A gap year is a short-term opportunity for graduates who have not yet decided upon a career, want to do something for a year or two before going to graduate school or starting a career, or simply want to take time off to explore opportunities that the world has to offer. Gap years may be as short as a few months or as long as several years.
Some examples of gap year opportunities include: volunteering, acquiring an internship or fellowship, traveling, teaching, enrolling in a publishing or business institute or advertising portfolio program, working for a temporary agency, working on a ranch or cruise ship, or joining the military.
A gap year, however, might not be right for everyone. If you have student loans or other financial concerns, an opportunity that offers little or no compensation (volunteer work) or has fees (traveling, business institute) might not be financially plausible.
Gap years can be a great way to enhance your resume, gain experience, increase your marketability, and develop new skills. Skills often developed during a gap year include: open-mindedness, adaptability, professionalism, verbal and written communication, and flexibility. Gap years are a good time to do something fun or rewarding like travel or volunteer work without having to worry about financial or relationship obligations you might have later.
Many medical schools (as well as other health care programs) encourage prospective students to take a year or more off before medical school. During this time, prospective students can gain more experience to improve their applications as well as make sure a career in medicine is the right path. Physician assistants programs usually require 1,000 hours of clinical experience before PA school, which makes taking a year off to complete those hours a necessity. Here are some suggestions of constructive ways to spend a gap year:
Postbaccalaureate Premedical Programs
Postbaccalaureate premedical programs assist people interested in pursuing a medical career after they have received a bachelor’s degree. Some programs are designed for people who have been working a while and want to change careers. Others are for people who have been on the premed track but either need to take prerequisite courses, get research experience, or retake classes to improve their academic record and/or GPA. Some postbac programs are specifically for people from economically disadvantaged backgrounds or groups that are underrepresented in medicine. For a list of postbac programs, click here.
Volunteering in a medical setting is great experience, but there are many limitations on how directly volunteers can interact with patients. Getting a certification as an assistant in the medical field (usually from a community college) enables prospective medical professionals to get more hands-on experience with patients. The most common programs are:
- Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA): To become a CNA you may take a course at a community college.
- Emergency Medical Technician (EMT)
- PT Tech/Rehab Tech (certification usually not required)
- Medical Scribe
Here are a few examples of places that offer research experience:
- National Institutes of Health (NIH)
- Oak Ridge Associated Universities
- Wake Forest Research Fellowship Program
- Research Gate
- New Scientist Jobs
- Handshake, CareerShift
- Hospitals, pharmaceutical companies
Other Altruistic/Helping Professions Experiences
- Teaching in a private school
- Teaching in a public school via lateral entry
- Teach for America or similar programs
- Peace Corps
- International medical volunteer/missions, such as Doctors without Borders, International Service Learning, Projects Abroad and Unite for Sight, ISA-ELAP
**Some of the following organizations and programs may require that you pay a fee for participation.**
BUNAC– Work in countries such as England, Australia, or New Zealand for up to twelve months
Connecting Schools to the World -Teach English in rural Argentinean schools
Educational Services International – Christian organization which offers opportunities to teach English all over the world
JET– Teach English in Japan
United Nations Volunteers
Peacework Development Fund– Domestic and international volunteer opportunities
Common Good Careers
Give to Get Jobs
Global Impact Investing Network (GIIN)
State Government Jobs
Dartmouth Tuck Business Bridge Program
UVA McIntire Business Institute
WFU Schools of Business Summer Management
Columbia Publishing Course
NYU Summer Publishing Institute
University of Denver Publishing Institute
International Association for the Exchange of Students for Technical Experience-Exchange programs for technical students looking to intern outside the United States and companies looking for international technical interns.
Portfolio Center-Two year program that trains students for professions in the communication arts
Environment America– Two year environmental advocacy program
Student Conservation Association– Provides national and community conservation service opportunities, outdoor education, and career training in national parks, refuges, and urban areas
Student Action with Farm Workers-Nonprofit organization created to build a network of campus-based projects focusing on farm worker issues. Projects include summer internships and various year round opportunities (Spanish is helpful)
Americorps– Opportunities to help communities across the country in various capacities.
Catholic Volunteer Network– Over 200 faith-based, full-time volunteer programs
City Year (youth program) – one year youth mentoring program
HealthCorps– One year opportunity working in schools to promote healthy living
Idealist.org– Great source for nonprofit information and opportunities
Accountemps-Temporary, temp-to-hire, and direct hire positions in accounting and finance professions
Carolina Legal Staffing– Permanent and temporary legal staffing opportunities in North and South Carolina
Turner Temps– In-house temp agency for administrative support positions for all TBS divisions in Atlanta
Carney Sandoe & Associates
Teach for America– National corps of outstanding recent college graduates of all academic majors. Participants commit two years to teach in public schools in low-income communities.
Match Corps – Match Education