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Student Life

A Guide to Gap Year and Semester Opportunities

Cambria Pilger

Is your student a current college student or recent high school graduate? Are they taking time off for a gap year or semester? Are they looking for meaningful and adventurous ways to fill that time?

Me, too.

I am currently in the midst of a gap year and just completed a summer fellowship program. The program was coordinated through my university, and I was placed at a ministry organization in California. During the 10-week program, I grew in a variety of ways and learned all about how the ministry functioned. I recommend your student seeks out an opportunity like this, too—and you can help!

But where do you start?

There are opportunities all around, depending on what kind of experience your student is looking for during their gap break. Here are a few examples.

Looking for Something Seasonal?

Occupation Wild: If your student loves the outdoors, they may be interested in Occupation Wild. It offers a variety of jobs based on experience and is focused on getting people to "redefine how they see their careers," according to its website. Your student can choose to work at different resorts and state parks across the U.S. for a season (or longer).

While this isn't explicitly a gap program, it's a unique job opportunity that will take your student to a new place and give them experience in an area of work that may be unfamiliar to them.

YMCA Gap Program: Right now, YMCA of the Rockies offers two gap programs, ranging from four to six months long. Students can apply to work a full-time seasonal job at Snow Mountain Ranch, while developing their faith and fellowship; or to work for a semester in the hospitality industry, while exploring the Rocky Mountains and doing community service.

Both programs leave plenty of room for your student to build relationships with other students and to explore the outdoors. If this is something that interests your student, consider looking for an opportunity like this.

Loop Abroad: If your student wants to fill a semester abroad and is interested in becoming a veterinarian or working with wild animals, check out Loop Abroad. Participants will get hands-on experience "with veterinary medicine in elephant sanctuaries, zoos, veterinary hospitals, and marine conservation centers." This is a great program for recent high school graduates or current college students, as applicants must be 18 or older.

Due to its courses and practicum requirements, the Loop Abroad experience is similar to a study abroad program through a university. There are tuition fees for each program, with financial aid available.

Looking for Something Faith-Based?

Christian Gap Year Program: OneLife Institute offers a nine-month program for students taking a gap year. According to its website, this program is an opportunity "for students who want to grow in their faith, experience genuine community, serve others, and travel while earning credits for college." Every four weeks, the program focuses on a new topic, ending with a group travel week.

Many students have completed this gap year program and gone to college to pursue a variety of degrees. This could be a great opportunity if your student is leaving high school or is already in college and wants to develop their faith, philosophy and relationships before heading back to campus.

Jewish Gap Year Programs: There are a range of programs for Jewish students looking to build deeper faith connections. A number are based in Israel, and Masa Israel Journey is a good place to start learning about different study, travel and service options ranging in length from four months to a year. Young Judaea Year Course has been operating gap year experiences in Israel for 65 years — students can customize their focus on travel, study, volunteering and more.

If your student would like to stay in the U.S., Tivnu is a nine-month social justice-based program where participants live together in a house in Portland and pursue personalized internships and enjoy a chance to explore the Pacific Northwest. A summer program is available as well.

Find more religious gap programs at the Go Overseas website.

Looking for Something International?

Putney Gap Program: Putney Student Travel offers gap programs ranging from four to 12 weeks for college-aged students interested in exploring a new country, engaging with people from around the world, and learning about an area of interest. Similar to a traditional study abroad program, your student will get an opportunity to explore the area "as a traveler, not a tourist." Your student will need to pay for tuition and airfare, but there are some discounts available.

Putnam Student Travel also offers language immersion and community service programs for middle and high schoolers.

International Volunteer HQ and Intern HQ: International Volunteer HQ offers many volunteer abroad projects. Your student can apply to volunteer in a country of their interest, doing a variety of tasks. Some countries are not open for volunteers because of COVID-19, but your student can still apply for programs as far ahead as 2023. Your student may also have an opportunity to take language classes at a discounted rate while abroad!

Intern Abroad HQ offers both in-person destinations on almost every continent as well as remote internships in Europe, Asia and Africa. Remote internships are 100% customizable — your student can start any time and will pay a fee depending on how many hours of experience they want.

After applying to Intern Abroad HQ, your student will be placed at an organization that fits their area of interest and skill. This (or any internship program) is a great opportunity for students taking a break from academics to add more skills and experience to their resume.

Seamester: If your student is curious about exploring the world and learning how to live on board a ship, Seamester is an exciting opportunity. It offers 20- to 90-day voyages in the spring, fall and summer semesters. Students can earn college credit in marine sciences and seamanship at the same time that they pursue sailing and scuba diving certifications. Seamester is open to high school graduates and college students. There are tuition fees (with financial aid available) as well as some specific COVID-19 protocols students must follow.

Looking for a Volunteer Opportunity?

Is your student passionate about travel and volunteering? Then they might want to consider a volunteer-abroad program like Peace Corps or Raleigh International Expeditions. Both of these organizations are developing programs to start later this year or next year.

Peace Corps requires a longer commitment as its shortest program is two years. It offers a variety of volunteer jobs across the world, which your student can explore based on language and area of interest. With certain jobs, your student may even develop a certification while abroad. Generally, Peace Corps is a good opportunity to do after or during college, as the programs are intensive and some require a degree.

Raleigh International Expeditions offers four to 10-week programs in Costa Rica and Nepal. It is a youth-driven organization focused on empowering young people to develop leadership skills and take action for global and local causes.

Looking for Something Personalized?

Maybe your student doesn't want to apply for one of these opportunities but still wants a unique gap experience. I think that's great! Now you and your student have a chance to craft something just for them.

Ask your student what aspects of the programs in this article stood out to them. Did they like the opportunity to travel once a week? Are they interested in working seasonally or being outdoors a lot? Do they want to focus on their career and develop skills through an internship?

Once you have an idea of the kinds of adventures or work opportunities your student wants, help them create their own gap semester or year experience. Help them look for work at places that interest them; help them plan when during their gap break they'd like to travel, either for day trips or something longer. Ask them how they want to develop meaningful social connections, and help them plan how often they will volunteer or rest as well.

These are only a few of the gap opportunities your student could explore (or create). Set aside time with your student to search the web for opportunities that fit their passions and hopes for their gap break. Their high school counselor or the college study abroad office may also have resources.

For more ideas, check out the Gap Year Association (GYA) website. During COVID-19, the GYA sorts program options by in-person only, hybrid or online only.

If your student is on the fence about taking a gap break, you can ask them a few questions to help: How much do they want to work during the gap? What goals do they want to accomplish (i.e. exploring their passions or a future career)? When is the best time for them to take a gap break, and for how long?

For more conversation starters, read "Should Your Student Take a Gap Year?" >

Cambria Pilger is a recent graduate of Whitworth University. She studied journalism and mass media communication, with minors in Spanish and business. She is a freelance writer and a Communications & Development Admin at a local ministry. Cambria is passionate about understanding humans, exploring the world, thinking deeply, developing skills and getting to know people.
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