22 Best Gap Year Programs – 2024

May 6, 2024

best gap year programs

So, you’ve decided to take a gap year after high school. Now what? An internet search will reveal droves of possibilities, from international service learning to backcountry survival to language immersion. However, searching for gap year programs–all of which promise meaningful experiences and feature websites brimming with Instagram-worthy photos–can sometimes feel like browsing Facebook Marketplace for furniture. How do you spot the gems in the sea of “well-loved” (read: beat-up) particle board? Since the gap year program you choose could have an incredible impact on your life and career trajectory, read on for important considerations as well as a list of reputable options.

What are the qualities of the best gap year programs?

The best gap year programs should meet high standards for communication, safety, and leadership. Accordingly, the Gap Year Association (GYA), a nonprofit recognized by the US Department of Justice and Federal Trade Commission that works to develop gap year standards, recommends “starting with more structure and working into less,” and encourages prospective gappers to choose programs that allow them to hone skills related to independence, cross-cultural communication, and risk management. Moreover, the GYA–in addition to facilitating gap year conferences and professional development–oversees a stringent, multi-round accreditation process for organizations that offer a gap year after high school. Accreditation standards include those related to pedagogical integrity, leadership, support, safety, ethicality, and communication, among others. Most importantly, accredited programs offer college credit and allow students to use 529 savings accounts to cover associated fees.

As such, all programs below either feature a GYA Accredited Program Seal or are listed in GYA’s Member Program directory. Although Member Programs have not undergone the accreditation process, they have satisfied eligibility criteria related to length of time in business, insurance/registration, risk management, and organizational information availability.

For my gap year to be recognized by colleges, do I have to choose a GYA-accredited program?

No, but not all gap years are created equal, particularly in regard to safety and communication. For example, if you’ll be in a remote location, does your gap year program have a contingency plan for medical emergencies? Does the program respect the local community in which it operates? What type of training is required of program leaders? In addition, if the program partners with outside organizations for volunteer and internship placements, do those programs operate with a similarly high level of safety and integrity?

The bottom line: spend ample time vetting your gap year after high school. Read reviews. Ask gap year programs for an alumni contact list. Attend a USA Gap Year Fair to explore and chat with program providers.

If a gap year program is not GYA-accredited, make sure that the one you choose has similar standards of operation. To that end, some highly respected, non-GYA-accredited gap year programs include The Intern Group, AmeriCorps, the Peace Corps (3-12 month options are available in certain fields), City Year, and Habitat for Humanity.

Best Gap Year Programs

After identifying eight popular gap year program categories, we rounded up a diverse array of possibilities. In each category, we’ve profiled 2-3 providers who offer programs of various lengths. Since your gap year after high school can be a full year experience or combination of shorter experiences, you might choose to mix and match depending on your interests and goals

1. International Gap Year Programs

Where There Be Dragons

Where There Be Dragons provides an “unfiltered” and rugged experience to program participants, who will travel responsibly and experience day-to-day life in a particular community. Accordingly, examples include “On the Front Lines of Climate Change” in India to “Spanish Language and Social Justice” in Guatemala & Mexico. Students also benefit from a 4:1 student-to-instructor ratio. Finally, Independent Immersion Programs are offered for a more solo yet supported experience.

  • Length: 6+ weeks (independent programs) to 3 months
  • Tuition: ranges from $6,950 (independent programs) to $18,950 (structured programs)
  • Locations: Peru & Bolivia; Nepal; India; Bhutan; Morocco & Spain; China & Taiwan; Southeast Asia (Mekong River); Guatemala & Mexico; Senegal; Indonesia
  • GYA Status: Accredited

Global Citizen Year’s Take Action Lab Experience

While living with other students from all over the world, you’ll apprentice at a South African human rights institution for 4-5 days a week. Apprenticeships can be in areas from food security to girls empowerment to early childhood education. In addition, there are ample cultural immersion opportunities. Finally, before you go, you’ll receive ample preparation in the form of a four-week virtual course that covers the historical and social context in South Africa as well as community development principles.

  • Length: 4 months
  • Tuition: $21,000
  • Location: Cape Town, South Africa
  • GYA Status: Accredited

Irish Gap Year

Three semester-length programs are offered: the Adventure Leadership Program (Irish nature, adventure, and culture immersion) the Irish Arts & Culture Program (arts community immersion), and the European Expedition Program (culture, history, and outdoor adventure). Programs are kept intentionally small and only enroll 14-16 students each. They also offer a 10-week internship program where you’ll work 40 hours a week in Dublin (your choice of industry) while living with a host family.

