How to Plan A Gap Year Like Malia

Many were still unfamiliar with the concept of a gap year and were curious to see what she had in store. Thanks to the help of a number of new sources, we were able to piece together a timeline of Malia’s gap year so far.

If you are a student, currently in the process of gap year planning, I hope this example will inspire you to venture further outside of your comfort zone.

Summer 2016

Malia started off her gap year by following in the political footsteps of her father with a summer internship at the U.S. Embassy in Spain. Normally, the Embassy only accepts upperclassmen and recent college graduates for their coveted internships but in this case, they made an exception. Barack Obama has said in the past that Malia’s Spanish is quite impressive so it stands to reason that she would want to spend her summer embracing a foreign culture on the beautiful streets of Madrid.

Malia and Barack Obama

Photo Credits: Kevin Lamarque | Reuters

Although Malia is familiar with the political world, an internship at the U.S. Embassy allowed her to approach foreign politics from an outsider’s perspective. What are Spain’s concerns when it comes to U.S. politics? How do diplomats work to communicate between these two countries? Nothing can stand in the place of real world experience when it comes to politics. For those interested in pursuing a career in international relations, that global perspective may be just what you need to test the waters and get your foot in the door.

Want to take a gap year with us and visit 10 countries?


Fall 2016

In the fall, Malia traveled to South America in pursuit of another side of Spanish-speaking culture. She joined Where There Be Dragons on their 3-Month Gap Semester program in Bolivia and Peru. Malia spent three months trekking through the mountains, camping in the Amazon and exploring topics such as environmental conservation and social reform — all while improving her Spanish language skills.

Malia Obama Bolivia

Photo Credits: (NYTimes)

A rural, international experience is perfect for those looking to get away from urban life. Maybe you are tired of your hometown and are looking to explore a new place or you want to become fluent in a new language. Immersing yourself in a foreign environment can be humbling and telling for those feeling lost in a bustling city.

Spring & Summer 2017

But the year isn’t over yet! Sources have confirmed that Malia will spend the remainder of her gap year interning at the entertainment industry at an independent production company.


Photo Credits: Hollywood Life

This isn’t Malia’s first time working in the entertainment industry. In the summer of 2015, she spent time interning for HBO’s Girls and inspired the show’s writer and star, Lena Dunham, with her can-do attitude. “She wanted to do all the jobs. That was the cool thing. She was totally enthusiastic,” Dunham said to Howard Stern on The Howard Stern Show. Although an intro-level position in the entertainment industry is often monotonous, being where the action is and absorbing what you see happening around you can be invaluable at a young age.

What this means for you: Tips

If Malia’s gap year can teach us anything, it’s that the best gap year is made of a variety of experiences. If you’re a high school student going through the process of gap year planning, consider approaching the task in this way.

Rather than finding one activity to consume all your time, break your year into chunks and dedicate a few months at a time to each of your interests. Give yourself a chance to test out a handful of options and you may be surprised by what activities resonate with you the most. A bevy of unique and challenging experiences will prepare you for the adversity you may face in college and beyond.

While traveling the world, our students try out a hundred different skills over the course of our 9-Month Program; some more and less appealing to some than others. At Winterline, that pedagogy of exposure and experience drives our Global Skills Gap Year Program.

By the end of the year, students have a strong understanding of their likes and dislikes and what areas of study they would like to pursue further. They come home having learned something about themselves and the world — and that’s the most valuable gift you can give yourself from a year off from school.

Ready to travel the world on a gap year?


Our President’s Statement on the Recent Executive Order on Immigration

Winterline Global Education is dedicated to offering unique skills-based learning experiences to students of ALL nationalities. Our students come from all parts of the world and are greatly enriched by their contact with peers from all over the world. As students, they travel widely, learning diverse skills in diverse parts of the globe and are warmly welcomed outside the United States.

It is counter to Winterline’s values that under the current minority-elected administration’s Executive Order, students from certain parts of the world are not welcomed or allowed into the United States, Winterline’s home country.

Appreciation for the diversity of experience, opinion, and perspective forms the basis of a global education. Banning people of a particular nationality, faith or creed, race or identity, sexuality or ethnicity, from entering the US is antithetical to both Winterline’s and our nation’s core values.

Winterline will not be silent in the face of the Executive Order and will continue to stand for and to offer experiences which promote mutual respect and understanding between people of all nations.


Nathan Scott

President & Executive Director


This Gap Year Dad Reflects on How to Send Your Daughters Away

Jofi writes in this recent blog post, as he deals with the reality of sending both of his daughters away.

Instead of the common description of loneliness which we’ve come to associate with ’empty nest syndrome’, Jofi writes about gratitude and the incredible opportunity his daughters have, one of them heading to college, the other back out on our Winterline gap year program.

“We as parents,” he writes, “and I am including myself, a lot of the time do not realize the opportunities our daughters and/or sons are receiving and experiencing when they study or travel abroad. It is so much more than studying or traveling that they are doing, but we tend to focus on how much we will miss them. You know what? I miss them a bunch too, but I would not trade all that they are doing so they can stay home with me.”

The clarity with which he writes is something we see in a lot of our gap year parents. They know that a year straight from high school to college isn’t for everyone. If you had the opportunity to send your student child abroad, would you? (We’d love to hear from you in the comments section below.)

The opportunity to study abroad, experience the world, isn’t just about collecting another experience to put on a resume or in a cocktail story. It’s much more than that.

As Jofi puts it into context, “My “job” as a parent is to prepare them for life. Through all these experiences they are living, they are preparing themselves for what life has ahead of them. Will all the experiences be happy ones? Of course not, but life is not like that either.”

Meet Dylan Gosdin — Drone pilot preparing for a gap year

Dylan Gosdin is one of our first members of the 2017 cohort. He has a love for photography, and is excited to discover more about his career and life goals during his Winterline gap year experience.

The concept of a gap year program is still new for many students. When were you first introduced to the idea of taking a gap year before college?

