Who: Gap year, undergraduate, and post-degree students, ages 18-22

Highlights: These gap year courses are a great addition to any gap experience as they combine academic learning with cultural and historical immersion in Spain or Italy. Participants don’t need to have a background in art or art history, and in fact attendees run the gamut from artists to scientists. Students will learn hands-on in museums and cultural centers, and will also receive intensive personalized training in small group tutorials. Plus you’ll make friends from around the world.

International Volunteer HQ & Intern Abroad HQ

What: Volunteer and internship placements starting at one week in length

Who: Anyone! Though participants under 18 will only be eligible for certain programs

Highlights: IVHQ and Intern Abroad HQ offer volunteer and internship opportunities to participants around the globe. These programs are pretty much as customizable as possible in terms of length and area of interest, so this is a great place to draw inspiration when planning a gap year.

ARCC

What: Semester-long gap programs, ranging from 60-80 days

Who: High school graduates

Highlights: These immersive programs take students around the world as they focus on issues such as literacy and education, public health, urbanization, environment and conservation, and microfinance and economic growth. Not only will students grow through this structured and experiential curriculum, but they’ll also build leadership skills as they learn how to problem-solve, take initiative, and build confidence.

Dynamy Internship Year

What: Summer, semester, or year-long gap programs

Who: Participants aged 17-22

Highlights: This domestic internship program allows students to gain hands-on experience while building “soft” skills such as confidence, time management, and independence. Students live in communities and manage their own lives while receiving structured support and guidance. This program is particularly great for students with learning differences such as ADD or ADHD.

Year On

What: Semester and year-long gap programs

Who: High school graduates

Highlights: Year On’s programs use “coaching, guided self-discovery, real-world projects, and peer-to-peer learning to help young people succeed in college and beyond”. Their programs are broken into three phases where students explore, focus, and then launch into their chosen interests. These programs take participants across the country and around the world, challenging students to truly become global citizens.

Final Thoughts

Choosing a gap year is a very personal process. There are a multitude of factors to take into consideration, such as timeframe, budget, and interests, and what works for one person might not work for another. Consider reading up on Why and How to Defer College Acceptance for a Gap Year and our 10 Steps to Planning a Gap Year Before College to get a better sense of what goes into the planning process.

Most importantly, remember to seek out the advice of folks who have already taken gap years, as this first-hand knowledge will provide so much insight into what your year could hold. The reviews on Go Overseas are a great place to start, and we encourage you to ask questions and get involved.

A gap year is a once in a lifetime opportunity to learn about the world in an immersive and engaging way. Take advantage of this time, and have fun!

How did we pick these programs?

In choosing the best programs to be included in this article, we took into account two main factors: the review scores of each program and the number of reviews that program had received.

For all programs on Go Overseas, we ask reviewers to rate six key variables that reflect the core components of any experience. These vary depending on the type of program, but include items such as Housing, Support, Fun, Value, Safety, and an Overall score. We average these scores in order to find a numerical representation of the typical experience, and we use this number to compare all of the many programs in a certain category.

From there, our goal is to choose those programs which are truly the best: they have more and better reviews than the average for similar programs and are verified by enough reviews for us to feel confident giving our stamp of approval. Lastly, we base these decisions on our own industry knowledge. We want to make sure we're recommending programs that are vetted both by you, the users, and us, the experts, so that we feel confident the programs included are the best of the best!

The programs listed below are not ranked in any particular order; instead, they reflect a breadth of excellent program options.