Gap Year

How to Make the Most of a Gap Year After College

Anna Pedersen

Anna is a freelance writer and editor, currently based in Portland, Oregon. She has traveled to 40+ countries, lived on four continents, and called the United Arab Emirates home for over two years.

Taking a gap year after college is a very normal experience in some countries, particularly in the U.K. and Australia. Unfortunately, taking a post-grad gap year is not necessarily the norm yet in the U.S, but there are a number of reasons why taking a year off before jumping into a career can be a good idea.

While many of us feel pressure towards the end of college to secure a job and have a plan for what comes next, that's not actually the only option. A gap year after college, while unconventional, can give you a much needed break after 16+ years of school and can also help you narrow in on what you want to do next.

A post-grad gap year is the perfect time to explore different interests, make new connections, and take risks. Not only will you be expanding your world-view and be better prepared to work in diverse and multi-cultural environments, but you can also gain concrete skills that will make you stand out in any job interview.

A post-grad gap year can take many forms, but in order to make the most of the experience we recommend thinking about how your time can be fun and relaxing...and productive. Consider planning your gap year after college along one of these three paths to ensure that you are optimizing your time overseas.

Enroll in a School or Certificate Program During Your Post-Grad Gap Year

We know, we know, you’re trying to take time off from school... so why would you use your post-college gap year to go back? But bear with us for just a minute. If you want to go overseas during your post-grad gap year, sometimes enrolling in some sort of school – and therefore securing a student visa – is your best option.

Of course, you don’t need to enroll in a degree program to make this work. Consider a course in a foreign language or an ESL teacher certification program... or even a course teaching you something that isn't academic at all, like surfing, painting, or boating. These programs will help you become more fully immersed in the country you choose to visit but will also give you a break from a more traditional academic structure. As an added bonus, enrolling in some sort of course will help lend structure to your gap year and you'll walk away with new skills and knowledge.

Consider enrolling in a TEFL course or language course abroad – both of which will help prepare you for future career goals.

Volunteer Overseas During Your Post-Grad Gap Year

Volunteering is a great way to make use of your post-college gap year. Not only will you be helping people, but you may glean important work or life skills from the experience. Some volunteer programs teach participants how to build houses, work on a farm, or even teach children or adults to write or speak English. And if you're volunteering overseas, chances are you'll also be picking up a new language as well.

While many volunteer abroad programs may cost a pretty penny, there are some opportunities to volunteer abroad for free, which, as a traveler on a post-grad gap year, can be extremely attractive. Just be sure that your desire to help others doesn't lead you down the path of unhelpful voluntourism, which can often cause more harm than good in local communities. Do your research to ensure that the program you choose is actually making meaningful change in the community you want to work with.

To help you narrow down your choices, here are just a few of our favorite programs for volunteering overseas.

Work Overseas on Your Post-College Gap Year

If funds are sparse, taking advantage of an after college gap year to earn some money might be your best option. But just because you’re working on your post-grad gap year doesn’t mean you can’t have an adventure, too! Working overseas will immerse you in a local culture and afford you the opportunity to make a bit of money to offset the cost of your gap year or future travel plans.

When deciding where to work during your gap year, first consider your goals. Maybe you want to test out an industry you think might be interesting to you down the line. Maybe you want to work with kids as an au pair, or maybe you want to try interning in a foreign language you have yet to master. Maybe you just want an opportunity to live in a country you might not otherwise get to visit for a long period of time and need to find a job that will help you foot the bill.

Once you've decided what your goals are, seek out a job opportunity that fulfills those requirements. Here are just a few of our favorite overseas work opportunities, perfect for your after college gap year.

Make sure your post-grad gap year is right for you

There are a number of ways to make the most of a post-college gap year so it's up to you to reflect on your goals for the year.

Whatever you choose to do during your gap year, see this time off as an opportunity. It should be relaxing, but it should also be rewarding. Fill your post-grad gap year with an activity that's exciting and paradigm-shifting, and the experience will serve you for years to come.