My Dad first introduced me to the idea of taking a gap year. He believes that this program will be beneficial for a lot of my friends if they choose to take one as well. I think it’s a great idea. If I had just decided to go to college, I believe that my chances of making it to sophomore year would be 50/50. This program will show me how to take care of myself and live on my own as well as experience things most people only dreamed about.

Why did you choose to take a gap year?

I chose to take a gap year because I don’t know what I want to do with my life.  I think the opportunity to travel the world and learn without sitting in a classroom is great.

What country on our itinerary are you most excited to visit? What activity or learning experience captivates you the most about Winterline? 

The country I am most excited about is either Germany or India. I think India will be an incredible place to go visit. I really want to visit Germany because I have a big interest in cars and going to the BMW Driving School is going to be very cool.

Do you have an idea of what you would like to do in the future?

That’s another reason why I’m taking a gap year. I have no idea what I want to do in the future so while I’m on this trip I’m going to try and find something that I have a passion about that I could pursue and make a career out of.


Have you traveled before? If so, which trip has been your favorite and why?

Yes, I have. Growing up, we traveled a lot as a family. This past summer, however, I went to the British Virgin Islands to live on a boat and scuba dive for 40 days. I met a lot of awesome people from all around the world. Some I still keep in touch with regularly. That trip was very important to me because it showed me how much I enjoy traveling on my own and how much I can learn about myself in this type of environment.

What do you expect to gain from your gap year program and while traveling abroad? 

Independence, maturity, and passion for a path in life. I think those are 3 things that are most important to me.

What is one thing you want your future Winterline peers to know about you?

I’m quiet when I first meet people but once I get to know you that changes very quickly.

Tell us something fun about you!

Yeah, I suck at these kinds of questions.What is one unique object you plan on bringing with you to Winterline and why? I love video and photography so I will be bringing a DJI Mavic Pro Drone and DJI Osmo Camera, both of which I plan on using as a video and photo journal for this trip.  I am not great with words but hope that photos and videos will help me explain what I’ve experienced.

And finally, Coke or Pepsi?

Coke, no doubt.


Ready to travel the world and learn skills?

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It’s Official! We’ve Been Accredited by the Gap Year Association.

After many long months of document submissions, risk management guidelines, transparency protocol updates and more, we’ve been officially accredited by the Gap Year Association!

You may ask:

What does it mean to be accredited?

We’ll let the Gap Year Association speak for itself.


Currently Accredited Member

The accreditation process involves both the Gap Year Association staff and Board of Advisors to ensure the best in Gap Year education and the highest consistency in programming.

Accreditation by the Gap Year Association represents a commitment to the highest standards in safety, quality, and integrity. Accredited Programs have agreed to consistently abide by the Standards of the Gap Year Association, which means that a student can count on an experience with the highest caliber of field leadership, the best degree of office support, and the highest standards of safety.

Skills for Adulthood

At Winterline Global Education, we take skills seriously. We tell our students that skills are important, that they will become more capable and competent adults as they learn diverse skill sets.  We explain that they will need ever more global skills to both survive and thrive in the global workplace and global economy.  And we not only ‘tell’ them these things, we are actually engaged every day in teaching them these skills – skills to help them succeed, skills to make them better people, better communicators, and better collaborators, skills to help them become more independent, more resilient, more thoughtful, more considerate, more critically aware.

Our focus on skills is not just about teaching “job skills”, but life skills and interpersonal skills with the goal of helping young people grow into mature, responsible, and capable adults.  This is implicit in everything we do — from the partners we work with to the mentors we hire. During our nine-month global skills program this focus is about consciously supporting students’ growth into adulthood. Gap years are perfect for this, and students who elect to take a gap year are perfectly positioned to take advantage of it.  Gap year students are by definition “in between”, for that is what a ‘gap’ is – a break or span of time or distance between two separate things, two separate states of being.

“We are not an assembly line, guaranteeing newly minted adults at the end of every year.”

Anthropologists call this “in between-ness” a liminal state, where one is “betwixt and between.”  The concept of liminality comes from the Latin word limen, meaning a threshold, where one is neither inside nor outside. There is potency and potentiality during liminal periods, but also vulnerability, as with all states of transition. Symbolically, liminal periods require the loss of identity, or more accurately, the loss of one identity before taking on another one.  Liminal periods are often characterized by a journey, and invariably someone to help or facilitate the transition and to guard against danger during this vulnerable state.

The young people on their Winterline gap year are both literally and figuratively on a journey (in our case, around the world), letting go of one identity before taking on another one. Our Field Advisors or mentors, play the role of facilitators guiding them on their journey into adulthood.

Do all our students enter their Winterline year as ‘young people’ and come out the other end as ‘adults’?  Does every single student let go of one identity during their year which is then replaced by another? No, of course not. We are not an assembly line, guaranteeing newly minted adults at the end of every year. The students all struggle at some point during their year, and we struggle with them.  Some of them can’t get themselves out of bed and to a program on time when they start their year, and haven’t gotten much better by the end of the year.

“The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.”

But they learn other things; perhaps more important skills.  Along the way, they learn new ways to interact, to reflect, to communicate, to collaborate, to handle conflict, to speak in public, to be independent, to take and manage risks. The list goes on. They learn the skills of Non-Violent Communication and getting to the heart of conflict resolution.  They learn the skills of Restorative Justice, being present through a circle process, being accountable and how to repair harm. These are skills most adults don’t have!

At the end of the day, teaching discrete or individual skills is not our goal, for every competent, mature and responsible adult carries with them a different set of skills.  Rather than teaching young people the skills to make them adults, we teach young people how to be skilled adults. As Aristotle said, “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.”  This transformation from ‘learning skills’ as a young person to ‘being skilled’ as an adult takes time and energy, but is the most valuable gift we offer.

