Gap Year Programs

NOLS Expeditions

Credit: Cass Colman
NOLS Expeditions Semester and Year Video

Discover Life-Changing Gap Year Programs

You're ready to take the lead and take time for your future. To connect to the outdoors and yourself. To stand out from your peers and make the most of your gap year. The extended and immersive lessons of NOLS gap year programs are life-changing. Wherever in the world you travel with NOLS, you will emerge with confidence, competence, direction, courage, and perspective. 

Accredited Gap Year Association Program Seal

Featured Gap Year Expeditions

Why Choose NOLS for a Gap Year

Develop Leadership Skills

Leadership is taught every day through real-life experience: Navigating a glacier becomes a lesson in communication; canoeing a rapid teaches teamwork; and rock climbing reveals a strength you didn’t know you had. Finish with leadership skills valuable for college, careers, and beyond.
A Scandinavian wearing traditional clothing.

Gain Global Perspective

A NOLS gap year can take you from the Himalaya to Kilimanjaro, from the shores of the Pacific Ocean to the waterways of the Adirondacks. Many locations include options for homestays, cultural engagement, and service learning that will broaden and deepen your perspective.

Explore the Wilderness

Outdoor skills, ranging from backpacking to sea kayaking to mountaineering, form the foundation of every expedition. You will have the opportunity to progress, master, and test a variety of newfound skills with experienced and supportive instructors. While you explore, form a connection to nature and learn to appreciate living simply.

Learn from the Best

NOLS sets the standard for instructor excellence. Our instructors are wilderness experts and compassionate mentors committed to student well-being and success.

Worldwide Locations

Explore our worldwide campuses and embark on transformative gap year travel programs, immersing yourself in diverse cultures and environments while gaining invaluable experiences

Wilderness Skills

Skills to travel in the backcountry

About NOLS Gap Year Programs

  • What is a gap year?

    A gap year or gap semester is a break taken from formal schooling or a traditional career path. It's a period of time when young adults choose to explore the world, gain valuable life skills, or delve deeper into their personal or professional interests.

    While typically taken by graduating high school students before they start college, gap years are for everyone and anytime! Many college students choose to take a break from their studies with a gap semester before graduating, or they may take a gap year before continuing on to graduate school or entering the workforce.

    Gap year programs can involve anything from international or domestic travel to wilderness expeditions to language learning to volunteering and more!

    Our gap year programs provide valuable opportunities for you to:

    • gain a new perspective and independence,
    • develop leadership skills,
    • earn college credit through experiential education,
    • and clarify your goals and aspirations for the future.
  • Why travel with NOLS?

    While traveling alone for your gap year can be exciting and liberating, it can also be unpredictable and expensive. Choosing a NOLS gap year program will give you the perfect balance of structure and independence. Students gain valuable experience in navigation, risk management, communication, and decision-making, while also developing a deeper understanding and appreciation for the natural world. Additionally, NOLS offers a supportive community of people who share a passion for adventure and personal growth.

    Reasons gap year students choose NOLS:

    • Adventurous itineraries planned ahead of time
    • Reliable staff are there to support you every step of the way
    • Help with securing housing and food
    • Experience unique opportunities for cultural immersion
    • Earn college credit
    • Opportunities for leadership training and certification programs
    Read more:

    Gap Year Pros and Cons: Solo vs. Group Travel

  • Gap Year Benefits

    What are the benefits of taking a gap year with NOLS?

    • Get to know yourself on a deeper level! Our students consistently boast about the personal growth they've gained through our gap year programs. With NOLS, you'll have unique chances to challenge yourself and push your limits in new and exciting ways. You'll have the opportunity to get to know yourself on a deeper level, build resilience, and cultivate a sense of self-reliance and independence.
    • Transform through adventure and world-class outdoor education! Our gap year programs are built around the idea of experiential learning. We offer some of the most comprehensive and respected year- and semester-long outdoor education courses in the world. Whether you're interested in backpacking, mountaineering, sea kayaking, or wilderness medicine and rescue, our courses will challenge you and help you develop wilderness adventure skills that will serve you well throughout your life.
    • Boost your resume with impressive new skills! In addition to the hands-on educational experience you'll get with NOLS, many of our gap year programs include opportunities to gain leadership skills, practice new language skills, and earn valuable credentials and certifications, such as W-EMT, Avalanche 1, and Swiftwater Rescue. Not to mention, travel experience and an experience-based global education can help your resume stand out!
    • Expand your cultural awareness! Our gap year programs offer opportunities to travel and explore new cultures and local communities in places like India, Mexico, New Zealand, Patagonia, and East Africa. Through cultural immersion, you'll have the chance to learn from people with different backgrounds and perspectives and broaden your understanding of the world around you.
    • Become part of an adventurous and creative community! When you take a gap year with NOLS, you join a supportive and inspiring community of like-minded individuals. You'll have the chance to build lasting friendships, connections, and memories.
  • Gap Year Ideas

    Popular Gap Year Program Ideas

    Travelers often spend their gap year backpacking, visiting multiple countries, seeing more of their home country, volunteering abroad, learning a new language, or earning skill certifications. Since long-term travel can be expensive, budget travel is also common during a gap year, as it helps travelers extend their adventures and immerse themselves in local cultures.

    Best gap year program destinations:
    • Patagonia
    • East Africa
    • Mexico
    • Alaska
    • India
    • Rocky Mountains
  • Gap Year Cost

    How much do gap year programs cost?

    The cost of gap year programs can vary depending on the program inclusions, the length of the program, the destination, and the way you budget.

