What Exactly is a Gap Year?

Gap YearEach year, when asked about post graduation plans, more and more students are saying, “I’m doing a gap year.”  But does anyone really know what a gap year is?

A gap year is a period of time, usually taken after college graduation, in which an individual takes a break from formal education or work to engage in activities that promote personal growth, self-discovery, and/or career exploration. Gap years can range from a few months to a year or more, and the activities can vary widely depending on the individual’s goals and interests.  The goal of a gap year is often to gain life experience, develop new skills, and clarify personal or professional goals before continuing formal education or entering the workforce.

We’ve pulled together some options for a gap year. Each option offers unique benefits, and the choice will depend on your personal goals and interests. Here is some more information about each option:

STUDY: This option can be especially helpful if you feel like you need to improve your entrance exam scores. It can also be a good choice if you want to take additional courses to strengthen your academic background before starting college or a professional program. You could consider taking test prep courses, advanced courses in your area of interest, or even courses in a foreign language to expand your skills and cultural knowledge.

INTERN OR WORK: This option can give you valuable hands-on experience in your field of interest. It can also help you develop important soft skills such as communication and teamwork. This experience can be a great addition to your resume and may help you stand out to future employers or graduate programs. Depending on your career goals, some possible positions include working as a Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA), pharmacy technician, or day services instructor. Check out Internship Openings and Searching for Internships.

VOLUNTEER: Volunteering can be a rewarding way to give back to your community and gain experience in your field of interest. It can also help you develop important skills such as leadership, empathy, and communication. Think about the types of organizations that hire people in positions that aligned with your career goal then look into volunteer opportunities at those organizations. For example, consider volunteering at a hospital, clinic, or assisted living/senior care facility to gain exposure to the healthcare field.

POST-GRAD SERVICE: Post-graduate service programs offer a unique opportunity to explore your passions, learn new skills, and make a difference in the world. These programs often provide training and support, as well as loan repayment or future tuition payment, which can be a helpful option if you have student debt.  Check out Post-Graduate Service Opportunities.

POST-BACCALAUREATE PROGRAMS: Post-baccalaureate programs are designed to support the transition to professional school. They can help you strengthen your academic background, prepare for entrance exams, and gain relevant experience in your field of interest.  Simply search Post-Baccalaureate Programs + career field for openings using your favorite browser.

CLINICAL SHADOWING: Shadowing a physician can be a helpful way to gain exposure to the medical field and understand the day-to-day responsibilities of a physician. It can also help you build relationships with physicians who may be able to provide mentorship or recommendation letters in the future.  Meet with your Career Coach to learn how to find shadowing experiences in your field of interest.

Ultimately, the best gap year option for you will depend on your personal goals and interests. Consider your strengths, weaknesses, and long-term aspirations as you make your decision. Good luck!

By Laura Kestner-Ricketts
Laura Kestner-Ricketts Executive Director, Career and Professional Development