A “gap year” is a common way that recent graduates take a break from academics between undergraduate and graduate school. Typically one or two years, this gap allows you to use the time between your undergraduate and graduate school to:

  • Gain practical experience

  • Explore a new industry or personal interest

  • Live abroad or someplace new

  • Prepare for graduate school exams

The information below will help you plan for and make the most of your gap year(s).

Benefits of Taking a Gap Year

There are many reasons why it might make sense to pursue a gap year before moving on to your next academic experience. For example, gap years may allow you to:

  • Volunteer to give back to a cause that’s important to you

  • Live abroad and gain global awareness

  • Build skills and experience relevant to the field you’d like to pursue, such as working in a hospital or research institution, or serving as a paralegal

  • Test a new field to learn about your own interests and values

  • Prepare for exams such as the GRE, LSAT, or MCAT

Things to Think About Before Taking a Gap Year

Whether you choose a formal gap year program, search for gap year–friendly jobs, or create your own experience, there are many factors to consider as you research and apply to opportunities:

  • Time commitment: How much time can you commit and what is the expectation from the program or employer? Will your gap year experience provide the flexibility to complete any application requirements or interviews you may have for graduate school?

  • Finances: How much money do you need to support yourself, considering cost of living and your personal financial responsibilities (such as student loans or support for family members)? What health insurance options do you have? Are you looking to save up money for graduate school, and if so, how much? If you’re looking at programs, are they paid, volunteer, or fee-based? Do you have money saved to help support you during your gap year?

  • Career interests: How might this work connect to future career goals?

  • Location: In what types of environments would you like to live and work? For example, are you interested in going abroad or staying in your home country? Being in a rural area or an urban one? Living with a community of other gap year participants, on your own, or with a host family?

  • Program reputation: If participating in a program, what have previous participants said about the program, and how reputable is the sponsoring organization?

Sample Gap Year Programs and Additional Resources

Volunteer Programs

  • Global Volunteers: Founded with the goal of helping to establish a foundation for peace through mutual international understanding.

  • Peace Corps: 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.

  • United Nations Volunteers: Works to mobilize volunteers for the United Nations System and to advocate for the importance of volunteerism in development worldwide.

  • Volunteers for Peace: Offers placement in over 3000 volunteer projects in more than 100 countries throughout Europe, Asia, Africa, and the Americas.

Paid or Stipend-Based Programs

  • AmeriCorps: Network of national service programs that engage Americans each year in intensive service to meet critical needs in education, public safety, health, and the environment.

  • Citizen Schools Teaching Fellowship: Service program offering a two-year leadership development experience.

  • City Hall Fellows: Offers a systemic solution to the leadership crisis threatening American cities.

  • City Year: Unites young people of all backgrounds for a year of full-time service, giving them skills and opportunities to change the world.

  • Green Corps: Environmental Leadership Training Program: One-year, full-time, paid Environmental Leadership Training Program provides training to launch a career in organizing and activism.

  • HealthCorps: Proactive health movement to address health inequities through educational leadership, programs, and service learning. They offer two-year coordinator positions.

  • NYC Teaching Fellows: Recruits and prepares dedicated individuals to become teachers who raise student achievement in the New York City classrooms that need them most.

  • NYC Urban Fellows Program: Nine-month program combining full-time employment in New York City government with a comprehensive seminar series exploring the mechanics of local government.

  • Princeton in Asia: Provides young Americans with various opportunities to live and work as year-long interns in Asia.

  • Teach For America: National teacher corps of recent college graduates who commit two years to teach and to effect change in under-resourced urban and rural public.

  • Teach for All: Inspired by Teach for America, Teach For All’s network partners have placed teachers in many countries around the world—Australia, China, Estonia, Germany, India, Latvia, Lebanon, Peru, and the UK.

  • Venture for America:  Offers talented college graduates the opportunity to work for two years at a promising start-up or early-stage company in the US.

Fee-Based Programs

  • Coro Fellows Program in Public Affairs: Full-time, nine month, graduate-level experiential leadership training program that prepares diverse, intelligent and committed individuals for effective and ethical leadership in the public affairs arena.

Additional Resources

For more information and an international job board, please see our Going Global page.