Most of us have been brought up to follow the same path: 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.

With pressure from society and our parents to follow the typical “road to success”, it may seem impossible to wander off the trail a bit. It doesn’t have to be this way, though. Our generation is taking great strides to break the mold and learn in more unconventional and global ways, and there is no reason why you can’t be part of that by taking a gap year after college.

A gap year is not just an excuse to take time off and “find yourself”. Rather, it 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, 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 on.

Because of the recent popularity of gap years, you can pretty much find any type of experience to fit your needs. The beauty of gap years is that they are what you make of them, so don’t be afraid to get creative!

Paid Work

Need to make some dough while experiencing the world? No problem. Internships, teaching English abroad, and au pairing are among the most popular ways to fund a year of traveling, but there’s no reason to stop there. Do you have a skill that you could make money from and do from anywhere (such as web development or photography)? Become a digital nomad 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, 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 Have a Gap Year?

People who think that taking a gap year will hurt your career are seriously wrong. 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.

It’s a proven fact (sort of) that you can learn so much more 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.

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.

How do I Finance a Gap Year?

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.

Like 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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