My Gap Year Hasn’t Opened My Eyes to the World

I’ve always been out of place, a stray puzzle piece that doesn’t really fit in anywhere. Back in Nepal, boarding school in India – it didn’t matter where I went, there was always someone who didn’t like what I wore or what I represented. Winterline has been different – it has been a wonderful group that not only accepts, but respects me. I’ve experienced something I feel like I’ve rarely experienced before: a sense of adequacy. Everything so far has felt comfortable, even if I’d never done it before. Everyone else has been pushed outside of their comfort zone. I’ve been pushed into a comfort zone.

Discover the world & yourself.



I’ve learned a lot of valuable life lessons there – inside of the comfort zone, where I can really stand still for a second and evaluate, something I’ve almost never done. I’ve learned that there’s so much growing to be done every day! I’ve learned to throw myself out there. Sure, I could just sit back and do what is expected of me and be enough. But that’s not where I want to be. I don’t want to be just good enough. There are days where even doing just that is difficult but when I’m barely making an effort is when I need to be working the hardest. I’ve met many people on this journey, driven by goals and ideas who have more knowledge on one single skill or idea than you would think there is to know! All because they’ve dedicated themselves to never being just good enough and pushing themselves constantly.

I found that growth is an incredibly slow-moving, constant, lifetime process. And most of that is the daily grind of effort and willingness to grow and understand that it’s never easy and it’s not supposed to be. It’s kicking and screaming at the top of my lungs when I think I can’t do it anymore and I keep doing it anyways. I’ve learned growth is intentional; it doesn’t happen by accident. I saw on my gap year that growth hurts. It hurts the same way everything hurts when I’m on the last stretch of ascending a hill on a long trek and my muscles are screaming in pain but I keep going because I’ve made it so far and I know that it’s going to be worth it. And I know that it’s going to hurt more the next day, but I do it anyways, because what I will remember is the reward and not the pain. I imagine a lifetime of growth, never any less painful but always stronger for it. I ask myself these questions: “Would I rather not have seen or felt struggle? Do I doubt myself for saying maybe? Am I stronger or weaker for this realization? Do the experiences I’ve had make me indestructible or vulnerable?”


I am who I am. Nothing will change that. I can’t change who I am, and I can be bitter about it or I can maybe try and love myself and maybe do some good in the process.

I guess the answer is choice: what I do with what I have. Do I let the struggles I’ve seen make me more hateful towards those who choose to ignore them? Or do I help them see what can change? It’s something I struggle with every day. I would have never imagined myself where am today. Never. I could have easily been the next kid, fighting for an education, married off at age nine. Instead, I try to have gratitude for what I have. I have choice. And on Winterline, I have had and will have all the resources I need to make my own choices, good ones that I will be proud of and bad ones that I will be thankful to have known and learnt from.

At the beginning of Winterline, they told us it will be as difficult as we make it. We can shuffle around people and cultures like the next tourist or we can simply be present in the crazy whirlpool of opportunities that are already there for us. I’m trying to chose to make an effort every day of my life, whatever it’s going to throw at me. My gap year didn’t change my life, I did.


Want to travel the world with us and learn 100 new skills?

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How to Travel on a Gap Year to Los Angeles and Bangkok

Another reason to bring a solid camera with you on your gap year program. On their way to Thailand, Maddie, Leo, and Michael stopped over at the beach for a while before heading out to the airport and their long haul to Bangkok. We love seeing their excitement as they step up for another incredible semester abroad learning crazy new skills.

Thinking about doing a gap year with us?

Don’t wait! Our programs sell out quickly. This year we had to turn people away at the door and it did not feel good. We don’t want you to miss out on one of the most pivotal moments in your life. A gap year is an incredibly rare opportunity, but it takes planning, and that’s what we’re here for.

Our gap year programs, semester abroad programs, and summer abroad programs are about preparing you for your whole life. Not just one tiny piece of it.

It’s not just about becoming an amazing traveler, backpacker, adventurer, which of course you will. Or about finding the right, cool major, also probable. It’s about all of the opportunity that you unlock for yourself and for your entire life when you see the world and learn real skills to prepare you for who knows what will happen in your life.

You’ll learn life skills, adulting, as they say. How to sew, how to fish, how to cook and make a beautiful hotel bed. How to be a self-sufficient person, and carry what you need on your back.

You’ll learn real leadership skills. What’s your leadership style? How do you respond to criticism and negative feedback — positive feedback? How do you encourage others to live up to a higher standard?

You’ll learn how to survive in the wild, get certified in scuba diving and thai massage, lead a dance team, travel solo, drink wine and know if it’s even any good.

If this is starting to sound like the best gap year ever, then yes, you should apply right away. The application is easy, and you don’t have to finish it all at once. We can get all the passport stuff later. We’ll go through every detail of what you need to prepare for your gap year as part of our enrollment and onboarding process for our gap year, semester, and summer programs. Anything that needs working on we’ll make sure you know about as soon as possible.

Travel visas for your gap year, risk management training for your independent study projects, packing lists for backpacking in Europe, Asia, and the American wilderness. We help you do all of these things, so you’re not out in the middle of some foreign country, flailing.

Our Field Advisors will be your mentors. They’ve been through this before. A lot of us think we’re pretty good at communicating. The truth is we’re not. We have to learn. We all need practice listening, leading, persuading, consolidating, compromising.

Our gap year programs are all built on cohort models. You need to learn to live in community in order to know how leadership works, how being a follower of a good idea can be incredibly powerful, and take your peers to the next level. How to help.

But you’re not together all the time. Each trimester, you’ll do an independent study project on your gap year. For the first two, we give you a bunch of choices. After that, we set you up with support and months of planning to make your totally solo time an amazing and valuable experience.

You’ll come back with a totally different perspective on the world. You may be the same you, but you’ll be way more excited, motivated, and ready to jump into using the skills you’ll need for the rest of your life!

Ready for the best gap year ever?