  • Length: 10-11 weeks
  • Tuition: ranges from ~$11,000 (internship program) to ~$18,000–30,000 (semester-length programs)
  • Location: Ireland and Europe
  • GYA Status: Accredited

Additional International Program Providers: Carpe Diem Education, ARCC, EF, The Leap, CIEE Global Navigator, Pacific Discovery.

Looking for a more independent international option? Check out Omprakash’s Widening Circles Program.

2. Outdoor/Wilderness Gap Year Programs

National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS)

In addition to gaining foundational leadership skills, students can explore the wilderness, participate in homestays, engage with the local culture, and take part in service learning experiences. The curriculum has been developed over several decades and emphasizes communication, confidence, wilderness skills, and risk management, among others.  For example, the course in Tanzania includes a service and cultural exchange expedition, mountaineering, and backpacking through conservation areas as well as remote villages. Academic credit is available.

  • Length: ~3 to 5 months
  • Tuition: ranges from ~$13,000-$40,000, depending on program location and length
  • Locations: Alaska; Rocky Mountains; Wyoming; Pacific Northwest; Baja, California; India; Tanzania; New Zealand; Patagonia;
  • GYA Status: Accredited

Tidelines Institute’s Glacier Bay Year

Programming includes seminar-style academic classes (credit is available) that cover topics like governance & democracy, the climate crisis, and Alaskan nature & culture. In addition, students “form a political body that partially governs their own program,” live in tight-knit quarters, commit about 20 hours per week to community labor (which can range from building fences to gathering kelp), and explore the Alaskan wilderness, including Glacier Bay National Bark and the Inian Islands. Only 12 students are accepted.

  • Length: 4 months
  • Tuition: $28,100
  • Location: Southeast Alaska
  • GYA Status: Member

Living City Project’s CityGAP

Remote locales and solar showers not your jam? Based in NYC, this outdoor experiential program features topics like urban planning, crisis response, equity and diversity, identity and civic imagination, and arts & culture. After three weeks of orientation, students concurrently complete a ten-week group project and a ten-week independent project, which are both exhibited during the final week of the program. Past work has included everything from re-energizing community projects to investigating the community impact of architecture to exploring NYC street life.

  • Length: 14 weeks
  • Tuition: $11,500 (does not include room & board)
  • Current Location: New York City
  • GYA Status: Member

Additional Outdoor/Wilderness Experience Providers: Adventure Treks, Outward Bound, Kroka Expeditions, High Mountain Institute, Alzar Gap.

3. Career-Focused Gap Year Programs

Absolute Internship

Through both on-site and remote internships, students can choose to gain skills and experience in 1 of 26 different industries, such as architecture, entrepreneurship, publishing, creative writing, graphic design, pharmaceutical and healthcare, engineering, fashion, and real estate, among others. No matter what city you’d like to travel to, you’re guaranteed an internship. Moreover, you’ll also have access to workshops, networking opportunities, a career speaker series, and organized social programming. Finally, you’ll live with other students in the program.

  • Length: 4-24 weeks, depending on location
  • Tuition: ranges from ~$1,500-5,500, depending on location and program length
  • Locations: Virtual, Barcelona, Beijing, Hong Kong, Lisbon, London, Madrid, Paris, Seoul, Shanghai, Singapore, Stockholm, Tokyo
  • GYA Status: Member


An experiential education program that encourages career exploration and life skill building, Dynamy provides internship placements in one of ten areas. These include animal care; arts, design & craftsmanship; automotive; culinary; education & childcare; environmental science; health and wellness; human services, social justice, and civics; media & technology; and marketing & business management. All internships take place at working organizations in Central Massachusetts. Also, students live together and participate in workshops, mentoring, and adventure challenges.

  • Length: 4 months (semester); 9 months (full year)
  • Tuition: $13,750 (semester); $27,650 (full year), not including housing
  • Location: Worcester, Massachusetts
  • GYA Status: Accredited

4. Seafaring Gap Year Programs


During their voyage, students will receive a high-quality academic experience while traveling the world and gaining competency in a laundry list of areas, from sailing to SCUBA to ecological awareness. In addition, there is plenty of shore time in myriad destinations, which includes cultural activities, service projects, and outdoor experiences. For example, the “Antigua to Grenada” voyage focuses on marine biology and includes over ten ports of call while “Caribbean to Mediterranean” combines bluewater sailing with on-land adventures in Gibraltar, Spain, and Italy. Moreover, Sea|mester is the only academic sailing program that circumnavigates the globe.

