Gap year programs for college-bound students

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Rachel Schwartz was accepted to Syracuse University before she graduated from Half Hollow Hills High School East in 2014 -- but while the majority of her classmates went off to their chosen colleges, Schwartz deferred her admission so she could spend a gap year in Israel.

"I decided to go away, but I went across the world. I didn't go three or four hours upstate," she says. By taking a year off before heading to Syracuse this fall, Schwartz says she gained an enormous independence and confidence. "Gap year should be mandatory, in my opinion," she says.

Lior Yaari, 19, now a sophomore at Ithaca College, did the same program as Schwartz -- a Young Judaea program called Year Course -- after graduating from Harborfields High in Centerport in 2013. "I knew it was going to be the only time I would be able to have an experience like that," Yaari says. She studied half the year in Jerusalem and then volunteered teaching English in a town near Tel Aviv called Bat-Yam. She also did an Army basic training stint for international students.

About 2 percent of college-bound U.S. high school students choose to do a gap year after high school graduation, says Fred Kaelin, a Mattituck High School alum and executive director of USA Gap Year Fairs, which organizes nationwide fairs where a variety of programs exhibit; see the schedule at usagapyearfairs.com. "Some students will combine a couple of experiences for their year. They might do a semester with Outward Bound and then do a travel program," Kaelin says.

That's what Kira Martin of Glen Head did after she graduated from North Shore High School in 2014. She spent three months in Nepal with Where There Be Dragons, participating in home stays and trekking, and spent the rest of her year traveling independently through Europe and then Louisiana. In the fall she'll start at Northeastern University in Boston, studying art and design.

Here are some examples of gap year programs for college-bound teens.

Outward Bound

Outward Bound (866-467-7651, outwardbound.org) Program possibilities include mountaineering,
(Credit: USA Gap Year Fairs)

Outward Bound (866-467-7651, outwardbound.org)

Program possibilities include mountaineering, dog-sledding and more. Some courses are physically and mentally challenging, including carrying a 50-pound pack or climbing a 14,000-foot peak. Prices start at $5,295 for programs that last between 30 and 85 days.

Thinking Beyond Borders

Thinking Beyond Borders (203-993-0236, thinkingbeyondborders.org) This program combines
(Credit: USA Gap Year Fairs)

Thinking Beyond Borders (203-993-0236, thinkingbeyondborders.org)

This program combines cultural immersion and experiential learning. Students travel to multiple countries and live with host families, learn the language and participate in fieldwork with local experts in areas such as public health or environmental sustainability. During the gap year, participant travel to Ecuador, Thailand, India, South Africa and more. Price: $31,000.

The Leap

The Leap (802-363-7418; theleap.co.uk) A UK-based organization that
(Credit: USA Gap Year Fairs)

The Leap (802-363-7418; theleap.co.uk)

A UK-based organization that boasts volunteering opportunities (environmental, teaching/child care, community building and sports), internships (medical, law, teaching, child care and business) for a summer or a semester across Africa and South America. Every program includes a mix of projects in various locations. Prices start at $3,000 with additional airfare and travel costs.

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Young Judaea

Young Judaea (866-599-2534, youngjudaea.org) The Year Course program
(Credit: Lior Yaari)

Young Judaea (866-599-2534, youngjudaea.org)

The Year Course program in Israel lasts nine months and offers up to 30 college credits while participants learn Hebrew, volunteer and live with peers from the United States, Israel and around the world. Price: $23,950 (airfare additional)

Pictured: During Lior Yaari (center) of Centerport's gap year in Israel, she experienced an Army boot camp for foreigners.

Projects Abroad

Projects Abroad (888-839-3535, projects-abroad.org/gap-year-abroad) The Global Gap year
(Credit: Projects Abroad)

Projects Abroad (888-839-3535, projects-abroad.org/gap-year-abroad)

The Global Gap year emphasizes cultural exchange and contribution to service projects in developing countries in fields such as education, housing, environmental conservation and more. Participants visit five different countries over the course of the academic year -- Ghana, South Africa, Peru, Nepal and Thailand. Price: $29,995.

