Gap Year – Gap Year Programs

Gap Year

Gap Year Programs Directory

Find Gap Year Programs is a free, searchable list of -

  • Gap Year and Gap Semester Programs
  • Study Abroad and Student Travel Programs
  • Internships
  • Volunteer and Service Opportunities
  • Research Opportunities in STEM and Medicine
  • Summer Academic Programs
  • College Summer Sessions

For High School Students, College Students, and Recent Graduates.


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What is a Gap Year?

A gap year is a period of time when students take a break from formal education to travel, volunteer, study, intern, work, perform research or any combination of these activities. A gap year can also be called an interim year, deferring college, an overseas experience or taking time out.

Most frequently, a gap year refers to the time that students take off between high school and starting their college experience, to gain experience, mature, save money, or just take a break.  However, people can also take a year or two after college graduation, prior to entering graduate or professional school (including medical school), or between master’s and doctoral studies. The purpose can vary—maybe you want to try something different before focusing on your chosen career, maybe you’re not quite sure what you want to go to graduate school for and want to take some time in the field to get experience, maybe, again, you just need an academic break.  It’s important that you have a defined goal for this time, even if it’s “I want to travel”, so you can make intentional use of the time and tell future admissions offices and employers what you gained.

“Gap year” often refers to postponing continued study after high school. It can also be a break during or after college or graduate school—or at almost any other time.

Although termed a gap year, the time period can be longer or shorter than 12 months. The concept of a gap year is flexible in other ways, too. A gap year could actually be taking any amount of time of time out that is helpful for the future.  Almost any experience can be turned into a valuable gap year activity.

Some gap years are unforeseen. A student graduating from college might, for example, have difficulty getting a full-time position in his or her field of study. Or family obligations might prevent someone from attending college. Other gap years are more deliberately chosen.

Regardless of the circumstances leading to it, the time spent on a gap year should be a deliberate and planned to make the most of it. Even if you are taking a gap year because of other plans that fell through like not getting into graduate school or a job offer, make the most of your time whatever you decide to do.


Why take a gap year?  Is a gap year right for you?

There are several motivations for a taking a gap year.  Sometimes students want to improve their grades or complete a pre-requisite for medical or professional school applications and choose to explore post-bac programs to gain this experience.  If money is a consideration, working can give you great professional experience and help you save money.  Also, if a company thinks you do good work and sees the benefit of you furthering your academic experience, they may pay for your graduate school, especially in STEM fields, so that year of industry experience can really pay off. College bridge programs might be another alternative, if you’re coming out of high school and want to get more academic preparation and structure in your first year(s) at college.

While the best use of a gap year, whether just leaving high school or after college, is probably gaining work or academic experience, sometimes, the growth, world view and perspective gained from traveling or pursuing a passion can be just as fulfilling and useful.  Consider opportunities to travel, volunteer within your community or anywhere in the world, or pursue a personal interest like writing, photography, service work, or coding.

How do you know if a gap year (or years) is right for you? First of all, make sure you think through the process given your individual situation. Consider impacts on college acceptances, visas, health insurance, course planning, and financial aid or scholarships.  Have a plan for funding your time and budget well. Choose an opportunity that you really think is valuable to you and your future.


Gap Year Ideas - What to Do on a Gap Year

Below are a variety of options to pursue, no matter what your ideal gap year looks like. Some of these experiences may require you to have a college degree before applying, but many of them are available to high school students and high school graduates. Deadlines vary, so think ahead and do your research on what types of things you’d like to apply to and when you need to apply by.  There are also many experiences that cost money (travel, for example) that can be a valuable use of your gap year. Be sure to research and verify them prior to making a commitment.


