We know that walking into a gap year fair can be really overwhelming. There are dozens of companies lined up, showcasing enormous banners full of colorful photos and invitations to have the best gap year ever. It can be nerve-wracking even for the exhibitors. We understand that students and families may not know how to make the most of their gap year fair. But we want you to use these fairs to your advantage. So when you attend a gap year fair near you, use these tips to ensure that you walk away with a better understanding of which programs are a good fit for you.
Before the Fair
Do some research beforehand. You don’t need to know the complete details of every single gap year program in existence, but it helps to have an idea of what makes programs different. The USA Gap Year Fair website has a comprehensive list of programs, though there may not be representatives attending from each one. Scroll through and see which ones stand out to you. Are there certain things about them that excite you and you want to learn more about? Are there questions you want to ask a representative? When you arrive at the fair, even just recognizing the program names can help you feel more comfortable. Having specific talking points will also give you a deeper understanding of the program.
When you’re doing research, remember that substance and curriculum are the most important parts! It’s easy to get drawn in by bold colors, fun photos, and compelling taglines, but every program has those to some extent. Use your preparation time to start thinking about aspects that are most important to you. For example, do you want a program that focuses heavily on volunteering or internships? Do you want to spend your gap year fully immersed in one location, or do you want to travel to multiple places? If you want to travel, would you prefer spending time in multiple cities in one country or region, or would you prefer a program that takes you around the world? Are you interested in a specific focus or do you want to learn a broad range of skills?
By considering this information, you’ll narrow down what type of programs interest you. Then you can match up those topics with specific organizations. That way, when you get to the fair, you have a better idea of what you want and which people to talk to make the most of your time.
At the Fair
Visit the booths of the organizations you picked out before the fair! Tell them what intrigued you most about their program and ask them any questions you had. That said, don’t immediately count out every other booth and leave as soon as you’ve finished with the ones on your list. Talking in person gives you a much better understanding than a website will. You may fall in love with a program that you overlooked during your research.
The main point of these gap year fairs is to help you figure out what makes each program different. Again, each one will take you on a really cool gap year – that’s not breaking news. But these fairs allow us as organizations to emphasize to you what makes our program unique. For example, here at Winterline, what makes us stand out is our emphasis on skills-based learning. On a Winterline gap year, you learn 100 new skills in different countries all around the world. No other gap year can say that.
It can be really helpful to take notes during your conversation or immediately after it, even if it’s just jotting down some key points on your phone. You’ll likely talk to a lot of people, so it helps to have information to look back on. If you’re going with a family member or friend, ask them to take notes, too. Then, you can compare later. Most booths also offer pamphlets and brochures, so don’t hesitate to take papers to refer to later. Finally, each fair gives registered guests a unique QR code with your contact information. If you’re interested, allow representatives to scan your QR code so they can reach out to you later.
After the Fair
Take a deep breath and relax: you did it!
You don’t need to take action right away, but in the next few days, make it a point to look over your notes. Which programs stand out to you, even now? Which ones can you not stop thinking about? Which ones make you truly excited to think about?
Hopefully, now you can narrow down which programs you really want to focus on, and begin the process of applying and preparing for your gap year. If you still have questions, don’t hesitate to reach out using the contact information on the website. Here at Winterline, we love to hear from and talk to students, and we know that other gap years feel the same.