“What do you want to do when you grow up?” This is the age-old question…
Some elements of a gap year are essential: exploration of a personal interest, traveling domestically or abroad, pushing your comfort zone and opening yourself up to new experiences. There is one thing that a gap year doesn’t have to be: expensive.
Many people assume that a gap year is financially out of reach. Not so! There are a variety of opportunities for gappers that are free or low-cost. In addition, learning how to save and fund-raise can help offset the costs of travel and program fees for other programs.
Domestic Gap Year Opportunities:
America is vast and varied. You needn’t necessarily leave the country to experience a new culture! Here are some unique, low-cost or paid opportunities throughout our great land:
- Dude Ranches: Tourist ranches in the American West often need seasonal help to lead visitors on trail rides or help in the lodge. This is a great opportunity for people interested in horses to get some hand-on experience. Most require employees to be 18 or older.
- National Parks: Our nation’s national parks are in constant need of trail blazers, interpretive workers and others interested in keeping our parks running smoothly. Also check out non-profit job listings.
- Help Disabled Athletes Learn to Ski: Many large ski resorts in the states run Adaptive programs, which give handicapped children and adults the opportunity to ski. In addition to the satisfaction of helping people learn a new sport, you’ll get plenty of days in on the slopes! Intermediate to expert ski ability required. Telluride and Jackson Hole are just two world-class resorts with strong programs.
- City Year: City Year, run by Americorps, is the domestic arm of the Peace Corps. Volunteers sign on for 11 months of service in a major US city working in areas such as education, environment and homeland security. In addition to a living stipend, City Year volunteers are awarded an education grant upon completing their service, which can be used for high education or to pay down student loans.
One of the best ways to gain experience in a field of interest is through an internship. It also gives you the chance to live in a new place and dabble in the “real world”.
- Databases such as Idealist (for non-profits) and Monster can help you find openings.
- Work on Organic Farms: Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms, or WWOOF, is a worldwide network of organic farmers committed to spreading knowledge about permaculture and responsible farming practices. Join a specific country as a member and you gain access to a searchable database of farmers willing to take you in and teach you their specialty. In exchange for 4-5 hours of work per day, they provide room and board. A great way to travel the USA, and over 30 other countries!
- Au Pair: If you enjoy working with children and want to live abroad, working as an au pair (nanny) is an excellent option to look into. After interviewing and going through a background check, agencies can place you with pre-screened families in a variety of countries. Excellent way to learn a new language! Choosing an agency recognized by the International Au Pair Association is a good idea.
- Work on Organic Farms: See above
- Teaching English: Some volunteer programs offer English teaching schemes. For a longer commitment and more of a work experience, some companies will pay for your flight, accommodation and offer you a salary to teach. Only work for trusted companies that provide references.
- Volunteers for Peace: Part of an international voluntary service network that places volunteers in workcamps (i.e. short-term building and education projects) across the globe. Very affordable and allows you to meet other volunteers from all over the world!
- Help Exchange: Similar to WWOOF, but not restricted to organic farming. Also includes hostel work, au pair jobs, and other interesting opportunities!
Before you design your gap year plan, sit down and really think about what interests you want to explore or what countries spark your interest. Combining an interest (such as learning Spanish) with a low-cost opportunity (such as Au Pairing in Spain) ensures your gap year will be meaningful to you as well as cost-effective.
And make sure to do your homework! Not all placement agencies for teaching English or Au Pairing are legitimate. Watch out for placement fees, hidden costs or sketchy dealings. If you choose to work on a farm or with a family, speak to them about your living conditions and day to day life before you show up. Check references (WWOOF and Help Ex have reviews on their member profiles) and trust your instincts. If it feels fishy, do not do it! Read all the fine print and ask a trusted adult to help you through the visa and application process.
I personally have volunteered with WWOOF and Help Exchange. I had wonderful experiences with both and built strong friendships with my hosts. If you and your parents take the time to research unique opportunities, an affordable gap year is well within reach!
Contact Us at My College Planning Team for learning more about Gap Year possibilities.