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Live Infosession coming up

We’re hosting a live info-session featuring the Winterline Dean of Students this month! Come get your questions answered about admissions strategies, application info, and what you’ll learn on a gap year with Winterline. (Hint: we’re all about skills.)

The info-session will feature a run-through of our current programs, why you should take a gap year, why skills education is awesome, and why traveling with your friends makes for a better gap year and study abroad experience. We’ll also talk about our newer semester and summer abroad programs, if you’re looking to get a taste of the Winterline experience.

Our gap year programs are inclusive and we welcome students to apply from a wide variety of backgrounds. If traveling the world with an amazing group of friends and learning a new skill in a new place almost every week sounds like the program for you, then RSVP immediately.


Time and date: January 24th @8pm EST. (If this isn’t a good time, please fill out this super-short survey and let us know when works for you.

Your host: Susie Childs, Dean of Admissions at Winterline Global Education

Susie Childs.png

Why Malia’s Gap Year Matters

Every year, more and more young people are taking gap years. Whether it’s a new celebritythought leader, actor, activist, gap years are becoming increasingly more common as a way to broaden and diversify the learning experiences young people go through before hitting the post-college world.

With last summer’s news of Malia Obama taking a year off, gap years have seen a marked spur in interest in the States, which we’ve heard reiterated around the country as we tour with the USA Gap Year Fairs.

But why does it matter that Malia’s taking a gap year? Should we be concerned that she’s taken a year off before starting college? Are we perhaps over-concerned about the choices of the President’s daughters? Of all the education topics we could be concerned about, why take a gap year?

The truth is, the American public education system has become overly interested in test-taking and rote learning, a paradigm that has only accelerated in the last 15 years. The downside isn’t that measuring progress is a bad thing. It’s that too often, measurement is defined in very narrow terms, leading us to over-emphasize the value of math and reading skills. To be clear, these skills are very important in predicting academic success. However, their correlation to success in life in general is far less clear. Moreover, the goal of education is not mere academic success, but rather preparation for life.


Howard Gardner’s seminal work on Multiple Intelligences Theory at the Harvard Graduate School of Education makes a very strong research case for the value of not only the many ways in which we can be educated, but also successful in life. Broadening the ways we define education as well as the autonomy of students to shape and design their own education is of increasing value in a highly specialized 21st century economy.

Which brings us to Malia.

The gap year is probably the only opportunity in your education career when you can physically step out of the bounds of a classroom and design your own learning for a sustained period of time. The gap year is in many ways the most powerful way to gain real experience, learn skills, and get a tactile sense of what it means to live and work in the world. If you’re able to travel during that time, it can give you an even greater sense of how the world really works, and what it means to live in a globalized, interconnected planet and economy.

Malia’s gap year, to spend time interning at the US Embassy in Spain, probably gave her an immense variety of skills and experience to prepare her for going back to school, this time at Harvard University, (just down the street). In addition to the international experience and being able to look upon her home country from a distance, she’s likely been able to brush up on her Spanish, already apparently quite good, develop greater independence, and learn the ins and outs of what our State Department is doing abroad. There’s likely no short list to the number of skills she’s learned during that experience.

And though her gap year experience was designed to be highly specialized, that’s not essential for most gap years. For many, the gap year is an opportunity to explore new experiences. Too many students go into their junior year of college having no idea what to major in. And it’s likely not their fault!

To know when you don’t know enough is a critical life skill. However, under pressure to declare, many make decisions that they ultimately regret, or change, costing them extra time on the back end, and forcing them to spend even more time in classrooms gaining academic experience, instead of real world experience!

The gap year is your opportunity to get things out in the open sooner. To start the life germination process on a clear-eyed, good foot. To not just think about what you want to do, but gain exposure to a wider variety of life paths, and to learn what is it that you actually enjoy doing, and what challenges you.

Malia’s decision to defer admission to arguably the nation’s best university, is good news for all of us because it highlights the value of taking the time to design your own life, strike out on a new course for independence, and gain real world experience that will inevitably prove useful in your life.

Interested in joining us for a gap year?

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Students speak about why they took a gap year

Below are the written quotes and testimonials by students from our gap year program, just before they returned back home, safe and sound.

I always thought like there’s really no room to do things differently.

I wasn’t set on my goals or aspirations, things like that, I was seeking adventure.

So I thought, take a year, slow down and just understand the things I want to do and the person I want to be, and Winterline just seemed to fit that very well.

Going into it, I knew it was a bit of a different program.

It’s a gap year program, but what it really is is an opportunity to step out of that zone of being a tourist and fully immerse yourself in a culture.

Just completely shifts your perspective of what this world has to offer.

Just had like those moments of, “Wow. The world is connected.”

You’re rarely in a classroom setting, you’re always moving.

No matter what your interests are, you’re going to find something you really love on this trip.

It’s kind of given us a chance to test the waters.


It teaches you how to travel, how to function when you’re so tired that you can barely function.

You’re in a different place every week and you’re with sixteen drastically different people.

Kids from all over the world.

Our lives were different, our cultures were different, and yet, I can still find a connection with them.

We wanted to explore what we wanted to do with the rest of our lives, and none of us were sure. And I think that really brought us all together and formed this kind of tight-knit family.

9-months later I know so much about these people that I couldn’t even say about my closest friends from home. These are life-long friends for sure.

Documentary Filmmaking India

You see in the brochure that you’re going to learn 100 skills, but I never expected to learn things about myself.

I have a much better understanding of who I am, and that that person is ever-changing, and that that’s ok.

I really have no idea what I want to do, but I’m ok with that, and I’m confident in that.

I did find a purpose for myself, which I really didn’t expect to.

The trip changes you a bit, and I think for the better.

Take the risk.

Come here so you can step out of your comfort zone. Come here so you can make that first step over that line.

It’s 9 months of traveling the world doing anything and everything. It’s your best experiences, it’s your worst experiences, it’s your favorite moments, it’s your mental breakdowns, all come together to change your perspective on the world.

