There are a million reasons why you and your teen might be considering a gap year before attending college. Oh, and there’s that other reason that Malia Obama is taking her own gap year adventure pre-Harvard, so why shouldn’t your child be so worldly? No matter how celebrity-inspired your child’s motivations might be, gap years have been around as an option to enrich the lives of meaningful travelers for generations.
According to Gap Year Surveys conducted by the American Gap Association, students reported the following when asked about the impact of their gap year experience:
I gained so much independence it is unbelievable.”
I’m motivated to get as much as I can out of my classes and my time [at college], so I can be better prepared to share it with more people in the world who haven’t had the same opportunities I have.”
My friends who haven’t taken a gap year look around and see only college, classes, internships, resumes… I look around and see the entire world waiting for me.”
Feeling inspired yet? There are so many options for what to do with a gap year! Get your teen on-board and get the brainstorm flowing with these gap year ideas that will experientially expand their horizons before they deep-dive into their academic careers. Just think of all the ways they can grow and things they can learn in one year...
Your child could master a second language
Language learning and increasing proficiency is a no-brainer way to spend a meaningful year abroad. Even if your child is already too talkative, a second language will impress college admissions counselors and set them up for long term personal and career success.
Put your child’s decade or more of school Spanish to the test with Andeo’s language program in Spain’s second-largest city, Barcelona. Between intensive courses at a local language school and a homestay with a local family, your child will be speaking like a native in no time. Plus, as Barcelona is the thriving capital of the Catalonia region, Andeo’s program won’t just turn your child bilingual, but rather trilingual! For other languages of interest, Andeo also offers programs in Bolivia, Ecuador, France, Japan, San Sebastian, and Seville (check them out here!).
Wait, isn’t a gap year supposed to come after high school is (finally) over? Another year of high school might sound like a drag on paper, but there’s nothing like it to truly immerse in local life in a foreign culture. With AFS-USA Intercultural Programs, your child will expand their global network as part of a cohort of students from around the world that then becomes embedded in everything about the daily life of their destination- from living with a homestay to going to the local school. Say “Oui” to your child putting that minimum of one year of prior French to good use with the AFS-USA program in France!
Your child could help others & learn through volunteering
Community service and volunteering are often popular gap year ideas—and for good reason. Learning about yourself through giving your time to those less fortunate than you can be incredibly eye opening and transformative. If you want a compassionate, worldly kid, these programs are for your family.
With Thinking Beyond Borders’ Global Gap Year program, the world is literally your child’s oyster and textbook. Over the course of the year they will travel to South America, Asia, Africa, and in the the United States to engage with local communities on pressing global issues and then see how these experiences can transform into a meaningful career path. There’s no doubt with TBB that your child will enter college with the first-hand experience to actively contribute to classroom discussion and passionately enrich their future assignments in diverse disciplines.
With 25 programs operating around the world, Pacific Discovery is a global leader in gap year programming that balances education, experience, and environment in each destination. Through a combination of cultural events, service-learning, and outdoor adventure, your child will connect with local people and their fellow group members as they take on this challenging and eye-opening experience together. Most of all, they will become a first-hand regional expert, with invaluable knowledge that will set them apart on any resume going forward!
Carpe Diem is known for their 12-week semester programs around the world, but their Latitudes program is unique in how it will launch your child’s independence. After choosing to participate in one group program, your child will then spend their second gap semester on a unique, focused volunteer placement with a local community. Is your child ready for this challenge? Coupled with accredited courses from Portland State University, your child can start college with up to 36 credits and the maturity to conquer their next educational chapter.
They could get their hands dirty & learn about the environment
We spend so much time avoiding nature even without realizing it—and this is much to our detriment. Time spent outside has great health benefits and can inspire your teen to spend their life conserving our beautiful planet. Societally, we need more people impassioned and educated on earth systems and environmentalism; your teen could be one of them.
