Question 4 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:  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.

Q4: How do you evaluate other prospective participants?

You will be spending a lot of time with other participants on your program so it might be helpful to get as good an idea as you can about who you’ll be learning with before you go.  Ask questions to get a better sense of any commonalities that show up in participants in terms of things like age, gender breakdown, academic history, and learning style, and take this into consideration when you think about where you fit in.

Another important thing to think about is how many people will be in the program with you.  Most programs probably have a limit to how many people will be accepted into each trip or can at least give a good estimate about how many other participants you may be traveling with.  Take the time to really consider how best you travel and learn in terms of group size and dynamic.  Do you want to have a more social experience with lots of people or would you prefer a smaller group that might allow for more alone time?

Fundamentally, this is perhaps one of the most important questions you can ask.  It will help to define what sorts of experiences you’ll be exposed to because – as we often say here – the people you experience on your Gap Year are hands down the biggest change-element you’ll be exposed to.  You’ll spend the majority of your time relating to these people, butting heads with them, and struggling to see their perspectives – all of which are critical elements to the learning that happens in a Gap Year.


I once met a student who was applying to work in a WWOOF Farm in New Zealand.  WWOOFing is where you go and do organic farm work in exchange for room and board – but there often isn’t much preparation or vetting of the farms or the communities they’re a part of.  It’s more of a loose affiliation of individual farmers.  Anyways, this student was extremely excited to go to a farm in New Zealand, but hadn’t done their research and so, when they landed, they quickly learned that the farm and the community of WWOOFers & farmers were avid extraterrestrial observers.  They dedicated a significant amount of their time to identifying conspiracies, looking for UFOs, and dialoguing about the best way to confront an alien if they ever had the opportunity to.  Granted, this isn’t the typical experience on a WWOOF farm, but to those who are looking for it – it might be out of this world :-)  For those who aren’t looking for it, it would be a shock.

Other programs might take adjudicated youth – those that are mandated to be there by the courts.  Still other programs might accept students who are heavily medicated or otherwise actively requiring therapeutic interventions.  And while those are often fantastic programs – this is your opportunity to be clear about what type of program you’re interested in immersing yourself in.  If you’re interested in getting into a therapeutic career, perhaps this is perfect for you… however, if you’re looking to do some self-reflection and explore local cultures, then spending a significant amount of time on these types of issues may not be what you’re looking for.

Education Week Article Highlights the Work of the American Gap Association

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Obviously, taking a Gap Year is no small endeavor, but a special thanks goes out to Caralee Adams from Education Week for writing such a good article.

Taking a “gap year” after high school has a big appeal to students who can’t decide what to study in college or, perhaps, are burnt out on studying altogether. But they still must decide what to do with that year off before resuming their academic studies. Ethan Knight started the American Gap Association just over a year ago to help students develop sound gap-year plans, whether they are traveling, volunteering, or working in the U.S. or overseas.

Read more by viewing the full article here.

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