10 Great Gap Year Ideas for Teens and College Students

If you currently have a college-aged student in your family, you may be hearing a lot of talk about kids considering a gap year for the 2020-2021 academic year. With the many uncertainties swirling around plans for campus life this fall, the idea of taking some time off is a growing consideration for some.

Typically, a gap year is a semester or year-long break before undergraduate studies or professional schools begin, when students embrace experiential learning – growing in practical, personal, and professional ways.

A gap year can last a semester or more, typically before college. (Twenty20 @jacobandrews64)

Here are some opportunities to consider if your student may be thinking about delaying on-campus undergraduate or graduate level learning over the next year.

Gap Year Ideas

1. AmeriCorps

AmeriCorps is a network of national service programs, made up of three primary programs that each take a different approach to improving lives and fostering civic engagement. Members commit their time to address critical community needs like increasing academic achievement, mentoring youth, fighting poverty, sustaining national parks, preparing for disasters, and more. Most participants earn a modest living allowance and an education award to pay for college or trade school expenses, or to repay qualified student loans.

2. The American Red Cross

Particularly now, the Red Cross has a high-priority need for blood donor and facility screener volunteers to continue delivering services to communities throughout the country. Volunteer opportunities include supporting blood drives by serving in positions such as Blood Donor Ambassadors and Transportation Specialists, and they offer a wide range of opportunities in which volunteers can engage remotely.

3. Feeding America

The Feeding America nationwide network of food banks secures and distributes 4.3 billion meals each year through food pantries and meal programs throughout the United States and leads the nation to engage in the fight against hunger. Students can volunteer to package boxes at local food banks, organize virtual food or fund drives, and promote anti-hunger and nutritional health programs.

4. Political Campaign

Opportunities to get involved in a political campaign abound in a presidential election year like this one. Passionate young adults have an array of options to get involved in local, state, or federal campaigns. Before starting the process, students should check out Harvard Law School’s helpful site A Quick Guide to Working on Political Campaigns.

5. Faith-Based Programs

Many organizations with a religious affiliation offer both volunteer and paid opportunities for older students taking a break from the classroom. Just a few examples are the ecumenical Christian organization Young Life, the United Methodist Church’s Global Ministries, Young Judea’s Year Course in Israel, and Islamic Relief USA.

6. Color of Change

Color of Change is the largest online racial justice organization in the country. Volunteers can get involved in-person and virtually in local and national campaigns to help create a more human and less hostile world for Black people, and all people. 

7. Habitat for Humanity

Habitat for Humanity does so much more than just build houses. Volunteers can get involved with home preservation services like painting and landscaping, providing customer service and merchandising at a ReStore location, or taking on a long-term volunteer position at the U.S. headquarters utilizing various business, research, and communications skills.

8. The Human Rights Campaign

The HRC is the largest national lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer civil rights organization which envisions a world where LGBTQ people are ensured of their basic equal rights and can be open, honest, and safe at home, work, and in their communities. Volunteers can contribute time and talents both in-person and virtually.

9. Medical Reserve Corps

The MRC is a national network of local groups of volunteers engaging local communities to strengthen public health and improve preparedness, response, and recovery capabilities. Volunteers with a non-medical or healthcare background typically serve by assisting with administrative and other essential support functions, such as training, fundraising, translating, and transportation. This is a great opportunity for students interested in healthcare careers.

10. Green Corps and College Advising Corps

Both of these programs offer paid one or two year programs for students who have completed undergraduate degrees. Green Corps prepares new graduates for a career in environmental organizing and how to run campaigns that inspire the public and build the organizations and political support needed to combat climate change. College Advising Corps focuses on college enrollment and completion among low-income, first-generation college, and underrepresented high school students by delivering personalized, knowledgeable guidance on college admission, financial aid, and enrollment. Advisors can work both in-school or virtually.

With all of our current challenges, there are an abundance of deserving organizations that could use our college-aged students’ skills and passions, whether they can volunteer full or part-time over the next few years.

For additional opportunities in your family’s area, have your student check out the search tool at the Corporation for National and Community Service.

More to Read

How Your Teen Can Find a Virtual Volunteer Opportunity This Summer

About Marybeth Bock

Marybeth Bock, MPH, is Mom to two young adults and one delightful hound dog. She has logged time as a military spouse, childbirth educator, college instructor and freelance writer. She lives in Arizona and thoroughly enjoys research and writing - as long as iced coffee is involved. You can find her work on numerous websites and in two books. Find her on Facebook and Instagram

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