For those considering medical school (and anyone with an interest in medicine)

  • American Public Health Association: The American Public Health Association is the oldest, largest and most diverse organization of public health professionals in the world and has been working to improve public health since 1872. A variety of internships for undergrad and grad students are available.
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC): A variety of Fellowship and Internship opportunities for individuals who have, or will soon have, a college degree. These programs can help jump-start a career in protecting the public’s health.
  • National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS) Wilderness Medicine program is an opportunity to spend time in the great outdoors while learning to recognize, treat, and prevent injuries and illnesses that are common in the outdoors.
  • Office of Minority Health and Health Disparities- Various Fellowships: The OMHD supports training opportunities for qualified students at all levels of their education. Many of the opportunities involve working with the Federal Government or the Center for Disease Control (CDC).
  • US Dept of Health and Human Services Emerging Leaders Program: The HHS Emerging Leaders Program (ELP) is a competitive, two-year, paid, federal internship within HHS. The program provides interns with a unique opportunity to develop enhanced leadership skills in one of the largest federal agencies in the nation. HHS is looking for talented and highly motivated individuals with a commitment to public service. The program provides an excellent opportunity for participants to begin a professional career in HHS.

Clinical experiences for medical school applicants:

These positions can give you insight into medical practice and the field, with hands-on, relevant work experience.

  • EMT (does take prior training, so potentially start while in school)
  • Medical Assistant
  • Medical Scribe
  • Research Assistant


Opportunities to explore internationally

  • Peace Corps: The Peace Corps is a service opportunity for motivated changemakers to immerse themselves in a community abroad, working side by side with local leaders to tackle the most pressing challenges of our generation.
  • Projects Abroad: Projects Abroad is the world’s largest provider of international volunteering, internships and meaningful travel experiences, and offers opportunities for students at age levels from 15 on.
  • Seamester: Seamester allows you to spend your college semester or gap year at sea, exploring the world from the deck of a sailing vessel, earning college credit in marine sciences and seamanship as you earn sailing and scuba diving certifications.
  • Semester at Sea: Semester at Sea takes a global comparative approach to study abroad using a ship as its traveling campus and sailing to multiple ports around the world.


If you want to teach, try it out:

  • AmeriCorps: AmeriCorps State and National provides funds to local and national organizations and agencies committed to using national service to address critical community needs in education, public safety, health and environment. There are numerous individual organizations that, as AmeriCorps member organizations, hire one or more Corps members each year. Search the website to find more information about becoming a Corps member with a participating Americorps organization.
  • City Year: City Year corps member serve full-time as tutors and mentors in schools, running after-school programs, leading and developing youth leadership programs, and vacation camps to make a difference in the lives of children and their communities.
  • Teach For America: TFA finds and nurture leaders who commit to expanding opportunity for low-income students, beginning with at least two years teaching in a public school.


Do Something Creative:

Many people have a creative side, and they really want to explore how that might play into some sort of career.  If you choose to travel during your gap year, try writing a travel blog as you explore the within the US or internationally. You can build a portfolio of writing to showcase your communication skills for future employers, or turn it into a money-making opportunity itself, if you can gain a solid following. It can also be a great way to highlight your adaptability, creativity, and diverse experiences. The same can be applied to photography, creative writing, documentary filmmaking, and other hobbies.


If you want to explore leadership and service opportunities:

  • Coro Fellows Program: Coro Fellows Program in Public Affairs (9 mos) develops emerging leaders to work and lead across different sectors by equipping them with knowledge, skills, and networks to accelerate positive change. Throughout the nine months, each Fellow participates in a series of full-time projects across a variety of sectors in public affairs, including a final independent project of the Fellow’s choosing.
  • Disney College Program: Disney offers the opportunity for college students and recent grads to work in many areas of their parks in Orlando or Anaheim, gaining customer service and operations experience at one of the best companies in the business. For other, more industry specific options, check out the “Quick Links” at the bottom of Disney’s page above.
  • National Health Corps: National Health Corps (NHC) is an AmeriCorps National Service program that recruits, trains, and places paid volunteers in resource-limited organizations to provide essential health education and access services to individuals throughout the United States, and eliminate health disparities and the underlying structural oppression that perpetuates them.
  • Smithsonian Fellowships and Internships: Hundreds of graduate students and holders of doctorates come to the Smithsonian to do independent research under the guidance of a member of our world-class research staff. Fellows have the opportunity to study and work intensively with Smithsonian collections and experts in their fields and beyond. In addition, more than 1,500 students pursue internships offered across the organization.
  • The White House Internship: The White House Internship Program is a public service leadership program that provides a unique opportunity to gain valuable professional experience and build leadership skills. This hands-on program is designed to mentor and cultivate today’s young leaders, strengthen their understanding of the Executive Office, and prepare them for future public service opportunities.