There are so many different directions for how to spend a gap year, but if your child interested in biodiversity, conservation, and sustainability, then Frontier is the perfect program provider! Frontier offers community development programs, yet they shine in their mission to protect endangered environments through volunteerism. Your child might just have an Insta selfie with an elephant in mind, but the experience and awareness they will gain as they learn about real environmental threats and the community activism to prevent them will provide them with a foundation in the intersection between environmental science, international relations, international development, and social justice.
If your child is passionate and looking for a gap year with less hand-holding and more doing, then the option of an open-ended volunteer program in Malaysia with the Juara Turtle Project is perfect fit-- like a turtle and its shell! At a cost of $30-35 per night, your child will become a part of the JTP community on Tioman Island as they work to protect and relocate green and hawksbill sea turtle eggs. With volunteers of all ages and local experts, your child will learn from a global community as they work together toward the tangible goal of saving the Malay turtles.
They could develop new skills—professional, technical, soft, and more
A gap year is a fantastic time for your child to take inventory on the skills they have and develop some new ones. This can look a lot of ways depending on the skills they'd like to develop. Regardless of the program they choose, they will learn a lot; these programs, however, will be more intentional in that education and follow up.
Whether your child has a career path in mind or can’t even decide on a college major, China Internship Placements will customize a bespoke internship placement and guide your child through the transformative experience of living and working in the world’s fastest growing economic power. After a year with CIP, your child will not only have a whole host of hands-on hard skills to put on their resume, they’ll be able to speak (at least) basic Mandarin, know how to navigate a foreign culture, and be prepared for the demands of both the professional and academic environments in their future.
Cooking, constructing, creating, scuba diving, trekking, communicating, first aid…Winterline believes that you never know what skills you’ll need in life, so with their gap year program, your child will gain the most important skill: how to take on whatever life throws their way. With an active curriculum that focuses on doing, Winterline focuses on the skills that will complement those your child might learn inside the classroom that will prepare them for whatever direction their life leads them to go.
Your child could jumpstart the next step and take pre-college courses
If your kiddo knows they want to go to college someday and they like learning, why not hook them up with a more intensive study abroad-type program for their gap year? Not only could they be earning credits to put towards college, but they will be learning in a new context and environment—great fodder for new realizations and insights.
There’s nothing like a little name-dropping on your child’s academic record, nor the scholarly atmosphere of the world’s oldest university to get your child in the academic mood to start their studies. The Oxford Advanced Studies program aims to prepare gap year students for college-level academics through coursework and cultural immersion amidst the urban campus of the University of Oxford. Through the tutorial method, your child’s intellectual comfort zone will be pushed and strengthened as they explore their coursework in small groups and one-on-one with their tutor.
If your child wants to get a headstart on the more traditional style of study abroad, a gap year with AIFS at the University of Salzburg is a sweet option! With a twp-week German course and the option to live with a homestay or in a residence hall, your child will feel the combination of a safe, globally-recognized program and the independence to live like a “college student” abroad.
Your child can gain up to 17 credits and most importantly, a passion for international education that will last throughout the rest of their career.
Still looking for more gap year ideas?
Keep reading to find more gap year ideas to take advantage of before college:
- Pros & Cons of Organized Gap Year Programs Abroad
- 6 Reasons You Should Take A Gap Year Between High School & College
- Up & Coming Travel Destinations for High School Students
- GoAbroad's Top Picks for Malia Obama's Gap Year
- Experiential Travel Advice for Not-So-Average Teens
Choosing a gap year program is tough when your child is not sure which direction they want to go. Instead, evaluate what they want to learn. What do you they want to take from this extraordinary year of their life? What do they want to be able to do at the finish that they cannot do now?
If your family still has thoughts swirling after this list of gap year ideas, take some time to read program reviews and reach out to alumni of different programs for an intimate view of a gap year program and outcomes. Once you’ve narrowed down some options, keep it all handy with your MyGoAbroad account and compare programs to find the perfect one for what your child wants to learn from the world.