Gap Years — Your Years of Intention

Just as you would plan for making application to a national scholarship, fellowship or competitive internship, so, too you need to plan ahead for your gap year(s). As you move through your undergraduate experience, you may come to realize that taking a year or two away from school and before you fully commit to a ‘professional’ life will best support your future plans and ambition. And, hey, who doesn’t need a bit of break from school! But, as with planning your undergraduate experience, be sure you plan to use your gap years in a productive and meaningful way. Many students choose to pursue employment opportunities, but there are a number of other ways to use your time to both build on and enhance your first four to five years of higher education. Also, for the record, taking time before making a commitment to graduate school, law school, medical school, or your career, is not a detriment but, in actual fact, can make you a more compelling candidate and effective in your longer-term endeavors. It is a myth that graduate schools expect students to attend immediately following their undergraduate experience; taking time to gain some ‘real-world’ experience only offers you greater choices and options.

Practically speaking, many graduate programs, potential jobs and many competitive fellowships will want to see that you can work both independently and in a community, engage globally, and have acquired diverse experience. All skills one can gain from experiential learning in your time after graduation.

Planning tips: Give yourself at least one year, preferably even two, to prepare for and apply for national gap year opportunities like the Peace Corps, Teach for America, and so forth. Just like planning and applying for national scholarships and fellowships, you need to not only stay on top of your deadlines and application expectations, you also need to strategically make the most of every opportunity while an undergraduate. Taking time enough to plan will also allow you to really which opportunities best fit you and what you plan to pursue in graduate school and/or in your career.

Upon graduation, you will find that funding for specialized gap year opportunities that include funding are more difficult to come by and therefore, more competitive. There are certainly opportunities to volunteer but if you are looking to support yourself, even minimally, through a gap year, you should expect to develop a competitive application. If you intend to use these gap years to help further your own development personally and professionally, then it makes sense to pursue those which are still in keeping with your previous studies and interests. You should be able to indicate your preparation through formal study, undergraduate research, volunteer, service and leadership experiences, foreign language training, internships, international study, and so forth.

We here at ONSF deem this time the ‘Year of Intention’ and encourage you, whatever your discipline, to consider what you might gain and what you might impart if venture out. Consider volunteering with an NGO that works with street children in India, apprenticing with a marine researcher in Fiji, or interning at an embassy in France.

Gap year opportunities have become increasingly competitive and to ensure your application is given every consideration, be able to articulate in writing, through your CV, personal statement, and even perhaps a project proposal and speak to the following:

  •  Your academic achievements –  GPA, research experience, challenging course-work
  • Your co- and extra-curricular activities as an indication of a well-developed and engaged undergraduate experience – involvement in undergraduate research, service learning, volunteer and community service, campus activities, and significant leadership experience locally, nationally, and internationally, study abroad
  • Employment, internships, co-ops, and other salaried opportunities
  • Evidence of a strong support system in mentors, faculty, advisors, and others critical to your personal, academic and professional development

One of the most important things you must do during your gap-years is to maintain relationships with your faculty, advisors, and others who have mentored you. Even if they have already written some kind of letter of recommendation for you, a lot can happen in 1-2 years. And, anyway, the whole point of building those relationships has less to do with any kind of letter and everything to do with how they have and will continue to help you as you plan your future. So, make a point of staying in touch without any strings attached. Send an email, check-in, visit when back on campus, set a coffee date, read what they are currently working on in their own research, and just do the good, important work of staying in touch.

The UT Center for Career Development can help you identify opportunities for employment and internships, including those that have a social-engagement focus. Your faculty, research mentors, and advisors can also be a great resource.  Your ‘Year of Intention’ knows no bounds and you will find below some resources to direct you and entice you. It can be however structured or unstructured, however formal or informal as you might want. You will find both domestic and international opportunities.

Remember that the ONSF is available to support you even after you graduate and keep in mind that it is never too late to consider opportunities to make the most of your gap years. As a current UT student or as an alumnus, you have a lot of resources available disposal.


Stay in touch, or get back in touch with ONSF staff at our new location in The Commons of Hodges Library in room 220K or e-mail and make an appointment with us to pick-up the conversation and for further guidance on how to best prepare for and develop a competitive application for your gap year opportunities.