Question 3 of 20: How to Vet a Gap Year Organization

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These questions were developed out of the understanding that having the full 54 pages of AGA Standards in front of most people would be utterly useless. See them here to understand their complexity: www.americangap.org/2013_AGA_Standards.pdf.  So, we created these 20 Questions as a way to help the individual navigate their own program.  These may be for the more intrepid and independent traveler – someone who’s already done their fair share of traveling: a veteran sojourner.  Or, perhaps these might be appropriate for someone who’s truly on a budget and the scholarships and financial aid available to them through another program isn’t sufficient.  Obviously, the full 54 pages of Standards make great sense for an AGA organization to run through – ensuring the best quality and safety in an organized program.  But not every student will want to do one of our accredited programs.  http://www.americangap.org/assets/20_Questions.pdf


Q3: Can I speak to three previous participants?

Talking to past participants will give you the chance to get a better, more “unfiltered” view of the program from someone who was once in the same position you are now.  They inevitably will offer you insights into the experience that you won’t get from speaking with program staff, and might be able to offer you more candid answers about the program.  Bear in mind that the organization will select those alumni who will speak positively about their experience, so don’t expect to get any real “dirt” from your conversation – instead, find out where they ran aground in their experience.  Past participants have nothing to lose by giving you their truly honest opinions about their own experiences and might offer you the exact information you need to determine whether this program is a good fit for you and how you can best prepare for your Gap Year.  Some questions you might want to consider:

• Why did you choose this program over others?
• What were some of your favorite parts?
• What were your least favorite parts?
• Were there areas you felt the organization could have prepared you better?
• How supported did you feel in the ‘field’?
• How were your homestay/living experiences, if any?  What were the challenges?
• What was/were the service-learning project(s) like?
• What was the day-to-day of the program like?
• If there were other participants or community attached to the experience, how were they?
• If you were going to do it all over again, what do you wish you had known before you started the program?
• What should/shouldn’t you bring that’s different from the material the organization provided?

 

The questions you could ask are limitless so this is your chance to really think about what you want to know and what kind of information will help you make the most informed decision about a program.  Ultimately, you know best about what you want from your Gap Year, so take advantage of the opportunity to speak with past participants to get a better sense for what a potential program has to offer.

If an organization is unwilling to share contact information of past participants, or presents anything other than incredibly minor hurdles, then that should be a significant red flag. At the end of the day, the only person who actually can tell you what your experience will look like is someone who’s been there before you.

Question 2 of 20: How to Vet a Gap Year Organization

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These questions were developed out of the understanding that having the full 54 pages of AGA Standards in front of most people would be utterly useless. See them here to understand their complexity: www.americangap.org/2013_AGA_Standards.pdf.  So, we created these 20 Questions as a way to help the individual navigate their own program.  These may be for the more intrepid and independent traveler – someone who’s already done their fair share of traveling: a veteran sojourner.  Or, perhaps these might be appropriate for someone who’s truly on a budget and the scholarships and financial aid available to them through another program isn’t sufficient.  Obviously, the full 54 pages of Standards make great sense for an AGA organization to run through – ensuring the best quality and safety in an organized program.  But not every student will want to do one of our accredited programs.  http://www.americangap.org/assets/20_Questions.pdf


Q2: How do I get there?

This is a perhaps simple question with some pretty significant sub-chapters. It’s often said that the time a student is most at risk is during those times of transition. So culture shock, jet lag, moving to a new site, or surrounding yourself with new people all would qualify as being in some phase of transition.  But this also relates to learning about local transportation and its ups as well as its issues.

TRUE STORY:
A student of mine once injured herself enough so to require getting stitches. It wasn’t a major injury, but where she was located – in the middle of the Peruvian Jungle – required a specially arranged boat trip and three hours to arrive at a hospital where they could clean and suture the wound. Now, ideally that’s something you’d want to know in advance – whether public transportation is available, how reliable it is, and especially how safe it is.  If you’re on your program, how exactly do you get around?  … especially if you’re in need.

Myself, when I took my own Gap Year, I traveled to India and had the not-so-distinguished pleasure of getting dysentery.  I had to – in a very rough state – navigate myself to the hospital which meant bumming a ride from effectively a stranger, only to land on the doorsteps of a hospital in India.  Thankfully they spoke English, but I could have saved myself lots of stress, trouble, and at least a few trips to the bathroom had I pre-considered all of the transportation options so I had a phone number or person I could call specifically.

There’s a lot to be said about the simple airport pickup. It’s the time you’re most disoriented and if there’s one thing to go a little ‘red-carpet’ on, it would be this. But that’s just part of the story. Ostensibly you’ll be working/volunteering/interning at some location different from where you’re living. How do you get there? This is fundamentally a measure of an organizations … well, organization. If they’ve thought about this and have an answer, then that will give you a sense for how structured your time is, as well as how much support you have.

