Question 5 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.

Q5: What is Included in the Price of the Program?

Every AGA accredited program has to list their full costs on their website – this may seem like an odd emphasis in accrediting programs, however, the transparency it represents and the knowledge that you won’t be “nickle and dimed” to death are the reasons we mandated such.  If you think about it, for some reason money goes to the core of what we in America tend to internalize about self-worth and value.  So, creating a sense of trust and transparency are critical to the relationship you’re about to embark on.

In a recent Gap Year survey, AGA asked its constituency how much money they give away and got a shocking answer of almost $2,500,000 + for 2013.  Finances are important to acknowledge, but shouldn’t be a limitation in your program searching, so ask any programs that interest you what kind of scholarships they have!

In addition to checking whether the organization can provide you with a breakdown of the anticipated costs (that are oftentimes ancillary to the program fees), budgeting is also important to account for. Making sure you are aware of the costs of the program, what those fees go towards, and day-to-day costs, are all important things to consider before joining any program. Remember, it never hurts to ask!

On international programs especially, one of the most expensive parts of any trip is going to be airfare and other necessary means of transportation.  If you will need to pay for your transportation, make sure you factor that into your budget first thing to begin getting a better idea of how much it will cost you.  Buying airfare well in advance can sometimes save you hundreds of dollars so start checking the cost of tickets as soon as you know your exact travel dates.  Don’t forget to check about ground transportation for the rest of your trip as well.  Will the program cost cover things like bus or train rides, or will you be paying for those things throughout the trip to get from place to place?

Room and board is another thing that can catch you off guard if you don’t budget for it ahead of time.  This will probably vary depending on your program so make sure to ask if it is covered in the program cost.  If a homestay is part of your program and is covered in the cost, make sure you know whether other things such as hostel stays are similarly included or if they will be your responsibility.  But as in most cases, traveling to a different country carries with it a variety of safety factors, so staying in reputable places may cost more – especially when you’re unfamiliar with the locations.

Also make sure to budget for personal expenses that include laundry, communication, internet cafes, shopping, doctor visits, extracurricular activities, transportation, visas, vaccinations, etc. in most cases programs don’t cover these types of expenses which means you may be out many hundreds of dollars beyond the program fees.  As well, any independent traveling you might do throughout the program have unforeseen expenses.  The people running your program have done this before and should be able to help you break down the costs and give you tips on how to budget.  Doing this early on will, first of all help you decide if a specific program is financially feasible, and also it will help ensure that you plan accordingly to avoid having to call home and ask someone to send reinforcements!

Keep in mind that the program cost is going not only to the logistical costs of your trip, but also to the organization that is making it all possible.  Some of the money you’ll be giving them will go towards all the behind-the-scenes activities that are constantly happening to ensure you get the best experience possible.  You shouldn’t hesitate to ask questions about where exactly your money is going.  What kind of organization is running your program?  Are they a non-profit?  How many people work for them and what is the overall mission or vision behind their operation?  The cost of your Gap Year program might seem like a lot of money, but if you know where it’s all going you’ll inevitably realize quickly that no one is getting rich in this field of education.

Gap Year Return on Investment

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