Taking a Gap Year: 5 Ideas for Making the Most of It

Taking a year off after school to embark on an international escapade is a fantastic way to throw off the cobwebs before leaping into a career or more study.


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Whether you decide to spend the time working, volunteering or just exploring, a gap year is a fantastic way to gain maturity, experience and independence.

While a gap year is mostly about having a good time, it can also increase your chances of career success. Having one on your resume demonstrates lots of desirable life skills and most employers would prefer to hire people who know a bit more about the world than what they’ve read in a text book.

The saying "the world is your oyster" is never truer than right now, so take a deep breath, think outside the box and jump in! Our friend Helen Isbister at Career FAQS shares some ideas for first-timers.

1. Volunteering

Volunteering allows you to be more than just a tourist. It will take you behind the scenes and up close with cultures, people, and languages – all while you make a positive difference in the world. You can become involved in a huge variety of projects in nearly every country in the world. Depending on your skills and interests, you might choose to help out in teaching, care, community, conservation, media, or construction. Who knows?! Before you go, find out how to choose an ethical volunteer program.

2. Working holiday

The traditional gap year is to take a working holiday overseas. It kills two birds with one stone – funding the experience while you live it!

There are plenty of organizations that will set you up with a job before you even leave home, so you can confidently rock up in another country knowing you’ll have cash coming your way. Many of these organizations will also help with sorting out your visa as well.

The most popular destinations are naturally English-speaking countries like the United Kingdom, Canada, and the United States, but that isn’t to say you can’t venture further afield.

Lots of gappers choose to work in boarding schools, pubs, ski resorts or summer camps – most of which offer staff accommodation and a network of other travelers who are also pulling pints or operating chairlifts to pay their way around the world.

3. Student exchange

Embarking on an overseas adventure doesn’t necessarily mean burning all your books and shunning everything that is educationally inclined. In fact, the student life is a pretty sweet one – and it’s even better if you get to do it in a foreign country.

High school students can sign themselves up to attend a foreign high school and live with a host family. It’s a great way to get immersed in a new culture, learn a new language, and make loads of new friends. 

University students also have plenty of opportunities to take their study abroad – many colleges have partner universities where students can take classes and transfer credit points. 

Another alternative is for you to study with a university or vocational education provider in your home country while overseas, via distance education. There is a plethora of courses that you can study online, covering every subject area, so it's worth checking out the range of options.

Another way of racking up international experience in the name of learning is to get involved with an internship in another country. Placements can run anywhere from two to 24 weeks, in fields such as teaching English, health and medicine, marketing, tourism, sports, and media.

4. Au Pair

Working as an au pair, or nanny, is a fantastic way to immerse yourself in the culture of a country. You will live with a host family, receiving free rent and board plus a small wage in return for looking after the children. Through various agencies, you can organize a placement with a screened family in whichever country takes your fancy. With the exception of France, you don’t need to be able to speak the local language before you take up the position, but au pair placements are a great chance to learn or improve a foreign language – and many come with an allowance for language lessons. Most placements are for between 10 and 12 months, but you can also book in for four-month summer placements in France or Italy.


TESOL is an acronym for Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages and is what you’ll need if you want to teach your way around the world. Courses are open to all fluent English speakers and range from a four-week, intensive class room-based class to online courses. TESOL jobs abroad include placements in colleges, universities, language schools, kindergartens, public schools, private tutoring, companies and businesses, voluntary work, hospitals, or tourism. There is a huge demand for TESOL teachers in nearly every country in the world.

Another certification option is TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language). TESOL and TEFL are often used interchangeably, but the main difference is that TEFL is for those who will teach English in countries where English is not a first language, while TESOL is for those who might also be teaching English in an English-speaking country.

Put it on your resume

Volunteering, internships, and foreign-language skills are all great resume-builders. But it's possible your gap year may involve a little more partying than time spent building serious career credentials. Dancing on bars and body shots should be discreetly omitted from the public record – instead, you should focus on the knowledge you acquired, the talents you utilized, and the social contributions you made.

About Career FAQS

With over 600 courses from 11 leading Australian distance education providers, including Open Universities Australia, The Australian Institute of Applied Sciences, and SEEK Learning, Career FAQs is the leading authority and source for Australian courses, resumes, cover letters, and other quality career resources. Today, over 400,000 visitors per month get their education and career information from Career FAQs.

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1 Comment

  • lucia said

    It's something that hits most of us at some point. Whether you're missing family, friends or simply home comforts, you may find yourself wondering why you chose a life on the road. But fear not! The joy of travel is that there is always somebody to meet and something to do. Power through and you'll be glad you did.

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