6 Steps to Help You Choose a Gap Year Program

by Published

Deciding to take a gap year abroad will be one of the best decisions you ever make in your life. But with hundreds of gap programs abroad in almost 200 countries worldwide, where do you even begin? Whether you are a recent grad trying to get out of your hometown or someone looking to shake up your routine mid-career, it’s important to take some time to do proper research when looking for gap year programs abroad. 

Taking a gap year can help you find a fulfilling career in the future, give you real life experience outside of a classroom or office, and give you an understanding of the world in a way that not everyone can access. Say goodbye to the norm of day-to-day because life is to become a whirlwind adventure. Here are six quick steps to help you choose between gap year programs abroad!

man holding compass

Consider this article your compass, pointing you towards the right gap year program.

Step by step guide to choosing the best gap year programs abroad 

1. Know your goals.

Gap year programs abroad allow for you to discover new skills, learn new cultures, play outdoors, and, overall, grow as a person. It’s more than just full moon parties and sipping fruity drinks on the beach. A year abroad is a big commitment and you need to have set goals what you want to achieve as you embark on this adventure.

  • Are you looking for gap programs abroad that will enhance your resume or skills toward a certain career path? 
  • Are you ready to step out of you ready to step out of your comfort zone and face some new challenges?   
  • Are you going there for the program or for the destination? 
  • What do you hope to achieve through this experience? 

By thinking through key goals that you have in mind, you will be more motivated, antsy, and ready to run out the door and take your gap year overseas. When it comes time to choose a gap year program, you’ll be able to discern if the program format, location, and content align with these goals.

[The Best Gap Year Programs of 2018]

2. Know where you want to go.

It can be overwhelming picking a location on the map when there’s so much to choose from. But once you have a goal, you can narrow where exactly it is that you want to go to. 

So pull out that map and consider the following when choosing a gap year destination.

  • What is your budget? Check out the in different areas to get a sense of how expenses will look when going abroad on a gap year. Keep in mind that different gap year programs abroad will also have different costs. 
  • Are you hoping to country hop during your gap year or are you set on staying primarily in one area? 
  • What’s your ideal landscape? Do you prefer mountains, oceans, deserts, or rainforests? 
  • Do you prefer a certain type of weather or have a favorite season? 
  • Are you ok with learning a new language or do you want the comfort of gapping in a primarily English speaking country?

If you’re open to it, try a place completely unfamiliar. It will give you a different perspective on the world. Going abroad for a gap year is a time that you can experience wonderful new places and make friends for life!

man with backpack and red beanie on mountain

The mountains are calling, and you’re like, “BRB on my gap year.”

3. Know what you want to do. 

What is it exactly that you want to do? When thinking what gap year options you would like to explore, the possibilities are endless. It’s just narrowing down options and being realistic what is best for you—and then being able to choose a gap year program that fits.

  • Do you want to volunteer? 
  • Do you want to work on environmental conservation?
  • Do you want to work with animals? 
  • Do you want to learn new skills? 
  • Are you an adventure junkie and just want to play outside?

Soon enough you can be surfing alongside sharks, learning to cook food that you didn’t know existed, be singing songs with adorable kids that are constantly attacking you with bear hugs, or be learning different environmental ecosystems. The list doesn't end! But you will need to find a focus point when planning out your gap year agenda.   

[WATCH THIS: Gap Year Options We Can’t Get Enough Of]

4. Now that you know the big 3, start your search for gap year programs abroad

or GoAbroad’s OnlineAdvisors can help you find your perfect match when choosing a program. There are many options for gap year programs abroad that you may fall in love with. Many of these programs have included perks such as meals, accommodation, insurance, and full on support while you are away to make you feel secure leading up to and during your adventure.

Make a short-list of potential programs that caught your eye, you know, the ones you want to get to know a little bit better before you decide they’re “the one.” Because we like you—a lot :-)—here are some of GoAbroad’s recommended programs for those looking for gap programs abroad. 

