The popularity of gap years continues to grow across the U.S. and around the world as more and more students (and parents) recognize the many benefits of these structured breaks from academia. Now, with the advent of many distance learning technologies, gap years can also take place virtually, meaning students can participate in organized gap year experiences from the comfort of their own home!

A virtual gap year can be anything from an online internship to a remote volunteering opportunity to a more hybrid experience that combines any number of professional and personal growth opportunities. You’ll most likely find yourself connecting with peers and mentors around the world, gaining unique networking opportunities and learning about different cultures and places.

While a virtual gap year may not exactly scratch that travel itch, it certainly comes with numerous benefits that can help prepare you for college or help you navigate a transitional phase of life after graduation. Plus, these programs are often offered at a fraction of the cost of in-person programs since there are fewer associated fees.

When it comes to virtual gap year programs, there are any number to choose from. Here are some possible paths you could pursue on your gap year:

Apply for an internship: If you’re hoping to use your gap time to build concrete skills to take you into college and beyond, an internship can be a great way to get hands-on experience in an industry of your choice. Fields range from marketing and communications to graphic design and everything in between. These programs will generally help you build important professional skills and will also give you the opportunity to network with a global community.

Volunteer for a cause: Volunteering is a great way to develop key skills while also supporting communities in need. If you already have expertise in an industry, you may be able to volunteer those skills with a worthy international organization that is in need of help but doesn’t have the budget to hire someone. And if you don’t yet have niche skills, you may be able to find a volunteer provider looking for eager people that they can train!

Learn a new skill or get a certification: If you’ve ever been interested in coding, maybe you try your hand at a remote coding bootcamp. If you’ve entertained the idea of teaching English abroad, maybe you get TEFL certified so that you will be a more desirable candidate. If there is a skill that you’d like to develop, there’s most likely a gap year program to suit your needs. Some other common areas of interest are writing, outdoor adventure skills, leadership training, and more!

There are also programs that are hybrid in nature and offer a combination of the options mentioned above, plus might incorporate courses you can take for college credit, activities in your own local community (check out domestic programs as a way to cut down on costs and potential travel restrictions), or an in-person element at some point during the program.

Some things you’ll want to consider when choosing a program are the length, program dates, total program costs, professional and personal development opportunities, and how it fits into your future goals.

If you’ve decided to join a virtual gap year, you’ll want to make sure you get the most out of your experience by planning ahead. It’s important to think about your goals and how that can impact the type of program you choose and how you plan your gap time.

Before settling on a program, ask yourself these questions:

  • What am I hoping to get out of this experience? What are my goals for my gap year?
  • How will my gap year fit into future academic or career plans?
  • What is my budget?
  • Do I thrive in more structured environments or am I a strong independent worker?
  • How much time can I commit to this experience?

The answers to these questions will help you narrow down your choices and point you towards a program that is aligned with your interests and goals.

A virtual gap year may not leave you with hundreds of Instagram-able photos, but it can still be a valuable and rewarding cultural experience.

Virtual programs are not meant to replace on-the-ground travel, but they are a great alternative that makes the gap year experience accessible to everyone, regardless of budget. Plus, for many individuals who choose digital experiences, those online international adventures are simply precursors to in-person adventures. Choosing to take a gap year online now does not negate the possibility of traveling in the future.

So whatever your reasons, choose a virtual program that fits your needs and helps you become part of a global community!

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