Interested in joining us for a gap year?

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Student Video: Gap year Week 1 Orientation

Students travel together for 9 months across 10 countries learning 100 different skills, and that means building up the knowledge at the beginning around healthy communication, leaning out of the comfort zone, dealing with conflict, personal care, and getting smart about packing light.

But that doesn’t mean there isn’t time to get out and explore. Our student, Sam, made this video to capture the beautiful moments during and in between our intense orientation schedule.

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Video: Getting to school in the morning on your gap year

And you do this for 9 months, learning crazy new skills at each place, meeting beautiful people.

Here’s a video of one of those mornings, someplace new.

Our students learn to travel using a wide variety of local media. By the end of their 9 months, they are skilled at riding trains, buses, cars, planes, horses, tuktuks, sometimes even water buffalo.

They learn how to bargain for the right rates, how to use the metro in a foreign city, and how to stay awake on an international flight from Phnom Penh to Bangkok to Mumbai India. They learn how to travel safely, know when to say ‘No’ to a seemingly attractive opportunity, and how to eat right.

Street food in particular is a major concern. The survival and wilderness skills they learn in their first trimester, backpacking and getting certified in Wilderness First Aid with NOLS becomes immediately relevant, despite the absence of a natural environment. Bangkok can be quite wild. As can Mumbai, Phnom Penh, Singapore, Venice, even Munich.

Ready to join us?

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Six Reasons to Take a NOLS Course on Your Gap Year

NOLS has long been a leader in the field of outdoor education. Netflix founder Marc Randolph famously did his first NOLS course at age 14.

But why do we value it so much for our gap year and semester programs? Why do we prioritize it so early on in our global skills programs?

1. Wilderness experiences push you beyond where you thought you could go.bamae_cold_nols_outdoors.jpg

Every time the wilderness beats you up, you have a chance to push through. We want our students to know from day one of their gap year experience that they are capable of far more than they previously imagined.  That insight serves them greatly when they get to even stranger places on the other side of world. Knowing that you have an ever greater capacity, as well as knowing your limits, are critical components of what you can learn on a NOLS course.

2. You will learn skills that save livesoliver_with_syringe_wfa.jpg

During your NOLS course, you’ll get a chance to learn how to cook in the wild, how to keep your body warm, how to treat water, how to deal with intense inclement weather, how to read a map, the essentials of packing everything on your back and carrying your home, the essentials of hiking. On our gap year programs, students enter the wilderness experience having completed a Wilderness First Aid Certification, and the NOLS course is a real-life opportunity to put that experience into further practice.

3. You need to get away from your daily routine comforts to grow.ominous_mountain_valley_nols_outdoors_hiking.jpg

For our students to have the best gap year ever, they need to understand the relationship between comfort and learning. If your plan is to spend your gap year in as cushy an environment as possible, don’t be surprised if you learn very little. To really get a sense of how the other half lives, you need to live with the other half. Whether that’s in the wilderness, in the bustling streets of Bangkok, or the trim avenues of Western Europe, you’ll find discomfort somewhere. The more you learn to seek out that discomfort, the more prepared you are for life.

4. Your decisions have consequences.

hiking_nols_colorado_reflection_consequences.jpgOn a NOLS course, especially on the custom programs we’ve built for our students, you’ll have the chance to make decisions with real consequences. How you inspire your fellow travelers, how you navigate the wilderness, how you respond to changes in the weather — these all matter. There is no ‘reset’ button when you’re in the wild, and your teachers will give you the chance to make real mistakes, within reason of course. But if you mismanage your group, it could mean having to walk through the dark after the sun has gone down, or waiting out in the cold. Real responsibility builds real character.

5. You will learn about your leadership style.nols_heating_food_cooking_campfire_warming_hands_sunglasses_gap_year_program.jpg

Everyone has their own way of doing things, especially when it comes to leading. One of the critical components of the NOLS course is how leadership training is codified and refined, so that you can learn about yourself, your strength areas as well as your weakness areas. What are the boundaries of your comfort zone, and what level of control do you insist on having over your teammates when given the leadership role? To know both ends of the spectrum is a distinct life advantage. You can imagine why the founder of Netflix sees NOLS as one of the most valuable experiences of his life.

6. Wilderness experiences create shared identity and powerful memorieshiking_together_in_colorado_mountain_view_vista_boys_lake_gap_year_programs.jpg

When we design our gap year programs, we don’t just send students out to travel to different places around the world. We have very clear learning objectives in mind regarding skills, self-discovery, and team learning. No one should go it alone. When you begin your gap year, you’ll want to know that your friends and fellow travelers will have your back when the going gets tough. It’s not enough to know that they’ll stick with you in the good times. You never know what kinds of situations you’ll find yourself in. Having beared the wild together, you’ll know that you have others you can rely on, and can travel the world safely and confidently, knowing that each of you has earned their trust and their place in the circle.


Student Video: My Gap Year With Winterline

Nothing warms our hearts more than knowing that our students have made lifelong friendships, grown in their personal lives, and learned skills to prepare them for the real world.

One of our alumna, Sydney, put this video together, demonstrating proficiency in all of these critical life areas.

The opening shots are an actual “Winterline” in the Himalayas. The phenomenon where the sun’s light is dispersed horizontally by a massive compression of warm, sub-continental air by the cold mountain air. The Winterline represents a false horizon, whereby, when you are able to ascend above it, you can see a new truth, a new vision of beauty and reality.

They travel to Bangkok, where they learn to meditate and participate in the annual water festival.

In Phnom Penh, the great buddhist architectural heritage site, they visit the many spaces by bicycle, learning of the rich history of intellectualism and religion there.

They ride tuktuks in India, learn etiquette and wine tasting in Europe. They visit castles, eat plenty, play in the snow in Vermont, fly around the world, learn Thai massage, ride trains in Spain and the Netherlands. Learn business in Boston. Ride in boats in Panama and Costa Rica, Venice, and even get a time to play in the pool and run a few charity races.