    To help offset costs, many people who attend NOLS courses use financial aid and scholarships, which help fund their expeditions. At NOLS, we’re committed to working with you to make your course a reality. Learn more about scholarship and financial aid opportunities.

    Cost Estimates for the Top Gap Year Programs:
    • Gap Year Programs in Patagonia: ~$39,000
    • Gap Semester Programs in New Zealand: ~$21,000
    • Gap Semester Programs in East Africa: ~$16,900
    • Gap Semester Programs in India: ~$17,000
  • Get Started

    How do NOLS gap year programs work?

    Choosing a gap year program through NOLS is an exciting, straightforward, and rewarding process. Here's a step-by-step guide to help you get started:

    1. Identify Your Goals: Think about what you hope to get out of your gap year experience. Are you looking to develop new skills, explore different cultures, earn college credit, or gain professional experience in a particular field? Use this information to help narrow down your program options.
    2. Explore our Gap Year Programs: Our programs and courses range in length from a few weeks to a year and include opportunities for outdoor adventure, Wilderness Medicine and Rescue certifications, language immersion, and more. Fill out the form on this page to receive more info about our programs.
    3. Connect with a Gap Year Advisor: We are happy to help you through the process of figuring out your gap year goals and where NOLS fits into your plans. Our team can help you compare programs, understand the college credit process, and discuss scholarships and payment options. Connect with a gap year advisor today!
    4. Check Program Requirements: Make sure you meet the eligibility requirements for the program you're interested in. This may include age restrictions, physical fitness requirements, and language proficiency standards.
    5. Select Your Gap Year Program: Once you've identified a program that aligns with your goals and interests, click on the program page to learn more about the itinerary, activities, and accommodations. Review the program details carefully to make sure it's the right fit for you.
    6. Apply to Your Gap Year Program: When you're ready to apply for a program, click on the "Apply Now" button on the program page. You'll be prompted to create an account and fill out an online application, which includes personal information, academic history, and a brief essay. You may also need to provide additional materials such as a resume or reference letters.
    7. Complete the Admissions Process: Once you've submitted your application, our admissions team will review it and contact you with the next steps. This may include an interview, additional documentation, or a deposit to secure your spot in the program.
    8. Prepare for Your Program: Once you've been accepted into a NOLS gap year program, you'll receive detailed information about what to pack, how to prepare physically and mentally for your gap year program, and what to expect. Follow the pre-trip instructions carefully to ensure a smooth and enjoyable experience.
    9. Have an Unforgettable Experience: With NOLS gap year programs, you'll have the opportunity to challenge yourself, develop new skills, and create lasting memories in some of the most beautiful and remote places on earth. Embrace the adventure and enjoy the journey!

Discover, Learn, Grow: Journeying through the Gap Year

Send More Gap Year Information

Gap Year FAQs

  • Q: Are gap year programs worth it?

    Yes, gap year programs can be a valuable investment in your personal and professional development. Taking a gap year can provide you with opportunities to gain new skills, explore different cultures, and deepen your understanding of the world.

    The skills and experiences you'll gain during a NOLS gap year will:

    • strengthen your resume,
    • impress future employers and admissions counselors,
    • and help you clarify your goals and interests before pursuing higher education.
  • Q: Will colleges accept me if I take a gap year?

    Colleges generally accept students who have taken a gap year, and many colleges view gap year experiences as positive attributes, provided the gap year students can demonstrate that they have used their time productively. NOLS gap year programs allow you to stand out among other college applicants and impress admissions counselors by helping you:

    • earn college credit,
    • develop valuable life skills,
    • and hone in on your interests.
  • Q: Is it harder to get into school after a gap year?

    It is not necessarily harder to get into school after a gap year, but it may require additional planning and preparation. Sometimes, taking a break with gap year or gap semester programs can help students avoid formal education burnout and start college with a better focus and clearer idea of what they want to study. Students who take a gap year should use the time to:

    • develop skills,
    • gain experience,
    • and prepare for college applications.
  • Q: Which company offers the best gap year programs?

    At the National Outdoor Leadership School, NOLS, we are a leading provider of the best gap year programs, offering a range of programs designed to help students develop leadership, outdoor skills, and cultural competence. NOLS has been providing outdoor education since 1965 and has a strong reputation for high-quality programs.

  • Q: Does a gap year affect GPA?

    Some gap year programs, like the ours, offer transferable college credit. Students should consult with their program provider and college admissions office to determine how credits earned during a gap year may be applied toward their degree. These additional credits often have the effect of boosting a student's GPA.

  • Q: Is a gap year abroad better than a domestic gap year?

    A gap year abroad can offer unique opportunities to immerse oneself in a new culture and gain international experience. However, a domestic gap year can also provide valuable experiences and may be more affordable. It ultimately depends on individual preferences and goals. Speak to one of our Gap Year Advisors for guidance.

  • Q: Is it better to take a gap year or go straight to college?

     It depends on individual preferences and goals. Taking a gap year can provide opportunities for personal growth and exploration while going straight to college can provide a more structured path to career goals. Students should consider their goals and interests when deciding whether to take a gap year.

  • Q: What percentage of students who take a gap year go to college?

    According to the Gap Year Association, research shows that 90 percent of students who took a gap year returned to college within a year.

  • Q: What's the difference between a gap year and a gap semester?

    A gap year is a longer period of time, typically lasting for one year, while a gap semester is a shorter period of time, typically lasting for one semester. Both gap years and gap semesters provide opportunities for personal growth and exploration outside of traditional academic settings.