Inclusion & Equality Inclusion and Equality

Deciding to take a Gap Year can feel like a big commitment of time, energy, and finances; but it’s worth it! Gap Year alumni are more likely to experience both higher levels of college success as well as lasting job fulfilment following their time abroad.

Unfortunately, as of 2017, the majority of participants on Gap Year programs participants are predominately white, female students from middle and higher socioeconomic backgrounds. Students of colour, first generation college students, immigrant students, and male students continue to experience inaccessibility and underrepresentation.

International education and service programs are often portrayed as a white, female-dominant endeavour, which is unnecessarily exclusive and overly-reductive. Of their many characteristics, these abroad experiences offer all participants (regardless of background and gender) with the opportunity to develop higher levels of emotional and cultural intelligence, and ultimately empathy.

To help make this valuable experience more attainable and assessable, has researched the barriers to equal representation in Gap Years opportunities, as well as some tools and strategies for overcoming them. These strategies serve as bridges for underrepresented participants, so that they may thrive throughout a Gap Year experience, and so that we can collectively continue to move towards diverse sustainability in Gap Year Education.

These barriers present significant challenges to participants and families, gap year practitioners, and colleges and universities; however, there are several actions each party can take to minimize them. Gap year practitioners and colleges and universities in particular can help facilitate and enrich gap year participation for more participants and can work to ensure the experience is one in which all students thrive.


The following six areas are the most common barriers for students when it comes to participating in a Gap Year: Economic, Representation & Visibility, Faculty & Administrative Support, Family Support, Community & Social Support, Prejudice & Discrimination


Funding and sponsored opportunities are not readily accessible to all young people; and gap years can be expensive. Good gap years do not have to be expensive, but the perception is that they are, and that is limiting.


Gap years are not as visible to students from different socioeconomic or

ethnic backgrounds, and are not as representative of students of color or

students with disabilities.


If college, and university faculty are not actively mentoring and supporting students, it will be extremely difficult for students to plan or even consider taking a gap year.


Many participants who come from predominantly white, economically-advantaged households have had parents who themselves studied or travelled abroad; this makes it easier for them to navigate the going abroad experience. This support is less common for students of colour, first generation college students, and immigrant students, whose families may be wary about the costs, benefits, and potential risks of venturing abroad on a gap year. Often students in these situations are also responsible for sibling or elder care within their families, and/or contributing to the family’s finances, which makes spending time away a more significant challenge.


Similar to family support, if a student lacks community and social exposure to the concept of a gap year, they are less likely to know how the process works. Without seeing others such as neighbors, friends, and other community members engage in a gap year experience, students will have more difficulties in finding the trust and motivation to participate.


Many underrepresented students have familiarized themselves with the challenges they face daily at home yet struggle to understand what to expect once they go abroad. In preparation for her semester abroad as a person of colour, a student once remarked: “I know how to deal with the racism at home; I don’t know what to expect abroad.” It can be difficult to know how to brave these unknown environments as an underrepresented student; and these concerns can be stifling.  

How we aim to address these barriers


We aim to 

  1. We offer opportunities to win free places on all our programs
  2. Offer aim diversity-focused sponsorship for specifically underrepresented students



 We aim to

  1. We engage alumni from diverse backgrounds to share their experiences
  2. We highlight the stories of underrepresented students on social media and in marketing materials
  3. We create volunteer positions that engage alumni as mentors and guides for prospective participants



 We aim to

  1. Foster and sustain robust alumni networks
  2. Host subgroups for alumni with specific identities (e.g. students of colour, LGBTQIA students, students with disabilities, etc)
  3. Make these networks available to prospective students so they can build relationships
  4. Create a network just for parents or family members
  5. Have materials available in different languages
  6. Offer programs of varying lengths, as shorter programs may be better suited for students with familial responsibilities



 We aim to

  1. Share alumni stories with media that is dynamic and accessible
  2. Include underrepresented students in marketing materials and content
  3. Post interactive media on our website (e.g. photos, videos, soundbites, etc.) and make re-sharing easy
  4. Offer cohort model programs that foster communities of peer support



We aim to

  1. Be honest: racism and discrimination exist everywhere
  2. Share how mobility for students with disabilities will be limited in many places
  3. Tell students what to expect and provide them with tools for responding to it
  4. Have clear and transparent policies and procedures that protect and prepare students
  5. Train our staff with fast-thinking and compassionate response techniques to incidents of discrimination
  6. Connect applicants and participants with alumni who can share first-hand experiences of what to expect

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