What is a Gap Year?
Taking a gap year refers to the period of time, usually one after graduation, where students take a break from formal education to travel, volunteer, or do an internship/fellowship before continuing with graduate/professional school or starting a job. These short-term experiences typically provide students with the chance to participate in meaningful opportunities that enhance their identity and next season of career exploration. Volunteering during the gap year proves to be a valuable ways for students to serve, engage with communities and expand their experience/skills.
Is a volunteer gap year right for me?
Taking a gap year to volunteer is a big decision. There are many questions to consider when determining if it's right for you, such as:
- What is your motive in taking a gap year? What goals do you have for this experience?
- What are the strengths you could optimize during your gap year? What are areas you could improve upon?
- How will this experience help/hinder the career goal you have in mind? How does this decision fit into your graduate school or job search application timeline?
- How will finances come into play? Is there any financial benefit? What about your school loans?
- How will you explain the gap year to your family and friends?
- Is this option a realistic and good fit for my personal circumstances?
How can I prepare?
After you have determined that a volunteer gap year is the right fit for you, it's important to plan ahead and do your research on the programs to find out which ones meet your goals. Give yourself time to research and understand the program you are interested in, put forth a good application, and plan financially. Here is a list of questions from Idealist.org to get you started as you research various programs - while the list focuses on international programs, it is still applicable to national programs (scroll down the page to see questions under the heading: "Do Your Research").
Where should I volunteer?
Where you choose to volunteer for your gap year will depend on your motive, goals and what you can personally manage. Here are a sampling of programs with gap-year emphasis. The programs below are a sampling of options (not endorsements) - make sure to research the programs carefully and ask for references of past participants to make sure the program is a good match for your interests and abilities (see "How Can I Prepare" above).
- Alliance Health Project has a mission to support the mental health and wellness of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) and HIV-affected communities.
- Medical Missionaries Global Health Fellows interested in global health in developing countries spend one year in Thomassique, Haiti, working at St. Joseph's Clinic. They act as liaisons between Medical Missionaries and the Clinic's all-Haitian staff.
- NIH Postbaccalaureate Intramural Research Training Award Program provides opportunities for recent college graduates to spend a year engaged in biomedical research at the NIH.
- Unite for Sight volunteers participate daily with local ophthalmologists, local optometrists, and local ophthalmic nurses to eliminate patient barriers to care and to facilitate comprehensive year-round eye care for patients living in extreme poverty.
- City-Year is an education focused, nonprofit organization that unites young people of all backgrounds for a year of full-time service to keep students in school and on track to graduation.
- Blue Engine provides recent college graduates an opportunity to engage in one year of direct service designed to accelerate academic achievement in high-need public high schools.
- The Public Allies Fellowship program at Eagle Rock School and Professional Development Center provides twelve individuals with an advanced yearlong service and leadership development program focused on education and youth development in Estes Park, Colorado.
- MATCH Corps Urban Education/Teaching Fellowship is an 11 month (August through June) residential fellowship program. It pairs Corps members with 6-7 MATCH High or Middle School students to run small group or 1-on-1 tutorials, extra-curriculars, coach sports, and serve as a Teaching Assistant or as an Administrative Assistant.
- New York Teaching Fellows offers a high-quality teacher training program to begin a post-graduation education and career with hands-on training and experience. Fellows are trained during the summer, and most Fellows find employment in the New York Public School system in the following year.
- Coro Fellows develop skills; master tools needed to engage and empower communities; gain experience in government, business, labor and not-for-profit community organizations; and participate in special community and political problem solving processes.
- The Bill Emerson National Hunger Fellowship is a unique leadership development opportunity for motivated individuals seeking to make a difference in the struggle to eliminate hunger and poverty. Each year 20 participants are selected for this eleven-month program. Fellows are placed for half their term of service with urban and rural community-based organizations all over the country involved in fighting hunger at the local level. For the other half of their service, they are placed with national organizations involved in the anti-hunger and poverty movement.
- The Mariam K. Chamberlain Fellow works as a general research assistant on a variety of research projects and reports. Research tasks may include reviewing literature; collecting, checking and analyzing data; gathering information; and preparing reports and report graphics. Attending relevant Congressional briefings, policy seminars and meetings is also an integral part of the fellowship program.
- The Jewish Organizing Institute and Network for Justice (JOIN for Justice) builds a vibrant, pluralistic community of Jewish young adults who learn grassroots community organizing, explore their Jewish identity together, and become leaders in the pursuit of social justice. Our year-long paid community organizing fellowship is a year of field experience and professional development for young Jewish adults (21-30) who are interested in systemic change and community building.
- American Jewish World Service Global Justice Fellowship is a partially funded award granted to recent Jewish college graduates and young professionals seeking an intensive international volunteer service experience. On the ten month-long program, fellows live in India and volunteer with AJWS grantees and other grassroots NGOs working at the intersection of international development and human rights.
- Jesuit Volunteers work with domestic and international partners to provide a stipend for volunteers to contribute for a year (two years for international placements; paused for COVID so view website for updates). Fundraising is required prior to service, but needs are provided for during the term of service while volunteers directly serve poor and marginalized communities.
- Catholic Network for Volunteer Service is a non-profit membership organization of hundreds of domestic and international volunteer and lay mission programs.
- Volunteering India provides safe, affordable and meaningful volunteer programs in India, where volunteers can choose to work with orphans, women empowerment programs, health/HIV programs, teaching English, summer volunteer programs, street children programs and more.
- AmeriCorps offers thousands of opportunities for adults of all ages and backgrounds to serve through a network of partnerships with local and national nonprofit groups. Whether your service makes a community safer, gives a child a second chance, or helps protect the environment, you'll be getting things done through AmeriCorps!
- Indicorps selects young professionals of Indian origin for one and two year service fellowships with grassroots service organizations in India. To be eligible for the fellowship program, you must be a person of Indian origin (Government of India definition) and have at minimum a university degree or five years work experience. Individuals apply specifically to projects of their interest.
- Public Allies are placed with with a nonprofit organization where they help address critical community needs such as youth development, education, workforce development, environmental issues, arts programming and community health. Allies are part of a 10-month AmeriCorps apprenticeship in locations across the US.