Standards & Accreditation

Successful passage through the Gap Year Association's Accreditation process, is a prerequisite for certain Membership levels. Not all membership levels require a vetting process, however, and we encourage you to visit our membership web page to learn more.

Accreditation for GAP YEAR PROGRAMS


History of Gap Year Accreditation

The Gap Year Association holds the official Standards Development Organization title for Gap Year Organizations (updated in 2018) in the United States as recognized by the US Department of Justice and the US Federal Trade Commission. In order to maintain this certification we have agreed to treat the Standards as a "living document" in representation of the variety of different ways organizations and experts will contribute to its development. Finally, we have invited a wide variety of experts in the field of gap years to share in developing the Standards and contribute to the research in the field.

The Standards as developed by the Gap Year Association are evaluated regularly to reflect the changing landscape intrinsic to this type of education. The Standards are meant to be certifications in those specialties where an organization practices - in other words, while an internship placement organization may not be focused on extended backpacking trips at their core, if they nonetheless plan on taking students on a short backcountry trip they will need to be in compliance with the Standards for a backcountry organization or those of a partnership in addition to any others that might be more obviously relevant.

Finally, the Standards are written to be detailed and meaningful. We utilize a 360-degree evaluation process, requiring not only self-reporting that is supported by actual evidence, but also leveraging the statements of past students to corroborate that what is reported is actually experienced by the student.

Accreditation for Programs

The Accreditation process for the Gap Year Association is designed to be substantive in its enforcement and verification process. Applicant organizations must fill out a lengthy application for each certification, then undergo a two-part verification process that includes the organization, and student experiences. Where appropriate, and on a case-by-case basis, GYA staff will also seek independent verification of partners (i.e., non-profits, language schools, internships). Once submitted to GYA, the actual application will be evaluated by a team: one from GYA, and a plural consensus by an Advisory Board Member. GYA Advisors and staff all sign a non-disclosure agreement in order to protect the great efforts applicant-members have gone through in developing their own materials. The average time for accreditation is taking approximately 8 months from the point an application is received. Organizations that are unable to meet our basic standards will be coached through the processes they need for improvement and will be encouraged to reapply. Full re-evaluation will take place every four years.

Organizations, once accredited, will be issued a badge for their websites and marketing materials to show their commitment and proven ability to orchestrate the highest quality programs. Unfortunately, because accrediting each individual program within an organization would be untenable, GYA strives to instead take a sampling of a portion of any organization's programs and test their ability to meet the Standards.

The pathway to becoming Accredited looks like this:

  1. ENGAGEMENT LETTER: Organizations interested in applying must first fill out the Engagement Letter that outlines what the process looks like, explains some of the judicial components for enforcement of the GYA Standards, and explains the costs.
  2. IN PROCESS: This is the first stage. An organization that is in the process of applying wears this title. The initial application will by far be the most significant commitment of time for any organization, but one that has a good records keeping system that's somewhat centralized should be able to fill out the application in a concerted few days of work. . . . Think of this as like applying for a grant. The time for review should take approximately 8 weeks from the receipt of your application, at which point a follow up list of questions is almost always required. There are typically 2-6 back-and-forths in this way to ensure we get all the Standards covered. The goal of the process is to ensure the highest quality of program for any student attending a GYA Accredited Program.
  3. GYA ACCREDITED ORGANIZATION: Of course this is the intent - to set an industry standard that is so committed to the highest calibers of both safety and quality. Review will take place after two years, and then every four. Of course, GYA will be available on an as-needed basis to support Accredited Organizations.

Philosophy & Integrity:

(experiential pedagogical elements, staff training, financial responsibility, admissions, student supervision, insurance, incident reporting, etc.)

This certification is one that every applicant organization will have to pass. Every organization that carries the GYA Seal of Accreditation has been vetted to ensure that they have a high degree of integrity such that, for instance, their materials reflect the actuality of their programs, the staff (both office and non-office) function with an academic and ethical standard that is beyond reproach, and that they are honest in every communication. Integrity of pedagogy, financial responsibility, marketing, recruitment, clarity of program rules, documentation standards, admissions processes, student supervision, student insurance, staff training, labor rights and education (for staff and students), student-privacy (FERPA), mandatory incident reporting, abidance of all local laws, and cross-cultural awareness.

Every organization will likewise be required to include a detailed list of their students for pre, and post surveys in the interest of longitudinal gap year data collection. Organizations that don't function with a high degree of integrity sour the name of gap years and all reports to the contrary will be thoroughly investigated by GYA staff.

Backcountry / Developing Country Safety:

(defined as developed-country medical care within 2 hours, developing countries, medical kits, supervisory support and training, membership in OSAC, etc.)

Organizations that take their students out of the "front country" - defined as 1st-world medical care within 2 hours - will have to apply for this certification. This is intended to include organizations that function both domestically with an outdoor element of these parameters, or those that function primarily in the 'developing world' where 1st-world medical attention is scarce and immediate access to reliable paramedics may be of concern. This certification will specify additional provisions for supervisory staff that include medical training standards, communication requirements, and a well stocked and sufficient medical kit. For those organizations that function overseas, additional provisions including State Department Registration, and membership in the Overseas Security Advisory Council (OSAC) (or equivalent if based overseas), will be mandatory.


(inclusion of community, planning, supervisory training, etc.)

This is for organizations that practice service-learning as part of their programs. It is challenging work to volunteer responsibly - not only with respect to the students practicing the volunteering, but also to the individuals and communities who are intended to benefit from their service. Thus, a high degree of planning for community inclusion, project longevity, and potential positive and negative impacts must take place. Typical activities that might count as volunteering would be teaching, construction projects, or environmental projects. GYA have recently partnered with Global Service Learning as a partner in the development and implimentation of their Fair Trade Learning standards.

Independent Student Placements:

(independent, student preparation, internship vetting, contingency plans, etc.)

This is intended to cover organizations that have as a component to their program a more independent approach. Organizations that will require an application for this certification will have fewer direct supervision mandates for their staff, and more emphasis on adequate preparation for the student. Regular communication will be required and an adequate safety net to ensure proper student-vetting, as well as a proper internship and ground-supervisor vetting.


(outsourcing of activities, continued AGA compliance, etc.)

Many organizations make use of expert partner-organizations to add to their students' experience - this could mean going SCUBA diving, or even trekking or bungee jumping - but in every case where an Accredited Organization incorporates such partnerships, simple checks will be required to insure that there's a clear and documentable understanding of whom is responsible for what (e.g., equipment, medical staff, insurance), and to ensure that AGA's Standards are continued throughout whatever partnerships are created. Encouragements for locally owned, financially responsible, culturally sensitive, environmentally conscious partnerships are a hallmark of this certification. Organizations that 'outsource' for home stays, language classes, SCUBA classes, treks, transportation companies, or adventure activity organizations are chief among those that will require the Partnerships Certification.

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