DON’T GET ME WRONG, there’s great value in learning how to figure it out on your own, and honestly, that’s a critical element of what a Gap Year is. However, it would be nice to know if you need to buy a bicycle because no one will be able to give you a ride. It would be nice to know if you’ll have to walk 1.5 miles at 10,000 feet elevation in the snow in Bolivia because – well, that’s a pain in the butt … literally! Don’t lose the adventure and certainly don’t feel like everything needs to be planned. But DO ask this question and gauge the organizations response. A response of “figure it out” isn’t what you’re looking for. A response of “here’s what other people have done” IS what you want to hear.

Question 1. 20 Questions – How to Vet a Gap Year Organization

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These questions were developed out of the understanding that having the full 54 pages of AGA Standards in front of most people would be utterly useless. See them here to understand their complexity: www.americangap.org/2013_AGA_Standards.pdf.  So, we created these 20 Questions as a way to help the individual navigate their own program.  These may be for the more intrepid and independent traveler – someone who’s already done their fair share of traveling: a veteran sojourner.  Or, perhaps these might be appropriate for someone who’s truly on a budget and the scholarships and financial aid available to them through another program isn’t sufficient.  Obviously, the full 54 pages of Standards make great sense for an AGA organization to run through – ensuring the best quality and safety in an organized program.  But not every student will want to do one of our accredited programs.  http://www.americangap.org/assets/20_Questions.pdf

 


Q1: Are there pre-departure orientation materials?

So you are going on a Gap Year … you have a lot of things to think about before you pack up and leave home!  Obviously, transition and adjustment to a new place when traveling is a lot easier when you arrive prepared.  Getting as much information ahead of time on the places you’re going and what you should bring with you can make this transition much smoother.  This can be especially important if you will be traveling to more remote or unpopulated areas, as it might be a lot harder to track down things you need after you arrive.  Check with program staff about what they suggest you bring and if they can provide you with detailed packing lists specific to your program location.

TRUE STORY:
Expectations can be the nastiest thing that proper materials will help ground.  I’m reminded of a time that a student showed up for a semester throughout Southeast Asia with a roller bag – yup – a bag with wheels for regions that barely have what qualifies as sidewalks.  Obviously she didn’t read the orientation or else she would have seen that wheels were inappropriate.

I had another student who was going to Guatemala for two months and was so excited.  However, he didn’t read the materials and so showed up with three Costco sized packs of AA batteries as if they were only available in the US.  It didn’t take long before he was sweating like a glass of ice tea on a hot day from the sheer weight of so many disposable alkaline batteries.  Not to mention the fact that such batteries unless properly recycled cause great environmental damage especially in a place like Guatemala where trash is sorted through by children looking for enough to justify a meal.

When you’re looking for orientation materials:

  1. Will you be camping and if so, do you need to bring your own gear?
  2. What will the weather be like where you are going? Do you need to bring warm clothes? Rain gear? Summer clothes?
  3. Luggage restrictions: most airlines have limits on how much luggage you can take on a flight – your program might have these, too.  Check with them to see what they suggest.
  4. What types of vaccinations/medical issues are there in the area?
  5. What sorts of structure is there throughout your day?
  6. Should you bring your own medical kit? If so, what should you include in it?
  7. Toiletries: will you be able to purchase these things (Shampoo, toothpaste, etc.) while you’re there or do you need to bring enough for the entirety of your trip?  If possible, it’s easier to travel without a lot of this and to just purchase it when you arrive, but if you have specific brands or favorite products you want to have, it might be a good idea to bring them from home in case you can’t find them once you leave.

If the organization provides you with a packing list specific to your program location, then chances are you’ll be pretty well prepared if you follow their guidelines.  It’s still a good idea to do your own research and start getting a feel for your destination

If you are traveling internationally, one of the first things you should find out is whether you will need to apply for any visas that might be required for entry into your destination country.  Check with the program to see if they can provide you with this information and whether they have resources to help you get all the required paperwork done ahead of time.  There’s nothing worse than realizing two days before you leave that it will take six weeks to process that visa!

Also make sure that your passport will be valid for at least six months after the date you will return home.  In some cases, this is also a requirement for entry into your destination and the last thing you want is to get put on the first plane back home before your trip has even begun.

This website is a good source of information on visa requirements for specific countries: http://travel.state.gov/travel/travel_1744.html

Depending on where you travel to, there might be suggested or required vaccinations that you will need to be up-to-date on before you leave.  This is also something that you’ll want to do well ahead of time in case certain vaccinations require a series of shots over the course of a few weeks or months.

Check out this website for more detailed information about travel vaccinations and recommendations for specific countries: http://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel

It is always a good idea to pick up a travel guide for your program location which can give you more information on weather, things that might be hard to find there, things to consider when packing, and information on visas and vaccinations.  Travel guides can also help give you a better sense of the culture you will be traveling in, and can be a good resource for helping you familiarize yourself with different social customs or expectations you might encounter while there.  Again, this is information that your program might be able to offer you, so check with them to see what resources they have for you or recommendations for seeking it out yourself.  Getting a feel for what they provide in terms of preparing you ahead of time for your travels will give you a better feel for how you can supplement it with your own research.

