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How to Choose a Gap Year

How to Choose a Gap Year

Recently at Vanguard, the gap year of Wheaton College, we’ve seen a spike in gap year inquiries. We put together a guide to help students who might now be considering different gap years.

This chart will be helpful once you have already started doing some research about gap year programs. If you have a couple of standout programs that you’re deciding between and you’re just not sure how to narrow it down, this is for you!

Here’s our step-by-step guide to help you figure out what gap year is right for you.

Step One to Choose a Gap Year: Determine What Matters Most

Before you get too carried away with the options, step back and consider what matters most in the next year. How do you want to grow? What do you want to learn?

Think also about what might feel like “small things” now—living space, food, activities offered, etc… but will end up having a big impact on your experience. We’ve listed some questions below to get you started:

  • Academics: Do you want to earn credit during your gap year? How much time do you want to spend in a classroom and/or completing assignments?
  • Living Space: Are you okay being “on the move” and in a different living space every month or do you want to settle into one spot? Do you want to live with a lot of roommates or 1-2 at most?
  • Work Experience: What kind of work experience do you want to build? What fields do you want to explore? How many hours do you want to work per week?
  • Proximity to Home: Are you comfortable traveling far away from home or do you want to be within a couple of hours?

Take a few minutes to jot these things down, stream of thought. Don’t edit your thoughts yet!

Step Two to Choose a Gap Year: Pick Categories 

Review your notes from step one. When you look at everything, what stands out as most important? What stands out as least important? 

Boil it down to the top 5-7 themes or categories of what is most important to you. If you include many more, it starts to get complicated.

Step Three to Choosing a Gap Year: Complete the Chart

Download our Evaluating Gap Years Chart. Once you have it, write the categories you highlighted in step two along the top row. Then, fill in the title of the program in the first column.

Once you have your programs and themes/categories listed, go ahead and jot down a few notes that will share some detail to help you score it. Then, use the small boxes in the top left-hand corner of each box to score.

Yes—the boxes are small. This is to help you really focus on what’s most important!

Step Four to Choosing a Gap Year: Take a Guess

Relatively speaking, this is a quick step. We probably could have named it step 3.5!

Before you add up the scores on your chart, take a gut check. Can you start to see a standout program? What program do you think will come out on top? How do you feel about that?

Get a pen and paper to write all of your thoughts out. Yes, it might be slower than whipping out the note feature on your phone, but it’s really helpful to actually write.

Step Five to Choosing a Gap Year: Average and Rank

So, all of those scores you put in the boxes? It’s time to add them up and rank the programs. As you’re doing this, note some of your first reactions. Were you surprised about the program that came out on top? Excited? Anxious? Don’t ignore your gut!

Step Six to Choosing a Gap Year: Reflect and Connect

After adding and averaging your chart, sit back and reflect. What program took the lead?

If a clear winner didn’t emerge, narrow it to your top two or three and continue your research. Here are a few ways to get additional information.

  • Ask to talk with current or past program participants and/or their parents.
  • Ask to connect with program staff over a video chat so you can talk face-to-face.
  • Review a day or week in the life schedule to see how these big themes/categories play out in the day to day living.

As you start researching different gap year options you’ll quickly come to realize that the sky is the limit. There are incredible opportunities out there—from jet setting around the globe to serving in a developing community to attending a bible school.

Hopefully, this step by step guide to choosing a gap year will help make the process a little more straightforward.

To download the guide, complete the form!