Making the Most of a Gap Year

The transition from student life to full-time employment can be a little daunting – especially for those about to embark on highly competitive career paths. A gap year can provide a little leeway, allowing some time to think and the chance to gain some relevant experience that will stand out on a resume.

In the current economic climate, the perception of a gap year as little more than an extended holiday is quickly diminishing. According to American Express, 43% of ‘gappers’ plan to use their time to earn money and gain relevant work experience.

The most important ingredient for a successful gap year is preparation. Too many variables inevitably spoil the broth, so don’t try and immediately decide on a place, project, cost and time scale. Instead, try and focus on what you hope to achieve from the time away and go from there.


For those who are sure about their choice of career, an internship is a great way to get focused experience. While typical beach-side destinations might be a little harder to come by, the quality of the experience can help ensure a job in the field.

Some of the most popular internships are those related to law, medicine, journalism and business. Each will provide the intern with a real-life experience of working in the profession and valuable contacts.

Places can be secured through independent research – this is easiest when applying to big firms such as Deloitte, KPMG and PricewaterhouseCoopers, which have established schemes. 

Alternatively, apply to dedicated placement-finding companies. These are more suited for those with a desire to travel abroad. For example, business internships can be secured in cities such as Shanghai in China, Cape Town in South Africa, Madurai in India, Chisinau in Moldova, and Ulaanbaatar in Mongolia.


Those who enter into their gap year with an open mind will find plenty of avenues for inspiration. There’s a long history of entrepreneurship stemming from the sights, sounds and experiences of cross border travel.

Examples include the two friends who spent a year surfing around the world. The experience led them to realise that there was a lack of surfing specialists offering gap year experiences. After returning to Canada, the pair started a company that offered people the chance to qualify as a surf instructor and beach lifeguard, and carry out some voluntary work in local communities at the same time.

Another round-the-world trip was the inspiration for a renewable energy start-up. While cycling around Europe, the Middle East and Africa, two graduates decided to help safeguard the future of the planet by creating crude biodiesel from waste cooking oil, purifying it, and then selling it on to distributors for sale at pumps.


A gap year can be an ideal time to take a further course of learning. For example, getting to grips with a new language or learning how to use a particular piece of software. As well as being potentially useful in a new job, self-study shows employers that you are committed to bettering yourself.

Paid roles

Because internships tend to be poorly paid – if paid at all – some graduates try to find short-term opportunities in their chosen field. Maternity-leave positions are ideal, though rarely available. Dedicated recruitment agencies can sometimes help fiend temporary employment in specialist fields.


Choosing one of the many international volunteer programs is a great way to experience a new culture and become part of a community. Voluntary projects range from building work to conservation and are ideal for those who have not yet decided on their future career. Approximately 63% of HR professionals say that time spent volunteering makes a job application stand out.

To be most effective, consider what you can offer your hosts, rather than the other way round. For example, someone who’s completed a nursing degree would make a useful care volunteer, while someone with a languages degree could help with teaching.

Readers, have you ever volunteered outside of the country? How was your experience?



  1. This kind of stuff sounds like it would be a great experience, but most of us are just in a rush to land our first decent paying job. If you’ve got big student loans, that need may feel even more urgent. As much as I would’ve liked to ease myself into my career, the money was calling and I wouldn’t have been able to justify taking time off to travel or anything like that. Of course I wouldn’t have considered using that time off to build more skills or experience.
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    • I definitely didn’t use this to my advantage, and was one of those who rushed from college into the working field. I honestly didn’t think much about it, but only about earning money. Thus far I’m happy, but sometimes wish what if I did it differently.

  2. I love the Australian gap year culture! If a gap year was ingrained in US culture, I would take it in a heartbeat. Too bad it’s a BATTLE post college, and if you take time off, you fall behind and perhaps in a very quick way.

    Perhaps with new graduates unable to find a job post graduation, they should use that year as their gap year.
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  3. I was very pleased to find this site. I wanted to thank you for this great read!! I definitely enjoying every little bit of it and I have you bookmarked to check out new stuff you post. Big thanks for the useful info……..

  4. This is one thing I missed out on in the US. Like Sam said, I just went straight into the job market after college, and straight into college after high school. Taking a year off to volunteer could give our kids valuable perspective on a changing world.
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    • John, You sound like me…minus the married part..but I went into work and into college early. I remember starting University at 17, since my birthday is late, I think I was the youngest one in the school.

  5. Not familiar with this gap year concept, usually after university you want to start your job asap in order to start paying off those loans and building your life.
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  6. Gap years a really popular in the UK and Australia, I think they are a great idea and there are many options. Although it is so so important that it is well planned otherwise the student could just end up loitering aimlessly wasting a valuable year of tertiary education. With a bit of research you will find plenty of different and exciting options!

    • Yes, gap years are very popular in the UK & Aussie land, but not so much in the western world.
      You’re very right, planning ahead is an absolute must. Thanks for your comment KP.

  7. I agree with most of the points you make within this content.