gap year counseling

Taking a Gap Year After College Graduation

Bachelor’s Degree. Check. Now, onto the next adventure!
Taking a Gap Year After College Graduation

When you hear “gap year,” most people think it’s a year off between high school and college. Yes, taking time off after a particularly intense high school experience is very common. Many gappers are seeking real world professional experience, a clearer sense of their academic path, and increased cultural self-awareness, not to mention building maturity and self-reliance (whether or not they like to admit!)

But actually, many college grads are now finding themselves stuck or torn about which professional path to pursue after they get their degrees.

Maybe they are no longer interested in their academic concentrations or can’t decide which graduate programs to apply to.

Or often times, they just need a break from academia before beginning yet another degree.

College grads are finding a post-collegiate gap year to be a once in a lifetime restorative, clarifying, and skill building experience before they embark on a career or graduate school path and have all the responsibilities that life inevitably brings.  

So, why delay accepting that 9-5 job? Here are a few great reasons to take a post-collegiate gap year:

  • Career Exploration: Taking a deliberate and well planned gap year to gain work or volunteer experience will help you decide which career is right for you and eliminate options that aren’t good fits. You’ll be able to gain hands on experience helping you to make the choice of whether this is a field that really makes you happy and/or can realistically be a way to make a living.

  • Narrow Down Field of Study for Graduate School: Maybe you have multiple fields of study that you are considering for graduate school, but don't know how to know definitively what's suitable for you. Gaining some work or volunteer experience during your gap year can help you explore fields of interest and determine which programs to apply to.

  • Gain International Experience: You studied abroad in college and still have the itch to go abroad or maybe you didn't have the time and you’d like to get your feet wet abroad. This could be your last chance to spend an extended period of time abroad before you have the responsibilities of full time work, graduate school, or even a family. Spending some purposeful time abroad can lead to developing transferable skills that will be useful in various types of experiences crossing cultures. Research shows that gap year and study abroad alumni are more employable because they have cultivated a unique set of skills that employers look for.

  • Acquire Real World Experience: Some students didn't get the opportunity to intern in college or didn't have an internship in a field that they see themselves working in. Then taking the year to intern domestically and/or internationally can be an excellent way to gain skills, determine if you like that domain, and add something productive to your resume.

  • Need an Academic Break: You know you want to go to grad school and which type of programs you’ll apply to, but your brain needs a break! Participating in a volunteer or work experience can be a truly restorative, and transformative adventure. At Intercultural Adventures we create personalized timelines to help you apply for graduate school, giving you check points to stay accountable and bite sized action steps to make the daunting process of taking graduate exams and applying for graduate school very doable.

  • Can’t Afford Grad School Right Now: Spend a year or two internationally or domestically working and saving money for graduate school.

  • Didn’t Love your Undergraduate Field of Study: You’ve got the diploma, which is gold, but you really didn’t like studying business, for example. Exploring your interests on a gap year can help you to determine a new career path for yourself and give you the training you will need to apply for full time work in a new field at a later date. What are some aspects of business that you like? How can you connect those to your professional goals?

  • Become a More Competitive Graduate School Applicant: You are interested in applying to some competitive graduate school programs and you’d like to get a leg up on other applicants. Spending a year or two working or volunteering in something meaningful can make you a more desirable candidate and, possibly, help you write better essays as you will have real world experience to draw from when writing.

  • Explore the US: You stayed close to the nest and are ready to explore other parts of the US or you attended college in a state where you don’t see yourself lying down roots in. Taking a gap year and spending some time living in one or two states that you find interesting could be a great way to examine where you want to apply for jobs or graduate school while gaining some internship/work experience along the way.

At Intercultural Adventures we’ve worked with college grads in your shoes and helped them curate a meaningful, productive, and life-changing gap year. Trust us, we get it!

In fact, Whitney and I are both post-collegiate gap year alumni and we wouldn’t change the experience for the world.

We opted for teaching, volunteering, and interning during our gap years, gaining the clarity, focus, and skills that helped both of us develop our experiences into purposeful careers in international education. Reach out to hear more from us and learn how to plan your post-grad gap year!

Post collegiate student interning abroad on Quito, Ecuador. Maxine choose to intern in legal fields before law school using her Spanish at a professional level.

Why Pay for Gap Year Counseling, When You Can Just "Google It’’?

It’s no secret that there is a LOT of free gap year advice on the Internet.

You can also get free advice from your friends, family, teachers, and college counselors.

So why PAY for a gap year advisor, when you can just “google it” or ask someone?

Here’s what is different about Intercultural Adventures Gap Year Counseling Services:

1. We’re experts on managing risk while abroad. Having worked with hundreds of students pursuing experiences abroad, we’ve supported students and their parents during serious emergencies and conflicts. When it comes to preparing gap year students, we spend significant time going over strategies to mitigate risk and prioritize health and safety.

And we don’t just recommend any program. We take the time to fully vet each one of our recommendations, reviewing program safety protocols, considering the risks, and interviewing program staff.

We also regularly connect with the US Department of State through workshops and conferences. We also consistently monitor nationally mandated travel warnings from the US, Britain, Australia, and other notable sources in order to stay updated on emerging political situations that may impact our current and future students.

2. We provide you with your Adventure Guide, a personally customized e-book that includes your itinerary recommendations, health and safety advice, packing lists, scholarship opportunities, and more.

