In its simplest terms, a Gap Year is time taken off between high school and college, but Gap Years can mean different things to different people. Some students find it necessary to take time off before starting college in order to save money, while others take a year to volunteer for a meaningful cause or to take a break from academics for awhile.

Regardless of motives, Gap Year Programs have become increasingly popular, and about 40,000 students did some kind of Gap Year in 2019, according to the Gap Year Association. That’s out of more than two million first-time college students starting as freshmen in the U.S. each year.

However, given the current health concerns throughout the world, there are many question marks surrounding the immediate future of Gap Year Programs. Since so many of the gap travel programs are not able to run safely this fall and possibly beyond, Impact Global Education has launched Domain, a flexible alternative for students who are looking for a new kind of gap experience. Combining academic, experiential and career/practical elements in a hybrid online and hands-on curriculum, Domain helps guide 18-24-year-olds to discover and strengthen their interests and capabilities on their way to their future working careers or college experiences.

Cara Ferragamo Murray, Chief Sales & Marketing Officer at Impact Global Education, says, “Students are matched with a personal advisor, who provides one on one guidance, from selecting the courses that meet each student’s goals and budget to helping build them a peer-to-peer community and identifying the professional skills that will give them an edge.”

Other Gap Year officials offer their informed opinions about the current status of their programs.

Will there be Gap Programs this year? 

Ethan Knight, Executive Director, Gap Year AssociationYes. There will be very few international options, mostly lining up in Ireland, France and the rest of the EU (which Americans as Students can still travel to). As well, Israel seems to still be open (with active students there now). There are a lot of domestic options, however, with public and private options for students. 

Sophia Weeks, Executive Director of Gap Programs, Adventures Cross Country: Yes. We are offering programs this fall in the US in Hawaii, the Northwest, and Southwest. In the spring we are hoping to bring back some of our international programs as well, though time will tell.  

How will they be modified in order to ensure the wellness and safety of the students? 

Knight: Each program is making specific adjustments according to their circumstances. Some are requiring a pre-departure COVID-19 test, AND a test on arrival, AND a quarantine, AND another test. Some are requiring a pre-departure survey, and PPE. In most cases organizations are having to consider safety not just to their students, but supervisory staff (with needed redundancies) and the local community – meaning if the hospital is at 90{143106009d8b87d45252e1fd973f0c0835ad3aabba3679e828c3cd83539ae06c} ICU capacity with mostly COVID-19 cases, then their ability to handle an acute incident is oftentimes much reduced (eg, appendicitis). Generally, they’re also all reducing the capacity within each program so whereas an AmeriCorps program in Los Angeles might normally host 300 students for their cohort, this year they’re only hosting 200.

In terms of numbers or percentages how has the current worldwide situation affected the Gap Year Programs? 

Weeks: It has certainly shifted the focus of our gap programs. Whereas previously our students came to us seeking international experiences, that is not possible this year. We are seeing enormous interest in our domestic semesters from students who would otherwise not have considered taking a gap year, but who are not thrilled about the prospects of online learning this fall. Most of our students joined our programs upon hearing from their intended colleges that classes would not be happening on campus. As a result, many have deferred to take a gap year. Numbers wise, we have more students enrolled this year than last and it doesn’t seem to be slowing. 

How will Gap Year Programs differ from past programs? What will the upcoming itineraries look like? 

Knight: In most cases itineraries have significantly reduced their travel-time: one model I think will work very well is the Discovery Campus idea where if a student has to do online learning then they will live together with other students in a different city. If there are opportunities to do service or activities then they’ll do them in a responsible way. If, however, a quarantine gets set then at least they’re in a different location. There’s also been a much greater drive to doing outdoors activities given what we know about the virus, as well as a drive to go online or hybrid online. While some students have expressed being utterly burnt out from all things online, others have found ways to engage with it that are still uplifting. 

Weeks: Whereas previously students usually opted to travel to international destinations, we’re now seeing enthusiasm for places much closer to home. It seems that we are at a turning point in the US in a number of ways, and as we see students who are more civic and environmentally engaged, we’re looking forward to continuing this thread via connecting them with organizations and community leaders who are already doing the work here in the US. Our hope with our programming is to help our students explore what comes next with regard to college majors and careers while inspiring them to get more involved within their communities. Itinerary-wise, given the pandemic we’ve had to lessen the person-to-person contact and rich immersion that we have previously provided so as not to endanger our students or the communities that we visit. We’ve also shifted to more rural programming and to an outdoor, camping-style semester. 

The conversation has been edited and condensed for clarity.

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