These are some good travel guides to check out:
Lonely Planet http://www.lonelyplanet.com/
Rough Guides http://www.roughguides.com/

20 Questions to Vet a Gap Year Organization

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We’re proud to announce the formation of a short-form vetting tool – we’re calling the “20 Questions.”  No, it’s not bigger than a bread box :-)

These questions were developed out of the understanding that having the full 54 pages of AGA Standards in front of most people would be utterly useless. See them here to understand their complexity: www.americangap.org/2013_AGA_Standards.pdf.  So, we created these 20 Questions as a way to help the individual navigate their own program.  These may be for the more intrepid and independent traveler – someone who’s already done their fair share of traveling: a veteran sojourner.  Or, perhaps these might be appropriate for someone who’s truly on a budget and the scholarships and financial aid available to them through another program isn’t sufficient.  Obviously, the full 54 pages of Standards make great sense for an AGA organization to run through – ensuring the best quality and safety in an organized program.  But not every student will want to do one of our accredited programs.

http://www.americangap.org/assets/20_Questions.pdf

Please stay tuned as we publish a more detailed explanation to each question – answering the riddle to why we chose THESE 20 questions over the many others that were out there.  Each question has years of experience behind it that through these blogs will gain context and utility.

We hope you find these coming blogs useful!

The AGA Staff

Newly Formed Gap Year Association Expands Higher Education Opportunities

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Gap Year programs are changing the way U.S. students and their families think about the path to a college education. In response to an increased interest in Gap Year programs and recognition that such experiences have a positive impact on student achievement, a team of leading education and Gap Year experts have joined together to support a new gap year accreditation organization, the American Gap Association (AGA).

Early research indicates students who participate in formal Gap Year programs after high school tend to have higher college GPAs. – Ethan Knight, Founder American Gap Association

 


Portland, Oregon (PRWEB) October 15, 2013
 

AGA_FINAL.jpgGap Year programs, long a staple of education systems in Europe and Australia, have grown substantially in popularity in the United States during the past six years. In response to this trend, a team of leading education and Gap Year experts have joined together to support a new Gap Year accreditation organization, the American Gap Association (AGA). The mission of the non-profit AGA is to advocate for increased participation in Gap Year programs, establish standards for safety and quality and support continued research on the overall impact of the Gap Year experience on student achievement.

AmericanGap.org makes it easier for students and parents to find credible programs and construct programs based on a student’s goals and interests. The site serves as a central resource for detailed information on provider background, curriculum options and benefits including, in some cases, the opportunity for college credit.

“Early research indicates students who participate in formal Gap Year programs after high school tend to have higher college GPAs,” notes Ethan Knight, founder and Executive Director of the American Gap Association. “This argues for Gap Year programs having a more integral role in the higher education structure here in the United States.”

Taking a Gap Year has been shown to have a positive impact on students’ overall academic experience and, in many cases, maximize the return-on-investment of tuition costs. According to Karl Hagler and Rae Nelson’s book The Gap Year Advantage, based on an independent study of 280 Gap Year students, the highest three rated outcomes of Gap Years is that of gaining “a better sense of who I am as a person and what is important to me” followed by “[the Gap Year] gave me a better understanding of other countries, people, cultures, and ways of living” and “[it] provided me with additional skills and knowledge that contributed to my career or academic major.”

Recognized by U.S. Government

The AGA has established a set of standards to hold Gap Year organizations accountable to delivering the best-possible experience and for students. As a result of a rigorous approach to criteria setting, the AGA holds the official standards for Gap Year organizations in the United States and is recognized by the U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Federal Trade Commission. More than 23 Gap Year program providers are in the process of AGA accreditation. Additionally, the Common Application now asks whether students plan to take a Gap Year.

“We’ve gone through three different accreditation schemes this year,” said Scott Burnett founder of Pacific Discovery, a Gap Year program provider headquartered in New Zealand. “We’ve found that the AGA accreditation scheme was by far the most thorough and the most valuable to us, in terms of having us undertake a detailed critical review of all aspects of our operation. I’m sure AGA will have the effect of improving GAP experiences for students on any AGA accredited program.”

The AGA is the first organization to establish an accreditation process for Gap Year program providers. Advisory Board members include pioneers in the Gap Year sector such as Holly Bull, currently President of the Center for Interim Programs, current and former deans of admissions from notable universities including Duke, Harvard, Middlebury and Princeton and leading education consultants.

About the American Gap Association

Founded in 2012, the non-profit American Gap Association is an accreditation and standards-setting organization that seeks to be a leading source of information on the academic and social benefits of gap year programs in the context of the higher education system in the United States. Recognized by the United States Department of Justice and the Federal Trade Commission, the organization aims to continue to advance the field of Gap Years by collaboratively pioneering research on program benefits, serving as an information and advocacy hub for university admissions personnel and educational counselors and ensuring every student that signs on with an AGA accredited organization has the best and safest experience. http://www.americangap.org.