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Best Gap Year Programs After High School

Graduating from high school and entering college means making a lot of decisions. This can range from the right major to the right college, and sometimes even when you should begin college. Students who opt for a gap year can take this opportunity as a break from structured academic life. The gap year can be used to explore interests, gain new experiences, and prepare for the next stage of education.

Here are some ways high school students can use their gap year effectively:

  1. Volunteer or intern

  2. Travel

  3. Work: A gap year can also be an opportunity to work and save money for college expenses or future plans.

  4. Pursue personal interests

  5. Take courses or attend workshops

  6. Plan for college

  7. Pace yourself while building your scholar profile through advanced academic work

If figuring out options to make the best out of your gap year from scratch is an intimidating prospect for you, you may want to consider gap year programs that are hosted by private/governmental organizations, as well as some of the most popular universities in the country.

In this blog, we’ve shortlisted 6 of the best gap year programs for high school students - a good mix of research-based, travel-based, and social-work-based programs, to name a few.

However, it is important to note that cost can be a major factor behind your choice of the gap year program, so we’ve included both fully funded as well as paid-by-you programs so that you have plenty of options to choose from.

Let’s dive right in!

The Global Gap Year Fellowship is an exciting opportunity for all high school seniors who wish to take some time off between high school and freshman year of university and explore and travel the world. UNC offers this program to select students and provides them with a stipend that they can use to explore and learn around the world.

An attractive feature of this gap year is that it is completely self-designed, which means you choose what to explore, the location, as well as your learning goals.

This program offers learning, and global immersion, along with the same amount of funding and support from UNC.

Note: The Gap Year Fellowship program is a highly prestigious fellowship that is offered to only 7 students each year.

Eligibility: High school students who have applied in the early admissions cycle to UNC are eligible for this college-sponsored gap year before their 4-year degree at UNC.

Program Dates: July 2023 to August 2024

Application Deadline: October 15, 2023 (for the 2024-25 cohort)

Cost: Fellows are provided with a total stipend of $8,000

Location: Self-designed, the student decides their location(s) for the program

If you're looking for a remote/virtual gap year program in a subject of your choice, you should consider the Lumiere Research Scholar Program.

Lumiere was founded by researchers at Harvard and Oxford. Hundreds of ambitious high school students do research in the field of engineering through the Lumiere Research Scholar Programs. Each student is paired with a top Ph.D. and works with their mentor 1-1 to produce a university-level research paper.

The programs are entirely virtual and vary in duration based on the student’s end goal concerning how much of a deep dive they would prefer. You can choose from an array of STEM and non-STEM subjects, business, AI, and data science.

There are three main programs you can choose from as a Lumiere Scholar -

1. Individual Research Program

You work on a college-level academic paper over 12 weeks under a Lumiere Mentor.

2. Premium Research and Publication Program

You dedicate your efforts towards publication in a high-school or college-level journal, with 3-4 months research time, and 1-4 months publication time.

3. Lumiere Research Fellowship

You receive guidance and mentorship to work on a highly selective research competition or publication, over 6-12 months.

Also, check out the Lumiere Research Inclusion Foundation, a non-profit research program for talented, low-income students.

Eligibility: High school students

Application Deadline:

Applications are open throughout the year for the four cohorts - they are due in February, May, September, and December. Currently, applications for the Summer Cohort close on March 12, 2023. Apply here!

Program Dates:

Four cohorts run throughout the year, namely the spring, summer, winter, and fall cohorts.

Location: Virtual

If you’re looking for research opportunities in your gap year that focus on a subject of your choice, you can apply to the Veritas AI program, a virtual AI program for high school students. Founded and run by Harvard graduates, Veritas AI teaches you about artificial intelligence, and machine learning and helps you produce a project that you can use as part of your portfolio and also while applying to college.

This program allows you to explore more about the field you wish to build a college career in (which in this case, is AI and ML), and help you build your expertise and knowledge in the field, all while conducting independent research.

There are two major programs you can apply to and both are open to high school students looking to take a focused look at AI and ML -

The Veritas Scholars Program runs for a total of 25 hours during the Spring, Summer, Fall, and Winter.

Cost: $1490, need-based financial aid available

Prerequisites: No prerequisites! Open to anyone with an interest in the field.

Eligibility: Grade 8-12 students

Application Deadline:

Priority admission: March 12 and April 16, 2023

Regular admission 1: May 14, 2023

The AI Fellowship program runs for a total of 12-15 weeks and focuses on building an individualized AI project.

You can also check out the Deep Dive programs offered by Veritas AI -

  • Deep Dive: AI + Medicine enables students to engage in specialized learning of how AI is transforming medicine and the healthcare industry. Students get a chance to build real-world, impactful projects in the field of AI and medicine.

  • Deep Dive: AI + Finance enables students to engage in specialized learning of how AI is transforming financial markets. Students get a chance to build real-world, impactful projects in the field of AI and medicine!

Cost: $4200

Prerequisites: Basic understanding of Python or completion of AI Scholars

Eligibility: Open to all students in Grades 8-12

Application Deadline:

Priority admission: March 12 and April 16, 2023; and Regular admission 1: May 14, 2023 Available Fields: Pretty much every area according to their website and the experience of students. They have dozens of mentors across different fields and AI.

Cohort Start Dates for Fellowship and Scholars Program:

Both programs run in several cohorts, starting in May through August.

American University offers an immersive gap year program that allows you to work, learn, and grow over a year. You can choose to participate for one semester or two semesters (a complete academic year) and work in a professional setting, from congressional offices on Capitol Hill, embassies, and businesses, to a wide variety of nonprofit and advocacy organizations.

