Over the past decade, gap years have increased in popularity among participants from the United States. Though most traditionally a right of passage for UK, New Zealand, and Australia residents, the practice is now seen and encouraged in more countries worldwide. But do you have to be a high school graduate or enrolled in a university to take a gap year?
No longer solely regarded as a one-year sabbatical after high school, gappers who've just graduated from college are also part of this growing number. In fact, many gap year alumni will share that taking a year off before entering the "working world" helped boost their personal and professional development.
If you are a college graduate and global experience is on your must-do list, here are some transformative gap year programs to consider joining during your year off.
Leadership Training Programs
Now that you have finished college (or are about to), you’ll likely start thinking about career paths and opportunities that will best fit your professional goals. One thing that companies look for in both hiring and career track potential is leadership qualities.
Consider taking a gap year to build those skills while traveling overseas. There are a number of programs you can sign up for that focus on personal growth and leadership development. These programs may come in the form of volunteer or intern roles, or even a tourism guide. Some activities to consider that will strengthen your leadership qualities include:
- Becoming a tour leader: As a tour leader you can learn how to guide a team under uncomfortable conditions and tight deadlines. Can your concise communication skills and ability to think outside of the box help you become a better leader in the workforce?
- Securing an internship or mentorship with a local company: Hands-on programs give you just the environment you need to learn essentials, like marketing and business development, and improve your negotiation skills.
Gap year program options leaders-in-training might love include:
- Expedition leader training with Gap Force in Central America: approximate cost is $10,000 for 3-6 months
- Start up internship with Start Me Up in Bali, Mexico, Australia, or Barcelona: approximate cost is $2,500 for 1-2 months
- Innovation and leadership bootcamp with The Hacker Exchange in Silicon Valley, Singapore, Melbourne, Tel Aviv, or Online: approximate cost is $4,000 for 2 weeks of hands-on mentoring and start-up experience
Language Immersion Programs
We’ve emphasized this before, but are keen to repeat it: multilingual skills are great for your resume. The ability to speak multiple languages can open so many doors for you -- especially if you are interested in working abroad, as many jobs may not provide a work visa if you do not speak the country’s native language.
Try taking a few language courses or fully dive into an immersive program that takes language learning both in and outside of the classroom. These programs may focus on cultural activities, local home-stays, speaking and writing classes, or volunteer opportunities.
Courses to consider that will help you learn a new language during your year overseas:
Cultural Exchange & Volunteer Programs
Take global learning beyond textbooks and sign up for a cultural exchange program during your post-collegiate gap year. Exchange programs offer the opportunity to learn a new language and cultural traditions by living and working with locals just as you would at home. What better way to get into the groove of a new daily routine, right?
Whether working directly for a family, at a school, or being involved in the arts, cultural exchange programs are one of the best ways to gain a deeper connection with places and people outside of your comfort zone. Offer your skills for volunteer opportunities or take cultural classes, like a dance course, that highlights the beauty of a destination beyond tourist attractions.
Gap year program options that offer cultural exchange opportunities include:
- Au Pair exchange programs with LoPair in China: approximate cost is $600 - $1,400 for 3-12 months
- Wildlife and community development projects with GVI in South Africa: approximate cost is $2,745 and up
- Service and community projects with Pacific Discovery in Southeast Asia: approximate cost is $10,500 for 1-3 months
You may have heard of post-collegiate gappers spending a year abroad teaching English as a second language. With or without a TEFL certification, you can become a teacher during your gap year as well. Whether it is teaching on an island or in the mountains, to villages or private schools; teaching English or teaching sport; there are plenty of ways to use your native English proficiency or unique skills to travel the world and benefit from a gap year overseas.
If you are considering a teaching experience after college, be sure to also include programs that offer certification, program placement, and/or hands-on training. Don't worry: these opportunities won’t force you into a classroom the entire time -- you will still have the opportunity to explore local sites and go on adventurous expeditions.
Teaching programs you might love during your gap year overseas:
- Teach English with Teach Away in the UAE, South Korea, Hong Kong, China, Kuwait, Japan, and more: paid positions
- Teach English with Global Work & Travel in Thailand or Costa Rica: paid positions
- Teach English with CIEE Teach Abroad in South Korea, and earn a 150-hour TEFL certification: approximate cost is $1,950, but the teaching position will be paid
Nature & Wildlife Programs
Spend your gap year after college exploring your wild side -- with nature and wildlife, that is! Animal lovers and travelers with a thirst for the outdoors will thrive in a gap year program that focuses on nature and wildlife. Are you interested in jungle treks, deep sea dives, or saving the local marine life? There are so many options to choose from.
Whether a long-term expedition that requires physical training, philanthropic opportunity focused on conservation, or a combination program that allows you to explore the best of the wild at your leisure in exchange for teaching and volunteer work, nature, and wildlife programs are a top choice for graduates taking a gap year.
Gap year programs to consider that offer an awesome opportunity to get up and close with nature and wildlife:
- Participate in adventure quests with Warriors Academy in South Africa: approximate cost starts at $4,400
- Volunteer in marine conservation expeditions with Blue Ventures in Belize: approximate cost is $2,500 - $6,000 for 3-12 weeks
- Learn and adventure simultaneously with HMI throughout Patagonia and the American West: approximate cost is $15,900 for a full semester of expeditions and conservation work
How Do You Want to Spend Your Post-College Gap Year?
The great thing about most gap year programs is you can choose from a variety of countries and itineraries -- including their duration. Why not experience a bit of everything during your year off and boost your leadership, teaching, and language skills while adventuring and volunteering for the joy of it? Either way, taking a gap year will be totally worth it... and the best graduation gift you can give yourself.
Exploring your gap year options? Don't miss USA Gap Year Fairs every winter! These free, public events are held in 40+ cities across the country to provide a broad exposure to gap year options and connect prospective gap year students, parents, gap year organizations, educators, experts, and alumni. Register now for a fair near you!
This post was originally published in January 2018, and it was updated in July 2020.