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- Why Take a Volunteering Gap Year?
- Key Questions to Ask When Planning Your Volunteer Gap Year
- When is the Best Time to Go on a Volunteer Gap Year?
- 10 of the Best Volunteering Gap Year Programs
- Spotlight on Colleges that Encourage Volunteer Gap Years
- How to Find Ethical Volunteering Gap Year Opportunities
- Making the Most Out of Your Volunteering Gap Year
- Interview with a Gap Year Advisor
- Recommended Resources for Planning a Volunteering Gap Year
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Gap Year Volunteering: How You Can Give Back While on Break
Malia Obama’s year off from school before attending Harvard cast gap years into the limelight in 2016. An up-and-coming trend for American students, a gap year is a semester or year away from college either domestically or abroad aimed at “increasing self-awareness, learning about different cultural perspectives, and experimenting with future possible careers,” as defined by the U.S. Gap Year Association. And while there are many reasons to take a gap year, nearly half of American students in a recent survey cited a desire to volunteer as a main factor driving their decision. Interested in taking a volunteer gap year yourself but aren’t sure where to begin? Keep reading to learn about the key benefits of gap year volunteering, find expert tips for planning your volunteer gap year, see which organizations have the best gap year programs for your volunteer interests, and much more.
Marion Taylor MSW
Marion Taylor is accredited by the Gap Year Association and a current board member. She has been working for 10 years as a gap year counselor combining her social work background (MSW), her parenting perspective (all four of her children participated in gap experiences), and her own gap year experiences pre- and post-college and throughout the course of her adult life, both as a gapper and as an advisor vetting gap program with visits in the field. She serves as keynote speaker at high schools, colleges, and gap year fairs and enjoys working with students of all ages from all economic backgrounds and orientations.
Why Take a Volunteering Gap Year?
Key Questions to Ask When Planning Your Volunteer Gap Year
There’s no perfect way to take a volunteer gap year. Everything from where to go, how long to go, and what type of volunteer work to do are up for debate. Before and during your research process, it’s helpful to take a step back and consider what factors are most important to you and how you can make your dream volunteer gap year a reality. Here are eight questions to ask yourself while planning your gap year:
When is the Best Time to Go on a Volunteer Gap Year?
Taking a break from the linear path can be enriching at various times in your life. Though most people think of gap years as a year off between high school and college, this isn’t the only time you can choose to veer from the beaten track. During college, between undergraduate and graduate school, or even before launching a career are all great times for service gap years. Determining when to take a gap year is a personal decision that involves looking at your professional or academic path, financial situation, and desired outcomes from the break.
Before undergraduate studies
The most common time to take a gap year is after high school and before starting an undergraduate program. The timing feels like a natural break for students to reset and reenergize for the next chapter in their academic careers. Most colleges have deferred enrollment policies that allow admitted students to reserve their spots for the following academic year.
During your undergraduate or graduate schooling
Though not as common, it’s certainly possible to take a gap year during the course of your undergraduate or graduate studies. Depending on your school and financial aid or loan situation, a gap year in the middle of college can be trickier than when you’re not enrolled. Nonetheless, there are schools that allow breaks without fully unenrolling – though they may only allow one quarter or semester off.
Before graduate school
Similar to after high school and before college, taking a volunteering gap year after undergraduate and before graduate studies – law school, medical school, master’s programs, and the like – is another natural break time on the academic track. Likewise, many universities allow deferred enrollment for admitted graduate students just like they do for undergraduate.
Before entering the workforce
“Earn your degree, get hired” can feel like the next step in a conveyor belt of life milestones. But taking a year off to volunteer after so many years of studying can be a great way to reset and explore career paths before jumping into a job contract.
At the same time, having an undergraduate or graduate degree under your belt can broaden your volunteering opportunities. Similar to jobs, volunteer programs aim for match the right volunteers to the right projects. Applying your skills and knowledge from college to a gap year can mean more responsibility in the types of volunteer work you do.
10 of the Best Volunteering Gap Year Programs
Whether at home or abroad, for a few months or a year, students will want to spend time researching volunteer programs for their gap year. Finding a structured program planner will make for a smoother gap year experience, according to Ethan Knight, founder of the Gap Year Association. There’s a lot of variety amongst volunteer gap year providers in terms of dedication to their communities, services offered to volunteers, and duration. Here are ten of the best:
Spotlight on Colleges that Encourage Volunteer Gap Years
Students interested in a volunteering gap year before or during their studies have to pay attention to one key factor: their school. With the increasing popularity of gap years in the U.S., many colleges are revisiting their deferred enrollment policies to accommodate. Schools are not only allowing delayed start dates but also encouraging students to pursue gap years. Course credit for service learning, financial assistance for gap years, university-sponsored programs, and low tuition deposits are just some of the ways that colleges are promoting a break from the classroom.
These seven schools stand out for their gap year support: