Most of us have been brought up to follow the same path--we work hard in high school, attend a great college, (hopefully) graduate in four years, and then either enter the working world or enroll in grad school. However, there's another option: to break the mold and learn in a more unconventional and global way by taking a gap year after college.

A post-grad gap year is an intentional break between college and the next phase in your life, whether that's a full-time job, graduate school, or something else.

A gap year can be an important opportunity to gain work and life experiences in a global setting. You can accomplish the same things abroad that you would at home (i.e. an internship, further studies, teaching, or working an entry-level job), but you will be doing them in a much broader environment.

Gap years should not be viewed as a year off but rather a year to improve your skills and knowledge. Keep reading to understand the benefits, the type of programs available, and the effects on your career by taking a gap year after college.

What do you even do during a gap year after college? Because of the recent popularity of gap years, you can pretty much find any type of experience in a variety of industries. Whether you want to use your environmental degree to work in conservation in Kenya or uplevel your Mandarin language skills in China, there is a gap year program that fits your interests.

Although it might be overwhelming, the beauty of gap years is that they are what you make of them, so don’t be afraid to get creative! We're here to help explain most common types of gap year programs you'll come across as a college grad.

Paid Work

If you are worried about being financially dependent on your parents, find a job you can do abroad during your gap year. Internships, teaching English abroad, and au pairing are among the most popular ways to make money, fund a year of traveling, and gain some skills to put on your resume. Do you have a skill that you could make money from and do from anywhere (such as web development or photography)? Find a job online so your work never has to interfere with your travels.

Volunteer

Volunteering abroad is a great way to become immersed in a culture and make a difference in the world, all while developing some killer professional skills. You can spend your whole year working on one project or do several smaller ones in different areas of the world. Overwhelmed by the amount of awesome volunteer opportunities? Explore some of our favorite volunteer programs, with everything from working with elephants to saving the rainforest.

Study

If you’re graduating college and not quite ready to leave the academic world, look into taking some classes while on your gap year. Language classes are the most popular and the most useful, and being able to speak another language is a definite resume-booster. Taking classes during a gap year might sound like a drag after four years in college, but it can actually enable you to majorly advance yourself.

Many grad school programs are only a year long, so instead of taking a year to travel and then go to grad school after, why not combine the two and attend grad school abroad? At the very least, you could always take a class or two at your host city’s university that you know will transfer to your future graduate program.

Will it Hurt my Career to Take a Gap Year After College?

People who think that taking a gap year after college will hurt your career usually don't have a full understanding of what a gap year is. If planned correctly, a gap year can actually help your career. Think about what types of career-related skills and experiences you want to get out of your gap year and then plan accordingly, so you use your year to lay the groundwork for a successful career.

Are you a business major who wants to eventually work for a global company? Take an internship abroad after you graduate to gain some real international skills. Are you a Spanish major thinking about potentially becoming an ESL teacher? Teach English abroad for a year or become an au pair.

You can learn so much from living and working/interning/volunteering abroad than you can get sitting in a cubicle from 9-5, and most employers will jump at the chance to hire someone who is experienced in more than just office culture.

Is it Bad to Take a Year Off Before Grad School?

Taking a gap year after college shouldn't decrease your chances of being accepted into grad school. In fact, by taking a year off before going on to a higher degree like medicine, law, education, dentistry, or another subject, can make you stand out among your fellow grad school applicants. By shadowing a doctor or interning at a law office (whether near home or abroad!) will provide you with time to get hands-on experience in your field. Or, if you decided to switch from one subject or another, you can use that time to do a post-bacc to complete prerequisites for your graduate degree. In the end, the key is to do something meaningful with your year break to show your grad school that you're a serious student and an asset to their program.

How Can I Deal with Student Loans?

Loans can put a damper on the gap year idea, but depending on your loan amount and how dedicated you are to traveling, there are many ways to make it work. If you are spending your gap year volunteering or working in a public service field, you should see if you qualify for public service loan forgiveness. Certain loans also offer deferment or forbearance, so you can temporarily postpone or reduce your payments. If you decide you have to make money during your year off to pay back your student loans, there are also plenty opportunities to find a gap year job abroad.

How do I Finance a Gap Year After College?

Financial responsibilities are one of the top reasons for why recent grads don’t take a gap year. This doesn’t (and shouldn’t) have to be the case. If you’re like most of us and can’t just take a whole year off, a gap year that will produce some income is probably your best bet.

From paid internships to au pairing to even getting a part-time job, there are plenty of ways to make some money as you go (just be sure to look into work visas before). Depending on what you will be doing during your gap year, you can also apply for related grants or scholarships or even crowdfund.

In addition, be sure to look into what areas of the world work the best for your budget. Your money will go a lot further in countries such as Thailand, Cambodia, or Mexico than in France or England.

Read more: How to budget for your gap year

As we stated above, the real draw for gap years is that they are 100% what you make of them. You can hop from country to country and experience a ton of new things, or you can live in one place for the whole year and really immerse yourself in another culture (or you can split your year and do both!). The opportunities are endless, so don’t be afraid to customize your time abroad and really make it as beneficial as possible. Happy gapping!

Contributed by Rebecca Murphy

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Frequently Asked Questions

  • What do you do in a gap year after college?

    There are many options for things to do in your gap year after college like learning a new skill, learning a new language, working at an entry-level job abroad, experiencing a new culture, or traveling the world. You may even be able to do any number of combinations or all of the above!

  • Is taking a gap year after college bad?

    No, in fact, if planned correctly, it will help your career. A gap year after college can provide hands-on experience and a chance to learn new skills that may be valued in your future career. It can also help show employers soft skills like resilience, communication, and problem-solving.

  • Should I take off a year between undergrad and grad school?

    It comes down to personal preference, but if you're worried about a gap year decreasing your chance of getting into grad school, it shouldn't. It can actually help by providing time to complete pre-requisites, work on your application, and get real-world experience in your field.

  • How do employers view gap years?

    Depending on what you do and how you frame your gap year can affect how employers view it. Generally, it's mostly favorable as it can built confidence, strengthen your career goals, and make you stand out when compared to an equally competitive applicant.

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