  • Length: 20-90 days
  • Tuition: ranges from ~$7,000~30,000
  • Locations: Caribbean, Mediterranean, South Pacific, Indian Ocean
  • GYA Status: Accredited

Sea Education Association (SEA)

Both of SEA’s programs—tailored specifically for students on a gap year—follow a shore-to-sea model. As such, students spend several weeks preparing for their voyage at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute in Falmouth, Massachusetts before setting sail. For example, “Climate and Society” students conduct original research in Aotearoa New Zealand that focuses on how climate change affects coastal communities. The program also involves a final onboard symposium presentation where students have the opportunity to share and discuss their research. Ultimately, they earn 18 credits from Boston University.

  • Length: 3 months
  • Tuition: $29,975
  • Location: Woods Hole, Massachusetts (shore); New Zealand (sea)
  • GYA Status: Member

International Field Studies’ Forfar Marine Science Program

In addition to earning their PADI Open and Advanced SCUBA certifications as well as Kayaking and Wilderness First Aid certifications, students cover topics like Bahamian culture, climate change, ecotourism, and blue hole water chemistry (Andros is home to the highest concentration of blue holes in the world!) through lectures and hands-on labs. Moreover, students can expect to participate in service learning that includes activities like invasive species control and mangrove restoration. Finally, life at the Forfar Field Station is fairly off the grid; students live in rustic cabins on the beach.

  • Length: 6 weeks
  • Tuition: $6,499
  • Location: Andros, Bahamas
  • GYA Status: Member

5. Academic/Vocational Gap Year Programs

Greene’s College Oxford

Via Oxford and Cambridge’s signature tutorial style of teaching, students explore three to four subjects of their choice. Moreover, they’ll meet weekly with an academic mentor who will help them make the most of the experience and also improve their study skills. Finally, students have many social and cultural opportunities within the surrounding city and at Oxford, including membership in The Oxford Union—the oldest and most famous student-led debate society, known for bringing international guests and speakers to campus on a regular basis.

  • Length: anywhere from 2 weeks to 6 months
  • Tuition: tailored to each student depending on number of subjects
  • Current Location: Oxford, UK
  • GYA Status: Member

IYRS School of Technology and Trades

Three STEM-based, hands-on, nationally accredited certificate programs are offered: Composites Technology, Digital Modeling and Fabrication, and Marine Systems. Students will design and build projects that could range from surfboards, custom yachts, electrical panels, or drones. No matter the program, all students gain a litany of shop skills as well as professional skills, including time management, project planning, design thinking, and project management. Student-to-faculty ratios are kept very low so that all students receive hands-on attention and support. Finally, all students complete an externship.

  • Length: 6-9 months
  • Tuition: ranges from ~$25,000-30,000, depending on program
  • Current Location: Newport, Rhode Island
  • GYA Status: Member

School of the New York Times

An entryway into journalism, NYT’s gap year program gives students the opportunity to explore a social, cultural, or global topic each week. Weekly modules are based around a specific section of the paper, and typically include international news, introduction to investigative journalism, politics, the New York metro area, opinion, and culture. They’ll also receive mentoring, attend professional development and life skills workshops, and complete group projects with local service-learning organizations. An online version of the gap year is available as well.

  • Length: 6-12 weeks
  • Tuition: ~$10-20,000, depending on number of weeks (does not include housing)
  • Current Location: New York City
  • GYA Status: Member

6. Sustainability/Conservation Gap Year Programs

Animal Experience International

Whether you want to make a difference in the lives of bats, sea turtles, dogs, sharks, or elephants, you’ll be able to do it through AEI. For example, students could work at a wildlife rehabilitation center in Western Australia that cares for over 2,400 sick, injured, and orphaned animals per year, with a sea turtle conservation organization in Costa Rica, or a horse rescue center in Spain. All programs follow the consent-based tourism model and adhere to the highest standards of animal welfare. This means that communities consent to host the program and animals are not forced to interact with volunteers.

  • Length: 2-4 weeks, but can plan longer experiences
  • Tuition: ranges from $1,000-2,000 per week, depending on program length
  • Locations: Australia, Guatemala, Costa Rica, Thailand, Mexico, Cuba, Mongolia, Spain, Nepal, Kenya, Croatia, South Africa
  • GYA Status: Member

Gap at Glen Brook

For students who are interested in environmental sustainability, homesteading and farming, and community living, the Gap at Glen Brook has it all. Located on a working farm in rural New Hampshire, students engage in sustainable farming (including harvesting, building coops, and starting seeds), foster their connection with nature and knowledge of ecology, and learn homesteading skills like fiber arts, herbal medicine, blacksmithing, and carpentry. Moreover, they practice their wilderness expedition, outdoor leadership, and bushcraft skills in several backpacking adventures as well as a 24-hour forest solo.