Just do something fun!

Ever thought it would be cool to live and work in a national park?  How about at a ski resort? It’s also possible to make a gratifying, purposeful year just doing something fun.  Resorts and other seasonal places often hire temporary workers in destination locations. Get work experience and experience nature at its greatest on your off time.

  • US National Park Service: US National Park Service lists opportunities in national Parks.


As you consider a gap year you should make sure to plan thoroughly and have a meaningful goal for what you’d like to gain from your experience. Decide which skills you can/need/want to build.  Figure out a budget, how you’ll fund your experience, and research funding opportunities.  Outline your goals.  If your plan is to take a year off during your time in college, think long and hard about whether or not you have the motivation and desire to return to school after your time away, as it is sometimes difficult to pick up academics again if you aren’t sure.



Pros and cons of a gap year

A gap year can be a rewarding experience; however, it is not without potential drawbacks. Learning about the pros and cons can help in the decision-making process.

Discussing the possibility of a gap year with school counselors, family, and friends is helpful when considering the implications of taking time off. But in the end, the decisions about how to time an education or career belong to the person taking—or not taking— a year off.

Pros. There are many benefits to taking time off. A gap year can provide experiences that help people gain insight about themselves and their goals. It can give students a break from the pressures associated with academics, resulting in renewed enthusiasm for their studies when they return to school. And it can offer young people real-world understanding of their classroom-based learning.  For some students, a gap year helps to prepare them for future studies.

Taking time off before going to school also provides a chance to earn money for tuition and other expenses—in fact, more than 80 colleges and universities now offer grants to students who defer their studies to participate in AmeriCorps—and can help people decide what they want to do. Sarah, for example, traveled and worked after earning an undergraduate degree, using her time off to earn a little money as she considered her career options. After job shadowing and working in a preschool and in retail, she returned to graduate school to study counseling in higher education.

Cons. Gap years also have drawbacks. Postponing school or work takes people off of a more traditional path, and it’s sometimes challenging to get back on. If not carefully planned, a gap year might seem too unstructured, and people can become frustrated if they feel that they aren’t putting their time to good use.

Once students get out of the routine of academics, returning to school can be difficult. A June 2005 study by the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics found that students who delayed enrolling in college were less likely to earn a postsecondary credential than those who went directly from high school to college.

However, the Department of Education study included all students who didn’t go directly to college; it did not examine the experiences of gap-year students who elect to temporarily postpone college and have a specific plan for that time.

But even those who do return to complete their education point to some of the challenges that arise. “It’s difficult to readjust to being at school because you’ve been on your own, doing something that has an impact,” says Hendren. “You’re not exactly in the same place as everyone else.”

You also might not be in the same place as your peers when competing for future educational or career opportunities. Although many colleges and employers look favorably on a well-structured gap year, others may take issue with the break in continuity. Gap-year participants should be prepared to answer questions from school representatives and prospective employers about what they did during their gap year and how their experiences influenced them.

Taking a gap year isn’t for everyone. People who aren’t fully committed to their reasons for taking a gap year might not be happy with the experience. For example, students shouldn’t pursue a gap year simply to procrastinate applying to schools or because someone else thinks it’s a good idea. A year is a long time, so carefully choosing activities is essential.

Planning a gap year

Experts say that the most important part of a successful gap year is to have a plan. The more people look into their options and understand the consequences—good and bad—of taking a gap year, the happier they are with the outcome.

“Preparation is critical to having a good gap year,” Those who have taken a gap year agree.

Before deciding to take time off, it’s helpful to think about what to do prior to leaving school, expenses associated with a gap year, and activities and goals for the time off.

Tasks before leaving school. Potential gap-year participants who are still in school should do several things to ease their post-gap return.

If students plan to pursue an undergraduate or graduate education, ideally they should apply to schools, be accepted, and then ask for a 1-year deferment, experts say. This is especially true at the undergraduate level, where many schools allow or even encourage students to defer their admission. Students who have been awarded scholarships and defer admission are often allowed to retain them after a gap. Each school sets its own deferral policies; students should familiarize themselves with the rules at the ones that interest them.