At the end is the Winterline ceremony of completion, where we bring the families together for a big party and graduation.

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5 Things I Wish I Knew Before College

Most of the wisdom you’ll gain is sure to come as a result of new and exciting challenges.

Taking a gap year is easily one of the best ways to gain self-confidence and maturity before beginning a demanding four years as a student. But whatever your plans are before freshman year, here are five tips to take the edge off.

1. Master the Art of Finding Time for Yourself

Between taking classes, writing twenty page papers, participating in clubs, making new friends, and going out on weekends, it can be hard to carve out quality alone time.

Social life in college is often 24/7, starting in the morning when your roommate insists on telling you about his weekend, continuing throughout the day until the late night cramming session with your study group, and ending as you fall asleep facetiming a high school best friend.

Intentionally planning some daily isolation can do wonders for your mental clarity. Especially in the first year of school, when so much effort goes into first impressions, being alone can be relaxing and rejuvenating. When campus life gets overwhelming, one of the best things you can do is overcoming the wrath of #FOMO.

Take a run, watch a show, make some art – if even just for a few hours. Then get back out there and make the effort!


2. Don’t Make a Habit of Skipping and Being Late

This one depends a lot on the size of your school. At a huge university, your professor might not notice if you show up to class at all. At a small college, like mine, professors set clear standards for tardiness and attendance.

All it takes is a little humiliation to set a flake on the straight and narrow. I was never late to one particular class again after a very awkward situation involving me getting locked out and having to bang on the door during a professor’s passionate speech on personal accountability, before tip toeing through a maze of people in a tiny room while carrying a 50 pound chair over my head, which of course only fit in the far back corner.

If skipping and being late really are so convenient, consider the true benefits of flaking. Will you actually do the readings and take the notes outside of class? Or are are you just telling yourself you will, until the night before the final when you don’t recognize half the content on the study guide your studious friend just sent you.

Frequently skipping and being late is a bad look. If a class is too early, don’t take it. If a class is too boring, drop it. If it’s required for your major and you hate it, either reconsider your major or knuckle down and stay motivated.

But every now and then, when you’re too cold to get out of bed and the weather’s crap, feel free to turn off your seven subsequent iPhone alarms and roll right back over.


3) Don’t Try to Do It All in Four Years

College offers a lot, but too many freshmen go into their first year of school expecting the “best years of their lives”. If you frantically seek this unrealistic, glorified endgoal, you may come out four years later exhausted, disappointed, unfulfilled, and unable to shake the feeling that you missed out on something.

Meet tons of people, but don’t try to meet everyone. If you’re lucky enough to have found a supportive friend group, be able to recognize and appreciate that.

Sign up for clubs that really interest you, but don’t sign up for every club. Or do, go to the first meeting of each one, and blow off the rest. Branch out and take classes outside your major, but don’t sacrifice your mental health over a 300-level Russian literature course.

Nobody likes feeling boxed in or confined to a narrow routine with a select few things or people, and during freshman year it can be especially stressful feeling like you’ve made too many defining decisions too early.

But we also don’t often appreciate what we have while we have it. Seek this mindfulness, and reap the benefits of your current situation.

4) Get to Know Your Professors

Professors are old people in spiffy clothing who know everything. Just ask, and they can tell you about the secrets of the world, legends of the past, stories of trust and betrayal, ancient scriptures, or maybe just something pertaining to their particular area of study. You’ll never know if you don’t ask!

Building relationships with professors is invaluable. Not only are they well paid and (hopefully) nice people who are often very receptive to interested students, they are also an incredible resource.

Your professors can help you thrive academically by telling you exactly where you need to improve and giving out personalized advice. If you bring them a draft of a paper during office hours, then they’ll make edits to the paper that they’re themselves going to be grading later! It’s so convenient it almost seems corrupt. It’s not though – because in a good college your professors care about you and what you’re learning far more than they care about the grade.

That’s not to say you can expect to spend the whole semester skipping class, only to cruise into the professor’s office the day before the final paper is due, throw a draft on the desk and receive some magical annotations for an A. The benefits you get from the relationship are tied directly to the effort you put into it.

Most professors are published at some level, and are part of a network of professionals in their particular field. Ideally, at the end of four years you’ll be able to reach out to a professor and take advantage of their references and professional connections.

Fishing in Wyoming NOLS

5) Learn How to be Smart with your Money

As a college student, you’ll be broke most of the time.

But the type of school you go to and how the students spend their free time can have a big impact on exactly how broke.

If your campus is in a big city, prepare for the pressures of nightlife, expensive food, and constant event admission fees. The extra expenses may be worth it if you crave access to an exciting metropolitan lifestyle. Balance out the costs by mastering public transportation, walking, cooking for yourself, or supplementing your diet with dollar pizza.

If your campus is in the middle of the woods or in a small college town, you’ll still find ways to go broke. Most of your money will probably go towards food, gas (if you have a car), textbooks, and weekend debauchery.

Trim the fat by taking the campus shuttle or carpooling when possible, gently mooching off of people, and buying used books online. Get a job as soon as quickly as possible, and figure out whether or not jobs in town pay more than those off campus.

Go to parties, don’t host them; and if Greek life is your thing, reap the benefits of free refreshments. Optimize your school breaks by figuring out who lives in your area and who has the best summer houses.

If you’re interested in going abroad, find out the cost of the abroad programs your school offers and the foreign universities they partner with compared to a regular semester’s tuition.

Overall, the best advice is to simply get comfortable being broke. And remember, some of the most successful businesses began in college dorms. So get busy!

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Callie’s BMW Driving School Experience

This is what it’s like to do the Winterline program.

In the third trimester of our gap year program, our students travel to Europe and the United States, where they learn about systems theory and societies from a wider perspective. But they also get a chance to learn how to race BMWs on a closed track.

Defensive driving is as much about anticipating occurrences in your environment as it is about being able to out-maneuver your obstacles.