  • Length: 11 weeks
  • Tuition: $13,800 (includes room and board)
  • Current Location: Marlborough, NH
  • GYA Status: Accredited

7. Creativity/Arts Gap Year Programs


Offering a complete dance immersion, Pizarts gives dancers the ability to increase their creativity and skill, create portfolios, and engage with the community through performances and volunteer teaching. Both domestic and international experiences are available; Pizarts’ NYC-based program includes audition prep and branding as well as dance cinematography, live performance, and college & company tours while shorter international experiences in El Salvador, India, or Panama focus on either teaching & volunteerism, dance & culture, or audition prep.

  • Length: 3 months (NYC); international trips involve 4-6 weeks of virtual Saturday rehearsals followed by ~1-5 weeks in-country
  • Tuition: ~$16,000 (NYC); $4,500 (NYC/Panama); $5,900 (NYC/India); $6,500 (NYC/El Salvador)
  • Locations: NYC, Panama, India, El Salvador
  • GYA Status: Member

Cow House Studios

Students spend a semester making new artwork and honing their creative practice via structured and open-ended studio time. Mediums include drawing & painting, digital & darkroom photography, video & animation, and sculpture & installation. Moreover, students participate in a wide range of workshops and classes, like oil painting techniques, darkroom photography techniques, and Adobe Photoshop skills. Individual and group critiques, readings, tutorials, and plenty of travel around Ireland—including Dublin, the Cliffs of Moher, and the Aran Islands—round out the experience.

  • Length: 12 weeks
  • Tuition: ~$18,000
  • Location: Wexford, Ireland
  • GYA Status: Member

Berridge Creative Semester

After choosing an artistic concentration (options include film, theater, studio art, music, or stage/screen design), students participate in classes that build their craft knowledge and practical skills. Moreover, regardless of their concentration, they can choose from myriad workshops such as Acting on Camera, Ceramics, Jewelry Making, Meditation, Painting, Shakespeare, and Songwriting Basics, among others. Furthermore, students live in an 18th-century chateau while being immersed in French culture via excursions to locations of historical significance, market trips, and hands-on classes like breadmaking and cheesemaking.

  • Length: 3 months
  • Tuition: $16,500
  • Current Location: Normandy, France
  • GYA Status: Member

8. Language Immersion Gap Year Programs


While living with a host family in Paraguay, you’ll intern with a local nonprofit organization or school, working alongside local community members and earning approximately 200 hours of service. Moreover, you’ll be fully immersed in Spanish language and culture via mentorship, language classes, and activities with local peers. In addition, you’ll receive leadership training and participate in group excursions to places like Iguazu Falls, Itaipi Dam, and national parks. To prepare, you’ll take an intensive two-week Spanish class, and can earn three college credits at the culmination of the program.

  • Length: 14 or 34 weeks
  • Tuition: $11,975 (14 weeks); $23,950 (34 weeks)
  • Location: Asunción, Paraguay
  • GYA Status: Accredited

Chinese Gap Year in Taipei

No matter their level of ability, students will improve their Chinese rapidly via daily intensive, small-group classes as well as 1:1 sessions. They’ll need to work hard outside of class, too—approximately 90 minutes of preparation is required for every 50-minute class block. Outside of class, they’ll participate in cultural immersion and travel around the city and country, including night markets and temples, hiking destinations, and beaches. One quarter is equivalent to a full year of university Chinese, and program enrollment is limited to 30 students so that all receive individualized support and guidance. 6-9+ months is recommended.

  • Length: 3, 6, 9, or 12 months
  • Tuition: ranges from ~$6,000-8,000 per quarter
  • Current Location: Taipei City, Taiwan
  • GYA Status: Accredited

Siena Italian Studies

In addition to participating in service learning and living with a host family, students will immerse themselves in Italian language and culture. They are required to take a 3-week Italian intensive followed by two semester-long courses: Italian Language and Intercultural Dialogue, Democracy, and Global Citizenship. Most students also take two to three additional courses per semester —all taught in Italian. These are available in a wide variety of topics, from Medieval Italian History to Italian Cinema. Finally, students participate in field trips, group excursions around the city and country, and solo travel.

  • Length: 3 months
  • Tuition: N/A
  • Current Location: Siena, Italy
  • GYA Status: Member

Final Thoughts – Gap Year After High School

Your gap year can take you literally anywhere in the world and provide you with skills and experiences that will last for a lifetime. Therefore, spend time choosing a gap year provider that adheres to high standards for programming, safety, and leadership–you’ll be glad you did.

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