Students are also advised to get references and take school admissions tests—such as the SAT or the GRE—before leaving school. Gap-year participants usually have less access to high school or college guidance offices that help with school applications, career or educational counseling, and job placements, so consider visiting these offices before leaving campus.

Expenses. It is also important to look into the costs associated with time off. Costs can include not only living expenses but also health insurance premiums, because coverage usually is not available through parents’ plans for adult dependents who are no longer students. To mitigate the risks associated with this loss of insurance, temporary insurance is available. But this option is usually expensive.

Working full or part time is one way to earn money for gap-year travel and other activities, and many jobs provide insurance and other benefits. Service programs might offer a stipend and pay for housing, education, and other costs, but participants often must learn to get by with less than they are accustomed to. Some businesses and consultants specialize in arranging gap years, but many of the programs require payment to cover participants’ expenses—which may include transportation, lodging, and food—that add to the cost of taking time off.

Activities. Although some people might view the gap year as an escape from a structured environment, the better organized a gap year is, the better the experience promises to be. Start getting organized by determining the types of activities to be pursued and the overall goals for the time off.

For example, a recent college graduate might work with a volunteer teaching organization to test his skills, and consider his potential, as a teacher. Or a high school graduate might travel and work in restaurants, taking a break from her schooling to get hands-on experience useful for deciding whether to study hospitality management in college.

People often do more than one activity during their gap year; for example, they might travel for several weeks and then get a job or they might participate in a service program while taking a class in an area of interest. Some gap-year participants do different activities during the fall and spring, breaking up their time like a college semester, sometimes with another activity during the summer and winter breaks.

Popular options for gap-year activities include travel or cultural immersion, volunteering, public service work, and full- or part-time jobs or internships. Service organizations, such as AmeriCorps, are a good source to begin research. The AmeriCorps Web site, for example, allows people to search for programs by area of interest and State.

Almost anything can make a gap year rewarding, say experts, so long as the time is well planned. What is important is that the chosen activity or activities be of interest and benefit the gap-year participant in some way. Each person’s experience will differ.

Likewise, the sources of satisfaction will vary. For some, it’s the sense of accomplishment they get from following a different path.

More information

Students should visit their school’s career guidance office to find out more about gap years and possible gap-year activities. Public libraries have books about travel, internships, careers, and other subjects that might be helpful to people considering what to do during their time off. And One-Stop Career Centers have information on short-term job, service, and internship opportunities.

Career seekers sometimes take a gap year to help them determine the type of work they’re interested in doing. You can explore career options without taking a gap year—or even if you decide to take time off—by using the Occupational Outlook Handbook or Occupational Outlook Quarterly, available online.

Creating the Perfect Gap Year - Exploring Gap Year Activities

Deciding what to do during a gap year requires identifying your interests and checking into available options and opportunities. The internet offers a place to start. It is not, however, the only source of gap-year information. For example, faith-based groups might have service or volunteer opportunities. Many employers offer internships and jobs. And you can learn more about positions overseas from study abroad departments at many colleges and universities.

Finances associated with gap-year activities vary. Many domestic service programs offer a living stipend, health insurance, and an educational award.  Some provide housing or other benefits as well. International service opportunities can offer similar forms of assistance. Volunteer work is typically self-funded, while jobs, fellowships, and internships are often paid positions. And organizations that help plan a gap year usually charge a fee for their services, so be sure to look into their reputation.

Colleges and Universities with Gap Year Programs

Some colleges and universities encourage incoming freshman to take a gap year. Not only that, some schools even provide additional funding for gap year students in need.  Some offer a select number of students the opportunity to participate in a nine-month, tuition-free volunteer program abroad.  Gap Semester Programs are for students who want to start their college career in an “off-campus environment.” through international leadership and service opportunities, while still pursuing academic interests.  Some schools have gap year programs structured like a fellowship program, in which students receive funding for a gap year that is dedicated to service project in the US or abroad.  If you choose to do a gap year after being accepted to a college or university, and defer admission, you could participate in an established program or propose an independent plan for your year off, particularly one that promotes personal growth.  It is possible at some schools to live in campus housing while perusing your gap year plans.