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  • Writer's pictureAlmeera Eman

How to make the most of your gap year with Gap Year Accelerator

You’ve got 12 months, or maybe even just a semester. So, what’s the secret to making sure your gap year is purposeful, fun and memorable? In today’s episode, we’re spilling the beans as we share our newest program: Gap Year Accelerator!

Michelle dives into the three phases of Accelerator, common challenges gappers face and how Accelerator supports in implementing solutions. She also explores one of the most exciting outcomes of the program - earning the International Student of Leadership and Humanity Award! This award consists of 7 micro-credentials that help gappers expand their skills and get international recognition for their growth and achievements.

Drive your gap year forward by listening in to learn more!

Topics Discussed

  • Gap Year Accelerator: What is it and how it works

  • Exploring the 3 most common gap year challenges and how Accelerator supports gappers through these obstacles.

  • What to expect during months 1 -3: Power Prep

  • What to expect during months 4 - 8: EPIC Execution

  • What to expect during months 9 - 12: Readiness & Reintegration

  • The Student of Leadership & Humanity Award framework and a sneak peek into the 7 core program pillars.

  • What to expect from our 3-day Toronto and virtual bootcamps

Resources Mentioned In This Episode

Connect With The Canadian Gap Year Association


Michelle Dittmer - 00:00

Hey there and welcome to the Gap Year podcast! My name is Michelle Dittmer and I am your host and gap year expert.

Today I want to talk about how young people can get the best support for their gap time.

Now I've been in the gap year support space for a long time, we're approaching 15 years now so I know a thing or two about gap years and the pitfalls and the real keys to making a gap year work for young people.

I can also say that we as a team here at CanGap, have learned a lot about how the needs of gappers has evolved and changed a little bit since the start of the pandemic and being the team that we are, we are very agile and we continue to innovate and find ways to better serve gap year students and their families.

So today I'm going to introduce you to our baby, the Gap Year Accelerator! So you might have seen this come through in emails or on our website, but I really wanted to dive deep today and share how this program addresses some of the key challenges that gapers face on their gap year and how is the best support that you can get with just the right amount of involvement from an outside external organization, but while still maintaining the integrity of your gap year and that independence that we want as we are growing into our gap years.

So let's talk about what those three very common and very prevalent challenges are for, I would say just about every gapper.

Michelle Dittmer - 02:42

The first challenge is that gappers don't know what to do on their gap year and they don't know how to get set up for success.

That's a real challenge. How do you get that momentum? How do you make the plans? How do you set the goals? All of those components are so foundational to this jump from a highly structured school environment to being fully responsible for your time and the activities that you engage in.

And not being set up, not knowing what to do can really get in the way and cause a lot of wasted time and really get in the way of having a very purposeful gap year.

So challenge number one is not knowing what to do and not knowing how to get started.

Michelle Dittmer - 03:29

Challenge #2 is losing motivation. A year is a long time to be responsible for all of the activities and to not have somebody there running tests and exams and changing semesters, all of these external motivating factors that we've grown up with through the school system not having a boss that's going to do your paycheck every week as adults.

Sometimes we can lose momentum and we can lose excitement over the course of an entire year, so that's kind of the challenge #2 is sometimes we fall into times of stagnation or times when we don't quite feel as excited about what's going on, so that's pitfall #2.

Michelle Dittmer - 04:18

The third one that I often see is a feeling of isolation or loneliness that can creep up. We have been through a high school system where we have a built-in support system of friends and teachers and community, and when we go out on our own, we remove ourselves from that structure and from grown up to grown up making friends outside of school is a lot more challenging. So that sense of isolation is something that we want to avoid if possible.

I know for parents that's a big concern, they often notice their young person is staying home more often, or not talking with friends as often, and that can be a real concern because we want this to be a very social and exciting year and in combination with that loneliness and demotivation, we could be heading for a time that's maybe going

to be a little less productive or motivating.

So those are the top three challenges and let me tell you, they are very common and all gappers will likely experience them at some point in their gap year.

Michelle Dittmer - 05:29

While at the beginning of your year you're often excited and motivated by the idea of a gap year, when families start to sit down and try to put a plan into action, sometimes things can get stressful and overwhelming and sometimes that overwhelm can be so large that you can completely stall out right out of the gate before even getting going and that's really not the start you want to your gap year.