The Experiment in International LIving

The Experiment in International Living (experimentinternational.org) High school
(Credit: USA Gap Year Fairs)

The Experiment in International Living (experimentinternational.org)

High school students or recent graduates can enroll in a three- to five-week summer program in Europe, Africa, Asia and the Pacific. Teens will explore the host country through hands-on experiences and homestays in local communities through specific themes, such as the arts, environment, politics, human rights, food systems, cultural diversity and social justice. Prices start at $4,000.

Dynamy Internship Year

Dynamy Internship Year (508-755-2571, dynamy.org) Internship Year combines
(Credit: USA Gap Year Fairs)

Dynamy Internship Year (508-755-2571, dynamy.org)

Internship Year combines full-time, unpaid internships, adventure challenges, apartment living and professional mentoring to help students explore and prepare for a career path. Located in Worcester, Massachusetts. Price: $29,400 for tuition and housing.

VisitOz

VisitOz (visitoz.org) Head to Australia and work in
(Credit: USA Gap Year Fairs)

VisitOz (visitoz.org)

Head to Australia and work in rural and Outback areas on farms and ranches (horses, tractors, sheep, cattle), in hospitality (pubs, roadhouses, rural resorts, farm stays and museums), child care, teaching, nursing, construction and more. Participants must complete the initial nine-day farm training and safety course before their employment begins. Prices start at $2,299 for up to one year of work and travel.

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Aspire by API

Aspire by API (516-600-8977; aspirebyapi.com) As a language
(Credit: USA Gap Year Fairs)

Aspire by API (516-600-8977; aspirebyapi.com)

As a language and cultural immersion program, students have the chance to study a semester abroad in Argentina, France, Ireland, Italy and Spain. Participants will have opportunities to get involved with the local community, earn college credits and develop global skills. Prices start at $9,980 (airfare is an additional cost).

CIEE

CIEE (207-553-4000; ciee.org) All CIEE gap students participate
(Credit: USA Gap Year Fairs)

CIEE (207-553-4000; ciee.org)

All CIEE gap students participate in the CORE Seminar (Cultural Observation, Reflection and Engagement). In countries with a foreign language, students will take intensive language classes 3 to 5 hours each day and most often live with a host family. Programs are available in Australia, Chile, China, Dominican Republic, France, Italy, Tokyo, Jordan and Spain. Prices start at $12,000.

Where There Be Dragons

Where There Be Dragons (800-982-9203, wheretherebedragons.com) Each gap
(Credit: USA Gap Year Fairs)

Where There Be Dragons (800-982-9203, wheretherebedragons.com)

Each gap semester is 12 weeks long, and prices vary based on the region. Participants can choose locations in Latin America, China, India, Nepal, West Africa and more. Housing is primarily in homestays. Every program includes trekking, language study, volunteer work, analysis of development issues in the country and more. Prices start at $10,500 (airfare additional).

Art History Abroad

Art History Abroad () Students will learn about
(Credit: Art History Abroad)

Art History Abroad (

Youth for Understanding

Youth For Understanding (800-833-6243; yfuusa.org) Recent graduates can
(Credit: USA Gap Year Fairs)

Youth For Understanding (800-833-6243; yfuusa.org)

Recent graduates can choose a year, semester or summer program and choose from more than 60 countries including Australia, Belgium, France, Ghana, New Zealand, Romania, Vietnam and more. Students will be immersed into the culture through educational opportunities and by learning the history, language, art and agriculture while living with a carefully screened host family. Prices start at $8,395.

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Summit Adventure

Summit Adventure (559-642-3899; summitadventure.com). This Christian cross-cultural immersion
(Credit: USA Gap Year Fairs)

Summit Adventure (559-642-3899; summitadventure.com).

This Christian cross-cultural immersion program blends education, adventure and service. United States courses are offered in Yosemite, Joshua Tree, West Virginia and Death Valley. Abroad programs include Ecuador, Mexico and Israel. Courses include leadership, communication, spirituality, cross-cultural ministry and outdoor physical education. Students can earn up to 18 academic credits for the experience. Prices start at $15,750 and includes airfare.

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