How to Spend a Gap Year

Five gap year ideas to inspire you

~ 5 minute read

Around the world, every aspect of daily life has changed in the last few months due to COVID-19. In particular, the ripple effect throughout higher education has been enormous. Many colleges and universities have had to completely change the way they do things, throwing a major wrench in the lives of students and their long-term career plans.

Many major post-secondary institutions have moved online as the COVID-19 outbreaks persist. The lack of in-person classes have students and parents questioning if the value of tuition is worth the same amount when comparing classes using Zoom vs. attending small discussion-based classes in person. Many don’t think it is.

Due to these novel circumstances, and not wanting to endure a year online with little to no experiential learning, many students have decided to put their studies on pause and are choosing to take a gap year instead, either before or after starting their university education.

What Exactly is a Gap Year?
There has been a 60% increase in Google searches for the term ‘gap year’ since March. It simply means deferred school enrolment for one year; an alternative way to spend time growing and learning in a purposeful and meaningful way.

*Not all colleges grant a gap year deferral if you are already enrolled in a program, and may require you to reapply the following year. However, they may make an exception if you can present them with a clear plan of what you are wanting to learn.

What To Do in a Gap Year?
Taking a gap year can take on various forms. Some students are choosing to work, earn money to pay for their degree, and add experience to their resume. Others pursue volunteer opportunities, mentoring programs, online internships, and even travel (yes, there are still travel opportunities available).

A great resource is The Gap Year Association. Ethan Knight, the executive director for the Gap Year Association, says:

“Gap year gets thought of as a thing, and I like to suggest that it’s more a recipe,” he says, adding that a good gap year has four basic ingredients: a healthy heaping of volunteering, a bit of internship experience, a dash of paid work and a sprinkling of ‘free-radical’ time.

“Leave a little bit of space for the unknown,” he says, “because, partially, what you’re doing is exploring whether this thing that you love to do could potentially be the thing that you’re paid to do for the rest of your life.”

Internships, Volunteering, Service Work, Politics
The nonprofit organization Teach For America offers internship opportunities to work with children growing up in disenfranchised communities. Americorps offers volunteering positions to help those in need and also provides a great way to network with people in the non-profit world. Another option is Service Year Alliance, a nonprofit organization that connects students with paid service work in areas such as COVID-19 response, environmentalism, community development, education, and healthcare. If politics interest you, Election 2020 Gap Year offers involvement in campaign work, getting out the vote, or organizing around an issue that speaks to you.

If you live in Canada, the concept of a ‘gap year’ remains relatively undeveloped. However, one great resource is Discover Year, which offers young adults a structured year as a stepping stone to post-secondary education or the workforce.

Local Volunteer Work
Every community, large and small, has volunteering opportunities. If you’d like to volunteer in your own local community but don’t know how to get started or where to look, VolunteerMatch, Idealist, and All for Good are great resources that can help you get connected.

Students may not have as many opportunities as before to travel or to experience international internships. However, there are still safe travel options out there, even amid the pandemic.

For example, organizations like Sea|Mester are still operating; offering students the opportunity to spend a college semester or a gap year at sea, exploring the world from the deck of a sailing vessel. And the Colorado-based High Mountain Institute puts gap year students in national parks to help in local conservation efforts.

Virtual Internships, Online Courses, and Certifications
Prefer to stay put? You can complete an internship directly from your own laptop. Check out Virtual Internships where you can work with companies across the country or globe on projects ranging from basic social media support to full business projects, website designs, market reports, financial assessments, usability testing code, and much more.

Want to spend some time brushing up on your math skills or your grammar? Maybe even learn a new language? The options are endless when it comes to online courses. There are many excellent free and paid options, such as:

Take your learning one step further by getting a certification. Showing that you passed an exam given by a certifying body looks good on a resume and gives you leverage when job hunting. Depending on your interests, there are many certification options, programs, and organizations to choose from, such as:

Still Not Sure? Join a Live Career Community
Still not sure what direction you want to go in or whether a gap year is for you? Connecting with like-mind people, asking questions, and talking things out is a great way to clear your mind. Joining a live chat community, such as our own Career Explorer Community, is a great way to ask for advice and gain some insight. Our community is free to join, but only for a limited time, so please drop in and check us out!

It’s never a bad idea to take a break, whether it’s for a semester or a full year to explore other things before investing time and money (or more money) into college. If you do decide to take a gap year, you may be surprised to find that it may expose you to new things, and may even help you find that one thing you really want to do.

* Enjoy offers and discounts on online courses, certifications, tutoring, counseling, scholarships, (and other perks) with Career Explorer’s Membership Program.

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