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Selecting the perfect gap year program is a necessity if your soon-to-graduate teen or college student taking a break from school is to get the most out of his or her experience. Even though it is not a 4 year committment like college, it certainly needs an extensive amount of reseach and planning to select the right program. Here are some of the questions parents and students should ask before committing to a gap year program and sending in the "they are going!" deposit check.

1. Does the program offer a strong connection with the community and its infrastructure?
Parents and students should choose a program that has a strong local connection; a program that will truly integrate them with the people surrounding them. It should have a close, intimate relationship with the community or communities if they are visiting multiple countries or locations. Programs certainly cannot give students on their trip the same experience and flavor as the local people who say live in Costa Rica or Thailand, or even Canada for that matter. Additionally, each program should be partially run by the people in that country, so they can introduce them to their culture, family and friends, cook their local food, and simply live as they do.

2. Is the program reputable and safe?
Parents and students should do ample research before selecting any program, but safety is of utmost importance. Respected programs should have good reputations and records of safety. A partnerships with the International SOS, which links to one of the biggest travel advisory organizations in the world is a must. International SOS provides medical assistance, International healthcare, and security services. This service is available to anyone traveling abroad on a gap year program or traveling abroad in general. For example, International SOS played a key role in the safety and evacuation of students that were recently in the tragic midst of Nepal's earthquakes. It's also important to make sure that every trip advisor is well trained and readily prepared to implement a safety plan on the spot if needed.

3. What recommendations does the program have?
Consider a gap year program that gets rave reviews or that other students you know have gone on. Talking to family, friends, the program's alumni, etc. provides the most honest recommendation you can find. And don't hesitate to call them up, even multiple times if you have lots of questions. From the marketing and admissions teams to the Curriculum Director and Exectutive Director like our very own Nathan Scott from Winterline. Every staff member should be willing to jump on the phone to provide the maximum amout of information available and to discuss the unique aspects of their program to put you at ease. It always helps to get an insiders view and prespective. They should even be willing to tell you what they think about other programs, why they work and run the program they do, and what they are planning in the future.

4. Does it have a strong alumni network?
Gap year connections can help students far down the line. Gap year programs provide networks for college, internships, and jobs long after their trips are over. It's one thing to connect with other students and learn everything about a culture while traveling, but it's another thing to realize that you can leverage it long afterwards, too. With social media and even LinkedIn professionally, there are an infinite number of connections that you can make. Winterline ends its program in Boston, the mecca of technology start-ups, with trainig in business planning and management. Lots of connections to be made.

These are just 4 of the important questions parents and students should ask when doing due diligence  in their gap year search. Again, a gap year should not only be adventurous and life-fulfilling, but it should also help a student gain independence and leadership for the longterm. No student can do that before getting all of the information absolutely needed to embark on their journey of a lifetime. It's also worth noting that the gap year industry is growing by leaps and bounds every year, but rest assured most programs have exprierenced staff that have long been in the industry.