Camel trek in China

No such thing as hump day on a gap year. Well...this is an exception.

a. Love Volunteers

Spend your gap year volunteering in a developing country. Volunteering during your gap year won’t only be unique for your resume, but it will give you satisfaction of helping those in need while overseas. There are many programs to choose from through Love Volunteers and their staff will help walk you through the process to secure that dream volunteer opportunity. 

b. Winterline

As a skill-based gap year program you will travel through 10 countries over the course of 9 months.  Along with gapping with a small group of students, you will learn in a unique hands on environment. Spending your gap year abroad gaining skills such as navigation, map reading, team building, first aid, and over 100 more. Hello beautiful resume to be; you will learn so many skills that will stick with you for life!

  • Popular locations: The planned itinerary takes you to various countries around Central America, Asia, Europe, and parts of the US.
  • Popular gap year activities: Outdoor skills, career skills, life skills 
  • Related: Read Winterline reviews |

c. Cross Cultural Solutions

Volunteer with communities learning cultural and social issues in the country where you choose to spend a gap year. Whether you choose the Discover Africa, Spanish Immersion Program, Global Gap Program, or build your own itinerary, you can make an impact through community service while learning different parts of the world. 

man on swing in Indonesia

Get right in the swing of things with a gap year abroad.


d. Frontier

Frontier programs have a mix of adventuring while learning conservation and the communities around you. Enjoy new and beautiful landscapes while learning how to protect them. If you want to explore multiple countries, check out the Fantasy Gap Year which is jam packed with fun itineraries for your time away. 

  • Popular locations: Southeast Asia, Central America
  • Popular gap year activities: Adventure travel, conservation
  • Related: Read Frontier reviews |

[How to Decide When to Take a Gap Year]

5. Sort through your program options to determine top contenders.

Now that you maybe - perhaps - sorta - have an idea of what kind of gapping you want to do, see if the gap year programs you are interested in mesh well with what you want. Time to dive into a deeper pool of research and make sure that the program wants you as much as you want them. It’s a mutual relationship. And if they are answering their calls or responding to your emails, on to the next.  

Are their programs 😎  enough? 

Adventurous? Community-service oriented? Remote? Whatever you’re looking for, don’t settle on a program that doesn’t fit with what you want out of a gap year abroad. Program staff are available to answer your questions and mentor you through the process of finding the perfect fit for you. Although some programs have set itineraries that offer little wiggle room, there are also programs that offer loads of flexibility so that you can make sure to have time to explore on your own. You’re the one paying, so make sure you get what you want! You have tons of gap year options!!

Do you like their company ethos?

Make sure you read up on the program’s mission, goals, and reviews. Are you signing up for a gap year program through a non-profit? Are you spending your money wisely toward helping out a local economy? Does the staff who mentors you follow up on the sites where they send people? Think of choosing a gap year program as a sort of interview process. You wouldn’t want to support a program that you know nothing . You want to choose a place that is moral, has positive reviews, and is transparent with their values.

crossing swing bridge in an orange helmet

Hope your top program picks all (hel)met your expectations!

Do you feel supported now, even before the program starts?

Have you gotten the “welcome to our gap year program” email yet? Once you inquire going on a gap year, you should have a follow up within a few days. This is where you can ask all of your questions and lay out what you have in mind for a year abroad. You want to feel fully supported before heading out for your gap year abroad. 

Staff members through gap year programs are there to support you and help answer all of your questions. They have all of the information that you need to know. How will you get to your accommodation from the airport? What happens if your flight is delayed? Who will you ask visa details? What if you get sick? Come up with a list of questions beforehand so that you can make sure that everything goes well during the process. And remember, the staff are pros! They should give you encouragement and be helpful from the get-go. 

6. Bite the bullet and pick your program. You did it!

Once you pick your gap year program, it’s time to plan. Set a date and start that countdown. Time to figure out your passport, flights, and buy cool new hiking boots. There are lots of to-dos that come with planning out your gap year, but enjoy all of your prep pre-adventure. It’s time to get out of your comfort zone and learn the world around you. Applause to you!

Choosing a gap year program just got easier

A gap year abroad will be a life changing experience that will give you stories for the grandkids. While other people in your circle of friends or family are staying home and living life day-to-day, you will be facing brand new experiences every day. Whether it’s a new language that makes you excited to wake up to or food that melts in your mouth, you will have a different kind of cultural experience every day. Once you go off on your gap year, you won’t come home the same. 

Find gap year programs now!

Topic:  Travel Tips