When it comes to gap years, Ethan Knight is a veteran. In 1996, Knight, founder and Executive Director of the American Gap Association, set off for India, Nepal and Tibet on his own gap year after hearing a presentation at his high school. That was back in the day when the term “gap year” was heard about as often as “hey, hand me that piano.”
Fast forward 18 years. Knight, now with years of experience establishing, organizing and leading gap year programs for others, recognizes a need for a professional association that sets clear standards and best practices for organizations that run gap year programs. Verge caught up with Knight to learn more about raising the bar in a rapidly growing industry.
Verge: What is the AGA and why was it established?
Knight: The American Gap Association is a non-profit accreditation and standards-setting organization for gap year organizations. It was established in 2012 as a way to encourage more participation in gap year education and its benefits of taking meaningful time away from academia to explore personal interests, passions, and even possible career paths.
What should prospective gap year-takers know about organizations that have been accredited by the AGA?
The AGA accreditation process is lengthy, taking an average of three to five months, and completing a thorough 53 page application. The purpose of being accredited is to ensure that these organizations run their programs according to the highest standards of safety and integrity. Picking an organization that is accredited by the AGA can provide a certain level of assurance for both students and parents that the program is committed to providing an experience that meets the highest standards in quality, safety, and support. As well, colleges that accept a student from an AGA accredited organization will know that the outcomes we’re finding are relevant to their campus: things like better GPAs over their non-gap year peers, more involvement in campus activities, and more direction about their educational career.
Many companies seem to be offering similar programs or include similar-sounding components, how can a prospective participant be sure they’re comparing apples with apples?
There’s really a lot of variety in the programs out there. One important question to ask is what kind of supervision the students will have. Additionally, asking what types of support are available, and whether there are any “add-ons” as some non-AGA accredited organizations will offer a bare-bones price for their program but then the costs ratchet up quickly.
Often, North American parents are reluctant to see their daughters or sons take time away from studies or postpone their post-secondary studies. What would you say to them?
Gap year participation has been shown to improve grades, increase university and college graduation rates, enhance motivation, and generally give students a better overall idea of what they want to accomplish in their college years as well as future career paths.
This interview has been edited for length. Read the full interview with Ethan Knight in the upcoming Summer 2014 issue of Verge Magazine.Add this article to your reading list