You are also expected to engage with seminars offered by American University faculty. A few sample internships that you can pick up include roles at -

  • US Congressional Office

  • Voice of America

  • Millennium Project

  • National Youth Rights Association

  • Naval History Heritage Command

  • Turkish Heritage Organization

  • Recording Industry Association of America

  • US Department of Education

The AU Gap Year includes both academic and work-based credit, with you gaining 10 AU credits over a year.

You can also engage in multiple cultural and extracurricular activities in and around the AU campus, and work on strengthening your personal and professional profile.

Note: AU Gap Year Alumni have gone on to pursue their academics at Harvard University, Stanford University, and the University of Chicago, to name a few.

Eligibility: Applications are open for high school students who wish to accept/apply to 4-year schools of their choice/have a deferred admission from AU itself. The Gap Year program is open to U.S. students only.

Program Dates: TBA

Application Deadline:

Spring Semester -

November 15, 2023

Fall Semester -

June 15, 2023

Cost: Per semester tuition can cost anywhere between $12,992 to $18,560 for 7 credits and 10 credits, with separate costs for food, travel, insurance, and residence. Financial aid is offered.

Location: Off-campus housing for AU, Washington DC.

A highly prestigious program for high school students motivated to make a difference in the world, AmeriCorps must be on your to-do list for your gap year. AmeriCorps is an independent agency of the United States government and offers volunteership opportunities to over 5 million Americans throughout the year. The program is very rigorous and calls for volunteers and young AmeriCorps members to serve across various causes.

A few causes that you can help contribute towards as an AmeriCorps member -

  • Help boost graduation rates.

  • Support communities impacted by natural disasters.

  • Work to end hunger

There are three main types of opportunities that open to you as an AmeriCorps member still in high school -

NCCC - Your lodging and travel expenses are covered while you travel as a full-time member supporting community service projects.

State and National - You can select from hundreds of organizations that see service as a solution to local, regional, and national challenges.

VISTA - Fight poverty by helping an organization to expand its capacity to make a change.

Eligibility: Students aged 17 and above can apply for these opportunities.

Program Dates: Opportunities are open around the year, you can check out more about the programs and dates here.

Application Deadline: Deadlines vary from program to program, you can find out the complete schedule for multiple cohorts here.

Cost: Most opportunities are fully funded, and cost may vary from opportunity to opportunity.

Location: Varies from opportunity to opportunity.

An exciting opportunity for you to explore the world and study under professors in shipboard classrooms, Semester at Sea is a program that invites gap year students to earn 10-13 college credits, while visiting 10+ countries, over a single semester. The voyage, as the program is called, allows you to explore college life while interacting with students from across the world, on the sea. You can also contribute to one of the 70+ student organizations that explore interests such as photography, theater, and sports as a group. The experience is extremely enriching and can be an option for you to consider if a travel-plus-study gap year program is on your to-do list before you apply to a college of your choice.

Eligibility: High school graduates with a CGPA of 3.0/4.0 and a certification of English Proficiency (if not native English speakers) are preferred as applicants.

Program Dates: Generally runs between January and June.

Application Deadline: Varies from cohort to cohort. Applications open about 12 months from the start of a semester, so if you wish to apply to the Spring 2024 cohort, you should apply in the current admission cycle. You can find a complete schedule here.

Cost: The cost of each semester varies, but the cost for the Spring 2024 program is an estimated $40,850 for standard cabins and $43,850 for premium cabins.

Location: As part of your semester at sea, you will visit 10+ countries on your voyage, more details of which can be found here.

While the programs above focus on academic and professional achievement, Where There Be Dragons is a travel-based gap year/semester program that is open to students from all over the world and covers locations across Asia, North America, and South America.

You can choose the location, duration, as well as type of trip (exploratory, language immersion, and conservation). Where There Be Dragons is a popular choice for students looking for international exposure and cultural immersion.

Eligibility: All high school students aged 17 and above can apply for any of their programs.

Program Dates: Varies from program to program

Application Deadline: Applications are open on a rolling basis for each program and each semester. You can check out a complete list of programs here.

Cost: Varies from program to program, you can expect per semester, the all-inclusive cost to be anywhere around $7,500 to north of $12,000 for two semesters.

Location: Varies from program to program

If you’re looking for a part-time opportunity for a semester/summer, consider Ladder Internships.

Ladder Internship is a selective program equipping students with virtual internship experiences at startups and nonprofits around the world! The startups range across a variety of industries, and each student can select which field they would most love to deep dive into. This is also a great opportunity for students to explore areas they think they might be interested in, and better understand professional career opportunities in those areas.

The startups are based all across the world, with the majority being in the United States, Asia and then Europe, and the UK. The fields include technology, machine learning and AI, finance, environmental science and sustainability, business and marketing, healthcare and medicine, media and journalism, and more. You can explore all the options here on their application form. As part of their internship, each student will work on a real-world project that is of genuine need to the startup they are working with, and present their work at the end of their internship. In addition to working closely with their manager from the startup, each intern will also work with a Ladder Coach throughout their internship.

The Ladder Coach serves as a second mentor and a sounding board, guiding you through the internship and helping you navigate the startup environment. Interns are offered one-on-one training in communication, time management, and other such valuable skills and will also have the opportunity to attend group training sessions with other interns in their cohort. The virtual internship is usually 8 weeks long.

Cost: $1490 (Financial Aid Available)

Location: Remote! You can work from anywhere in the world.

Application deadline: April 16 and May 14

Program dates: 8 weeks, June to August

Eligibility: Students who can work for 10-20 hours/week, for 8-12 weeks. Open to high school students, undergraduates, and gap year students!

Stephen is one of the founders of Lumiere and a Harvard College graduate. He founded Lumiere as a PhD student at Harvard Business School. Lumiere is a selective research program where students work 1-1 with a research mentor to develop an independent research paper.

Image source: Ladder Internships logo



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