Sure, you might still be full of energy and excitement and want to do things, but it might just seem a little too much and sometimes that can move us to inaction.

Michelle Dittmer - 06:10

This is why we have taken the approach that we have with the Gap year accelerator and we've front loaded the accelerator program, so the program runs intensively for the first three months of your gap year.

Now when I say intensively, this is a relative term. We’re not talking about 24/7.

We're not talking about a full time jobs worth. We're talking about a couple hours a week.

So our cohort, what it does is it meets virtually for one hour every week for the first three months to get the support and build the community that you need during those crucial first three months. Now people are always asking like why do you meet so often or the opposite, why aren't you meeting more often?

Michelle Dittmer - 06:59

So let's approach both of these questions.

So why are we meeting so often? Well, right at the beginning of your year, you want to get a solid plan in place for your whole year, and that's not going to fall into place overnight, so, so we're going to talk about goal setting. We're going to talk about researching opportunities and making sure that you're getting connected with the resources you need in that first couple of months to make sure that the rest of it you can live out really and truly and fully.

The second reason why we meet so often is to start to build community and friendships, so playing into some of those needs and those challenges that we know exist for gappers is getting to know some of your peers.

And lastly, it's to gain those foundational skills that you're going to need to be more independent for the rest of your gap year. So in that initial piece where we're talking about goal setting and planning, we're also talking about budgeting, we're talking about independence, we're talking about finding experiences and opportunities. We're talking about resume building, we're talking about self-care and mental health.

All of these components, all of these foundational skills that will allow the rest of the gap year to run so much, smoothly, and quite frankly, the rest of your life to run so much smoothly because we'll have that foundation in place that can springboard the rest of the year.

Michelle Dittmer - 08:22

Now, why don't we meet more often than one hour a week in these workshops? Well, the Gap Year Accelerator is not the core of your gap year, because your gap year is going to be unique to you and you're going to be doing all sorts of other things.

Maybe it's getting a paid job, maybe it's an internship, maybe it's volunteering, maybe it's traveling.

So really, the Gap Year Accelerator isn't your entire gap year, but it's more like your road map or your GPS, and it's designed to work alongside the other things you have going on.

So that's why we don't meet more often. We like to keep it brief and predictable so you can schedule around it. We know that part time jobs flip flop all over the place, but if you can say no, this one hour a week. I already have something going on and I can't take up a shift at that time. We want to make sure that you are going to get a lot of value out of that one hour that we spend together.

Michelle Dittmer - 09:24

And we spend that hour together virtually. And we do that intentionally so that you have more of your own time, you don't have to commute in, and it gives us the ability to all have geographic freedom. So, if you wanted to move across the country or around the world, or you're traveling, you still have the ability to come in and join us for those workshop sessions, no matter where you are in the country or in the world.

That's really where we want to go, but I kind of like this GPS analogy, so I'm going to go back to that road map GPS idea and talk a little bit more in those terms.

Michelle Dittmer - 10:06

So when you're working with the GPS, the first thing that we do, or Google Maps or whatever. The first thing we do is we plug in that destination. So where do you want to end up at the end of your gap year and that's really the foundation of goal setting which comes in the accelerator program.

How do you set your goals and then once you plug in that goal where you're where you're going. Well, how are you going to get there? What route are you going to take and that comes in as the gap year planning component?

So really, being able to guide students and support them to make sure they're putting together the best route or the best combination of activities for their year so that they can get to that end destination.

Now, sometimes, if you're like me, you don't exactly follow the GPS and you miss a turn or you see a stop and want to do some shopping along the way. This can happen in your gap year too. You can lose motivation or get distracted by something along the way and the GPS's goal, it reroutes you and gets you back on the right track to get to that end destination.

So that's really what the accelerator does is, it gives you those waypoints along the way and gets you back on track if you fall off a little bit. So that's really what that is there.

Michelle Dittmer - 11:25

We talked about the challenges of getting set up and knowing what to do, we covered all that.

But what about losing motivation? Because that happens to the best of us. And that's where the accelerator has tons of support for you. So first of all, there are milestone markers along the way that you are working towards as part of this program.