Many people learn defensive driving at some point in there lives. But Callie learned this skill from a German driving coach at the BMW Driving School outside Frankfurt.

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Why Winterline is Awesome: Skills-Based Gap Year Programs

In this info-video, Susie and Ben from HQ go in-depth into how our programs work, where our students travel, and answer questions about preparation, applications, and scholarships.

The Winterline gap year is about giving students ownership over their education, giving them control of what they’re learning, enabling them to be excited about what they’re learning for the rest of their lives.

“Every day is extraordinary. Every day I’m doing something I’ve never done before. And that’s how I hope to live the rest of my life.” – Student, Molly, Boston, MA.

We’ve created a skills-based gap year program, giving students a chance to sample of a lot of different areas, figure out what their interests are, and become confident and competent in what they’re learning. You travel to 10 different countries over 9 months. The gap year program is a great chance to try a lot of different things. You can check things off and say, ‘Ok I tried that,’ and know whether something is what you want to pursue in college or in a career.

“I am blown away again and again by the Winterline program. Seeing the photos and reading the blogs makes me feel joy.” – Parent, Kate, Cambridge, MA.

We are looking for students who are eager and willing to try new things. Our gap year program is not in a classroom. After 13 years in a classroom, you won’t be at a desk. You’ll be learning in the field, getting certifications that may be applicable for jobs and school, as well as meditation, scuba diving, building a house. You’ll be traveling the world on your gap year. You’ll learn everything from personal finance to how to look a person in the eye when you’re talking to them. You’re going to come away with a lot of different skills that you might not even realize until after the fact.

We deliver our skills by partnering with top-notch organizations around the world, cherry-picked for quality and delivering the kind of experiential education we value. You’re not sitting in a classroom with someone telling you what to do. You’re out there, learning and trying different things, sweating, laughing, backpacking.

The skills we teach are practical, real-world skills. They are the focus of all Winterline programs. We want students to come out of the program with deliverable skills and be able to contribute to the world. Our focus is to make students both confident and competent, and those are two very different things. We want our students to be competent in a number of different areas. If you’re just coming out of high school, by the time you finish the program you’ll be entering college at a completely different level than your peers. You’ll have a better sense of what you want to study, as well as be on your way toward doing and being able to do those things.

Not all the skills are equally loved by every student. Sometimes a student will say, “Oh I tried that and I didn’t like it at all. And that’s just as valuable.” You might learn early on that perhaps you don’t like engineering, and that can save you years on the other end.

“I am going to be the best husband possible. I can do Thai massage, make beds, know how to be a butler, sew a button on an ironed shirt.” Student, Cole, Millwood, NY

In the end, you may even find that these competencies make you well-loved by many different people because of your new skills.

Ready to apply for our gap year program?


Don’t Send Your Kids Off To College. At Least Not Yet.

In this article posted by Nicholas Kristof to his New York Times blog, On The Ground, Abigail Falk looks at the statistics and trends on the pros and cons of the gap year.

Is the education system failing our students? Is the conveyor belt to college even worth it? Are there solutions?

Falk examines the missed opportunity of branding the ‘gap year’ as a ‘gap’. We need to “rebrand the “gap year” as anything but a “gap.”’


“When used intentionally, the year before college can be a bridge, a launch pad and a new rite of passage. It’s the students who find the courage to step off the treadmill – replacing textbooks with experience and achievement with exploration – who are best prepared for life after high school. And a growing number of colleges are taking notice.”

The truth is, the value of a gap year is becoming ever increasingly prominent in American life. Global perspective, a sense of one’s own strengths and weakness, the ability to lead, persuade, and listen deeply to peers. These are all skills that sit on the sidelines of traditional education, but can be taken up as a focal point during one’s gap year. Indeed, it may be the best opportunity to learn them.

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Best-selling Author, Michael Thompson, PhD Believes in a Gap Year

Of course, taking a gap year helps teens better prepare for college both personally and academically in more ways than one—Michael Thompson, PhD strongly agrees.

As a well-known clinical psychologist, New York Times Best-selling Author, and International speaker, you could say that he’s an expert on all subjects pertaining to children, schools, and parenting. He has written nine books, including Homesick and Happy: How Time Away from Parents Can Help a Child Grow, which discusses how spending time away from parents is extremely beneficial. Matter of fact, Thompson has written extensively about the benefits of high school students taking a gap year before starting college on his own website.

I recently had the opportunity to interview Thompson, who champions taking a gap year before college and here’s what he had to say:

Q:  What is the main reason that you advocate teens taking a gap year between high school and college?

A:  Students, especially high-achieving ones, have been on a 13-year school treadmill and many are burnt out. Taking a gap year can be refreshing and help students return to school better focused. A gap year gives teens a chance to grow up and mature. It’s as simple as that.

Q:  Do you think classroom learning is sometimes overrated?

A: Yes! Somehow we got the idea that school is the best place to learn and that all of the important learning takes place in a school setting. But that has not been my life experience. Much of the important learning in my life has taken place outside of the classroom. There is this assumption that everyone has to go to college immediately after high school, but it is not necessarily the best thing to do.

Years ago, I met this very interesting father of a high school senior that had already been accepted to a very prestigious college. Other parents would not have questioned whether their teen should go straight to college, but he did. He explained to me, “Ages 18 to 25 are your highest energy years—the best years to test your entrepreneurial skills.” It turned out that at 18, this man had traveled abroad and then started his own business, which had become a very successful company. He didn’t want his son to miss out on life experiences by attending college, before he had seen the world. And that’s just one stand-out example.

Q:  You talk about “concerted cultivation”. What do you mean by that and how does a gap year address this?

A:  A gap year gives teens a chance to be independent from their parents. Time away from parents helps a child grow, especially in this day and age of “concerted cultivation” where parents are doing more for their children than ever before. Many parents are doing too much for their teens—in some cases almost everything—right down to arranging internships for them. It’s no surprise that teens learn self-sufficiency if they get a job on their own. I had a private school education and when I look back on my life, the biggest growth experience I had was working the night shift at Coney Island.

