Where to Volunteer is an impartial, useful advice blog that seeks to arm student travellers in the USA with the expert advice they need get the most from a gap year spent volunteering abroad. If you’re coming towards the end of your high school career – or you’re already at college but looking for a change – then you’re in the right place.
What you need to decide now is: is a gap year right for you? And if it is, what’s the best way to plan one? That’s what we’re here for. Below you’ll find more information on what a gap year involves and why you might benefit from taking one. After that, you’ll discover all sorts of other information around this website that should help you to plan the experience of a lifetime. Good luck!
A ‘gap’ is a period of time, usually between completing high school and beginning college when a student steps outside the classroom to explore the world, reflect on their personal values, and prepare to take the next purposeful step in life. Also known as a sabbatical, a gap doesn’t have to last a full calendar year – but can often be longer depending on your academic situation. Some students prefer to squeeze their gap into the summer break or by taking a semester out.
A gap year offers a rare opportunity in a results-driven, academic culture to see a different part of the world, gain life skills and have experiences that will equip you for the next stage in your own life.
Structured gap programs give students a developmental advantage over their peers by providing them with an opportunity to expand their perspective and gain direction that gives the college years meaning and focus (sceptical? Think again.)
They are also an excellent opportunity to expand a work experience portfolio through internships and experiment with future careers before fully committing to a narrow academic path.
Volunteer programs come in many different forms and can be based at home or abroad. Some require a commitment of many months, others last just a few weeks and can be combined with other gap activities such as independent travel, paid work and internships.
The best volunteer programs are well structured and supported by experienced gap professionals, providing students with a range of experiences and challenges in a safe environment. They usually charge a fee to arrange and manage the program, provide you with training, quality accommodation, food and transport throughout. A great example is The Leap, a UK-based gap year company offering safe, structured volunteer programs with 13+ years experience in the field.
It is important to thoroughly research and check the credentials of volunteer organizations before participating in their programs to ensure that your money will be well spent and the projects are ethically run. Well-run gap companies like The Leap will be happy to provide contact details of past participants in your area, breakdown of costs and proven membership of gap regulatory bodies such as the the Year Out Group (YOG) or American Gap Association (AGA).
College admissions officers recognise the benefits of spending structured time out of education to mature and develop life skills before further study. Students that have previously lived away from home, adapted to diverse cultures and taken responsibility for their own finance and time management thrive at University and tend to achieve better academic results that those that have come straight from high-school.
Gap years are promoted at some of the best-known universities in America including Harvard, Princeton, Tufts and New York University. Many institutions openly encourage students to take a gap year in their acceptance letters and William Fitzsimmons, Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid at Harvard University, has gone on record to say:
“Normally a total of about fifty to seventy students defer (Harvard) college until the next year. The results have been uniformly positive. Harvard’s overall graduation rate of 98% is among the highest in the nation, perhaps in part because so many students take time off.”
How’s that for a vote of confidence?
We hope you’ll take the time to browse the information found across this website, and if you are serious about taking the next step, head to the Volunteering Opportunities page for more information.