So think about the girl guide badges but for adulting think about financial literacy or figuring out your future, those concrete skills.That's what we work towards.

It's a series of seven different badges that will help you to earn the Student of Leadership and Humanity Award, which is an international gap year certification that sets you apart from your peers and brings more credibility to your gap year while giving you some concrete pieces to move forward and to get that recognition and that feedback of the growth and development that's taking place for you on your gap year.

Michelle Dittmer - 12:24

And you never know with that award you may actually earn some scholarships along the way too. So it can be very, very helpful to keep that motivation up when you have something to be working towards. And alongside those milestones and those badges we have our amazing coaches and you get to check in with your coach on a monthly basis for the entire gap year. So while we have that first three month intensive period where we're meeting on a weekly basis in a group setting throughout the entire gap year, you get to check in with a coach one-on-one every month and have a trusted adult who will answer your questions or give you a dose of motivation or maybe a kick in the butt if you need it and hold you accountable to all the things you want to get done on your gap year.

So that can really help you stay motivated throughout the year as having those milestone badges, having your coach check in with you.

The third key to staying motivated is the community that you're going to build your cohort within the accelerator program. You guys are all kindred spirits, you're all on gap years and experiencing a lot of the same things. We've seen this in the community that we have in past years really cheering each other on when they accomplish something or developing their own accountability groups and or meeting up in various cities across the country and planning really cool online events so it really is that community that is going to help you stay motivated as well as that group of friends that you just have built into your gap year.

So I think it's really, really cool that this community can also keep you having fun and staying accountable and making sure that you're having a really good time on your gap year.

Michelle Dittmer - 14:19

OK, so let's recap what the Accelerator is all about.

It starts off with three months of weekly workshops that complement all the other things you're doing on your gap year, like working or traveling or volunteering, and then we move into monthly workshops and monthly coaching calls to help keep you on track and troubleshoot the rest of your year. Then along the way you get this formal designation through the Student of Leadership and Humanity award that you can put on your LinkedIn profile and on your resume.

It really is a surefire way to maximize your gap year experience with the supportive peers and a community of experts who get it who understand what it's like to take a gap year and can provide you with so many resources to make sure that you are just getting the most out of your year and having a really great time.

Michelle Dittmer - 15:13

Now let me say as a bonus for those of you who can make it to Toronto, we have an in-person onboarding happening on September 23rd, 24th, 25th this year in Toronto so Gappers can come together in real life for an awesome time.

That's going to combine workshops around gap year planning, doing some adventuring, and some team building with some of it, your cohort. So you really, really don't want to miss out!

Michelle Dittmer - 15:43

Now if you can't make it to Toronto, no worries. We have a virtual version happening as well, so if you want to opt into that, we would love to have you there. It's going to be a hoot and we can't wait to get to know you face to face and then continue that relationship online throughout the duration of the entire gap year.

Michelle Dittmer - 16:04

So as you can see, it's pretty extensive in terms of the support that it provides to you and we are so thrilled to be able to put together such a comprehensive package that can get you up and off the ground and feeling supported while giving you the freedom to do whatever you have your heart set on for your gap year.

If you want to check out more information, you can find it on our website And of course we are going to put that in our show notes so you can get access to that information there as well.

Michelle Dittmer - 16:40

Now it is a very comprehensive package as I mentioned and we're not talking about.

An investment of thousands of dollars. We're looking at $500.00 for the entire year, which is absolute steel and is made possible by our incredible sponsors who offset the cost of this one-on-one coaching and support that is so needed for our young demographic. So come check it out. We do have payment plans available, and financial aid scholarships if that is out of your budget.

Please let us know. We want you part of this program, regardless of what financial situation you and your family might find yourself in, so we would love to see you in the program.

Please check it out online. Don't forget to come and join us in the accelerator program and meet your new gap year besties and join your gap year guides on an adventure of a lifetime.


Introducing the Gap Year Accelerator

Gapper Challenge #1

Gapper Challenge #2

Gapper Challenge #3

Power Prep Months 1-3

Your gap year is a Journey

The Student of Leadership & Humanity Award

EPIC Execution Months 4-8

Let’s Recap

In-Person Toronto Onboarding

Virtual Onboarding

Cost and Financial Aid

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