Away from their parents, young adults learn how to take care of themselves, how to live without certain comforts, such as cable television, and how to navigate situations on their own. On a gap year, teens face different daily challenges that they have to handle independently and personally. They have to make their own choices.

Q:  How can a gap year re-ignite a teen’s perspective on life and passion for learning?

A:  A gap year provides students with the chance to take a break from the daily grind of academics. Plus, they can see how the concepts they’ve learned in school translate into a real world environment. Most teens return from a gap year with better focus and a better sense of what they want to study and do in life. For example, studying a foreign language in school is great, but think about how much more fluent a student can become if they spend all day conversing and living amongst native speakers of that language.

For example, I know a young woman who was admitted to Harvard in January, so she chose to take a gap half-year. She decided to go to Paris for a change of pace and to practice her French. She sublet an apartment and earned money tutoring American high school students living in France, helping them prepare for the SAT’s. When she got to Harvard in late January, she told me that she felt much older than her classmates who simply had a jump-start on school. In France, she had lived independently from her family (even though they helped her with her airfare and some of her expenses) and admittedly had struggled to become fluent in a second language. She also had to deal with loneliness and all of the challenges of foreign culture. But she did it. She got a job and earned some money, traveled a bit, and experienced life in another country. Essentially, on her own. Again, mastering those challenges and learning some valuable life skills helped her flourish quicker than just more classroom work.

Q:  Some parents are concerned that if their teen takes a gap year, they might never go to college. Should they be worried?

A:  That is rarely an issue with motivated students. Furthermore, I would argue that it is risky to send unmotivated or immature students to college—especially boys who are more likely to flunk out of their freshman year. It’s a fact that college students in the United States are surrounded by the heaviest drinking segment of the American population. If a young man is not psychologically motivated for college, he can become depressed, go socially wild, or simply be an indifferent student. By seeing more of the world, students return to school more grown up. They think about their actions and approaches. And are definitely more prepared for college.

Dr. Thompson travels about eighty days a year making keynote presentations, running workshops for teachers, and consulting schools and parent groups. He has visited more than five hundred schools in the U.S., Europe, Central and South America, and Asia. He is certainly a knowledgeable resource and advocate of traveling abroad, especially for taking a gap year.


Randi Mazzella is a mother of three children and freelance writer.  Her work has appeared in many online and in print publications including Teen Life, Your Teen, Raising Teens, NJ Family and

7 Quotes from College Administrators on the Benefits of a Gap Year

We’ve highlighted the steps students need to take a college deferment. More publications are picking up the story on the value of a gap year, from the New York Times, to the Boston Globe, and the benefits of a gap year are many. But what do colleges think about gap years?

Interested in taking your own gap year?


Here’s what college deans and administrators are saying about taking a gap year:

Florida State Gap YearFlorida State

Joe O’Shea as director of Florida State University’s Office of Undergraduate Research, head of the AGA board, and author of the Gap Year: How Delaying College Changes People in the Ways the World Needs has cited in gap year articles and in his book.

1. “One telling observation is that many students who take gap years end up changing their intended major after returning. During college, their gap year experiences enrich their courses, strengthen co-curricular endeavors, and animate undergraduate research and creative projects.”

2. “Going overseas helps to cultivate a type of independence and self-confidence that staying close to home in a familiar environment probably does not. Furthermore, taking the traditional kind of gap year after high school helps students to take full advantage of their time in college.

Middlebury College Gap YearMiddlebury College

Bob Clagett served as Dean of Admissions at Middlebury College. He also served as Director of College Counseling at St. Stephen’s Episcopal School in Austin, TX, and as the Senior Admissions Officer at Harvard University for 21 years.

3. “Stepping off the educational treadmill for six months or a year between high school and college can be an important way to remind themselves of what their education should really be about. It can also lead to a much more productive experience once they are enrolled in college, since those students will frequently be more mature, more focused, and more aware of what they want to do with their college education.”

4. “The prevailing wisdom is that kids are going to lose their hard-earned study skills if they take a gap year. The opposite is true.”

Princeton Gap YearPrinceton

A poignant quote from Fred A. Hargadon, then Dean of Admissions at Princeton University.

5. “I am convinced that one’s college education is greatly enhanced by the maturity, experience, and perspective a student can bring post gap year.” Princeton’s Bridge Year is a tuition-free program that allows a select number of incoming freshmen to begin their Princeton experience by engaging in nine months of University-sponsored service at one of five international locations. In addition to supporting community-based initiatives at each program site, Bridge Year aims to provide participants with greater international perspective and intercultural skills, an opportunity for personal growth and reflection, and a deeper appreciation of service in both a local and international context.

Harvard Gap YearHarvard

William Fitzsimmons, dean of admissions and financial aid at Harvard University promotes gap years to his Ivy League students.

6. “The feedback from students almost all the time has been that this experience was transformative. The more life experience you bring, the better off you are in school.”

“Occasionally students are admitted to Harvard or other colleges in part because they accomplished something unusual during a year off. While no one should take a year off simply to gain admission to a particular college, time away almost never makes one a less desirable candidate or less well prepared for college.”

Connecticut College Gap YearConnecticut College

Martha Merrill, as dean of admission and financial aid at Connecticut College, encourages students to study abroad and take a gap year.

7. “It’s reached the point where a lot of us in admissions are talking about ways to get students to just kind of relax [between high school and college].

A detailed list of colleges in support of gap years and deferment:

Here’s a comprehensive list of colleges that are fully in support of taking a gap year you can view on the Gap Year Association’s (GYA) website.

There are so many reasons to pick the perfect program and embark on the journey of a lifetime before heading right to campus.

Sources: Gap Year Association, prestigious college websites, various blogs and articles about exploring the idea of a gap year.

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