The Pros and Cons of Gap Year Organizations

Posted by One Comment

Organizing a gap year by yourself can be difficult and overwhelming (especially if you’ve never done it before). Oftentimes people know that they want to have a gap year, and that they want to do something, but they’re not sure exactly what.

You can spend ages wondering where you should go and what you should do and never really planning anything. Luckily there are several gap year organizations out there that you can use to plan and organize your gap year for you.

Gap year companies are far more than just glorified travel agents. When you go on a gap year program that’s been organized by one of these organizations you’re not just going on a relaxing holiday. Instead, you’ll be encouraged to get outside of your comfort zone, learn about the world and do something good for people in another country.

Note that just because it’s called a ‘gap year’, doesn’t necessarily mean that a gap year program will last for a year – it just means that you’ll be having a year off from ‘whatever’ (i.e. college, university or work).

Gap Year OrganizationsGap year programs abroad can last for up to a year (although three month programs are very common). Most programs revolve around going to a developing country/region (such as Kenya) and doing some kind of teaching, community work or conservation.

It seems that there are lots of benefits to using gap year organizations, so the question remains: Why would anyone taking a gap year NOT use a gap year company? Let’s take a look at the pros and cons…

Pros and Cons

As with everything in life, there are certain pros and cons to using gap year organizations:

Pros

  • Everything is pre-arranged for you and structured in an organized way by an organization that has a large amount of experience. You’ll be eased into everything, and you won’t feel like you’re being thrown in at the deep end.
  • Gap year programs are designed to be both educational and challenging, and are geared towards developing you as a person.
  • Taking a properly organized gap year (with an official organization) often looks better on a résumé.
  • You will be put into a group with other people of a similar age. Because you’ll be spending so much time with these people it’s likely that at the end of the program you’ll have several ‘friends for life’. Gap year organizations try to match people up who are at a similar stage in their life, so that they can relate to each other, support each other and grow together.
  • Paying one standard fee up-front will cover 90%+ of your costs in advance, and means you don’t have to be constantly budgeting and keeping track of how much you’re spending. It means that you can relax and enjoy the experience without wondering whether you’re going to run out of money or not.
  • It’s easier to raise money. When you’re going on a organized gap year and you’ll be helping out a local community, people will be far more likely to donate to the cause as they’ll feel like they’re giving to charity.
  • You’ll be supported by a group of team leaders who will help you to settle in and feel at home. This is important as living abroad and being away from your family (especially for the first time) can be overwhelming and tough, and it’s good to have people there who’ll look after you.
  • All of your food and accommodation will be taken care of for you.
  • You don’t need to worry about whether the places you’re going are safe or not.
  • The organization you’re with will have a set of procedures for dealing with any emergency or safety issue that occurs.
  • Gap year organizations have years of experience and will have worked with thousands of people taking gap years meaning they can give the best experience possible. These organizations will also have good relationships with the local communities, and will know how best to interact with them and how to help them.

Cons

  • You might not get on with the people you’re grouped with.
  • You might not get on with the organizers who are responsible for you.
  • The large, up-front cost can be difficult to afford and can seem a little excessive. Committing to such a large up-front payment can be scary and you might feel like you’re trapped or committed to something you’re unsure of.
  • The start and end dates of a gap year program are very often set in stone. When traveling by yourself, if you’ve had enough and want to go home early it’s not really a problem (providing you haven’t already booked your return flight). When you’re on a gap year program everything is pre-determined for you. Going home early on such a program will cause a big fuss (and might end up costing you more money) so you might feel pressured to stay longer than you want. Alternatively, if your program is only scheduled to be three months long, but by the end of that time you want to stay for another two months it can be difficult to do so. If you’re traveling by your own accord and planning everything yourself, it’s a lot easier to stay and go when you please as you have a lot more freedom.
  • There is a lack of freedom. When most young people want to go away on a gap year it’s because they want to experience the world and to feel free. Gap year organizations tend to organize and micro-manage everything, meaning you might feel like you’re still in school (where everything is controlled and decided for you). Gap year organizations do a lot of ‘hand holding’, which is great for first-timers, but others (particularly those who have traveled before) might end up feeling frustrated and restricted.
  • You might not experience other cultures as much as you’d like. When you’re on a gap year you’ll spend most of your time with your group, who’ll largely be made up of British and American people. It’s difficult to really experience and understand other cultures when you’re spending very little time with the local people.

Costs

How much will getting a gap year organization to find you a placement cost? As a guideline, most gap years programs will cost you between $1200 – $7500 (£750 – £4500).

Travel FundObviously every company will have a different idea on pricing, and it’ll largely depend on how long you’re away for, which country you go to and what you’re doing while you’re there.

It’s important that you know exactly what’s covered in the fee (so you know whether you’ll have to spend any more money or not). If you’re unsure, call the company up and ask (although what’s covered is usually written on their website).

For example, $7500 might sound like a lot for a trip (and it is), but it looks a lot more reasonable when you consider that it could include the cost of your airfare, food, accommodation, your placement and a guided trekking adventure through the country you’re visiting.

To ensure you have enough money for your gap year, it’s a good idea to draw up a saving plan and to create a budget. Once you’ve had your place confirmed and you know how much it’ll cost you, you’ll know how long you’ve got to raise the money required.

While most placements will pay for your accommodation, food and day-to-day activities, you’ll inevitably spend more on drink, phone calls back home and optional activities (such as white water rafting). Working out how much extra to save for this can be quite tricky. Think about how much you like to drink, how often you’ll phone home and look at what additional activities the gap year company offers on your placement (if possible). Next, see if you can find out how much each item costs in the area you’ll be staying in. Adding the two together should give you a rough idea of how much extra to save.

For more information, check out this article on how to save money for a trip.

Applying

When applying to a gap year program, timing is everything. The idea of taking a gap year is becoming more and more popular, and because there’s often a limited number of spaces available it’s a good idea to apply as early as possible to give yourself the best chance of success.

How soon in advance should you apply? Many gap year projects take on applicants a year in advance, and some of the more popular ones do two years in advance!

That being said, there’s still hope for you even if you leave it till the last minute, as programs don’t always fill up and people sometimes drop out at the last minute. There are organizations that specialize in finding people last minute places on gap year courses. One such organization is i-to-i, a UK based gap year company.

Once you’ve been successful in your application, you might be asked to come and meet with the organizers for a quick chat just to make sure you’d work well abroad and as part of a team. This is usually nothing more than a formality, providing you’re a reasonably normal, socially well-adjusted person, and people very rarely ‘fail’ this stage and get turned away from the program.

Should you use a gap year organization to plan your gap year for you, or should you do it yourself? The decision is not an easy one, but by now hopefully you’ve got some idea. For those that haven’t traveled before, I would recommend enlisting the services of a gap year organization as they’ll provide everything for you and give you great support along the way. I have found that gap year programs abroad are a great ‘gateway’ into traveling, and will provide you with the confidence and the experience you need to travel on your own (or with friends) at a later date.


Related posts:

  1. The Advantages and Disadvantages of Taking a Gap Year
  2. Gap Year Expeditions
  3. Gap Year Conservation Programs




Share this Article!