Veronica, one of our current gappers abroad, comments on her Adventure Guide, a personally tailored “gap year bible” created: “I appreciated the layout and the options given. Each option corresponded with something, if not multiple things, I had mentioned in our calls. The number of options was perfect - not overwhelming but still giving many opportunities to decide between.”

With so much info and marketing material out there, it can be difficult to decipher the differences between programs and determine which one is right for you.

As unbiased counselors, we know which programs consistently deliver quality and transformative experiences to students. Not interested in an organized program? We also recommend independent work and travel experiences that you didn’t even know existed.

3. We are a trusted source. Lisa says, “From start to finish Intercultural Adventures was supportive, accessible, creative and knowledgeable. They were a huge help to my son and to me.”

As accredited counselors of the Gap Year Association, we stand for integrity, leadership, value, service.

At Intercultural Adventures, we take the time to get to know students’ and families’ needs, interests, academic and professional goals, in order to help craft an ultimate gap experience that maximizes the student’s time and resources.

4. We have 20+ years combined experience in higher education and study abroad.

We have worked in multiple college campus environments and know what it takes to truly flourish in college.Through the experience we’ve gleaned working closely with career counselors, professors, study abroad resident directors, parents, and students, we get students started on the path towards college success from our first counseling session.

And not only have we worked in higher education and study abroad, we’ve also been gap year students ourselves! Both of us self-financed our gap years through teaching English, tutoring, and babysitting. We know what it takes to thrive while living, studying, volunteering, and/or interning abroad (all while on a tight budget!).

5. We’ll be with you every step of the way: Maxine, one of our students who chose to intern during her gap time says, “Intercultural Adventures took into account my career goals in the legal field as well as my past study abroad experience in Spain and helped me secure a human rights internship in Quito, Ecuador… The timeline they created just for me was especially helpful because it incorporated the concrete steps that I needed to take for my law school applications and those related to my internship in a way that made them feel manageable and helped me stay on top of deadlines.”

Free advice on the Internet isn’t uniquely tailored to your goals, budget, background, and personality.

We provide counseling that helps students define their goals and priorities, narrow their personal and academic interests and location preferences, and determine a realistic budget. We continuously monitor our families at each stage of the process (organization of gap time, selection of programs, applications, acceptances, confirmations, and pre-departure preparation).

We are here to help students’ navigate college deferral policies, prepare students for college or gap year program interviews, and to provide logistical advice and expertise on health and risk management.

6. Intercultural Adventures offers holistic counseling: We believe that closing the loop between a gap experience and entering college or pursuing graduate school or a career is extremely important. As part of our Fully Customized Gap Experience Package we offer Gap Impact: an online course designed to help students translate their gap experience into future academic, professional, and personal success.

Gap Impact gives students the tools needed to reflect on the meaning of their gap experience, articulate the skills they gained from it, and integrate their unique experiences into career development and/or choosing their undergraduate or graduate academic concentration.

Even if you do not purchase this package, we always do a post-gap evaluation call or meeting with our students and offer pre-college/transition advising when students return.

Planning a gap year is a journey. Let us help you start yours now!

Reach out to schedule a complimentary Exploratory Call with us today.

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Gap Year Programs and College Credit: Tips for Maximizing Time and Money

This article originally appeared in the Independent Educational Consultants Association August/September 2017 Insights Newsletter.

By now independent educational consultants (IECs) are well aware of the common reasons students take a gap year before starting college: recovering from academic burnout, desiring self-discovery, and cultivating a specific skill set, to name a few. Even though there are literally thousands of gap year programs that foster personal and professional development, the complicated process of choosing a program centers on aligning the program with the student’s post-gap year academic plans. Below are some tips to help college admission consultants navigate the issue of students earning college credit prior to officially starting their degree program.

Gap Year Program and College Credit. Tips to Maximize Time and Money on Gap Year. Graduation Picture.

Tip #1: Understand institutional policies on deferring admission

A student considering a gap year should complete the college application process alongside their non-gap year peers. As more institutions recognize the benefits of the gap year, some admissions officers are encouraging gap year participants to defer admission. Still, there are a fair amount of institutions that require students to reapply for admission (University of California and California State University systems). Depending on the school, re-applying can mean anything from submitting a brief form to completing the entire application process again in order to be considered for grants, merit scholarships, and other types of financial aid.

It is best to communicate directly with the assigned admissions officer to inquire as to how gap year participants should officially notify their chosen college of their plans. Some schools even have a designated admissions officer who works specifically with the gap year population. Students should find out early in the process which admissions officers handle gap year students (if any) and what the specific deferral policies are for gap year students.

Tip #2 Determine if earning credit is necessary

Gap year participation by U.S. students has skyrocketed in the last decade. Increasingly, organized programs are offering college credit for participants. Since financing a gap year remains one of the biggest obstacles for interested students, federal financial aid in the form of loans has recently become available for a limited number of programs.  This is made possible if the program has secured a school of record, an accredited institution that awards course credit to participants on independent educational programs.

The opportunity to earn college credit on a gap year program is complicated. While this is a game-changer for students who are eligible for financial aid, earning credit from a different school can sometimes mean students may be required to reapply as a transfer applicant. Additionally, courses taken for credit may not be accepted if there is no articulation agreement in place between the two institutions. Additionally, those students who choose a gap year program because of the possibility of earning college credit should be cautioned to manage their expectations. Despite the gap year phenomenon gaining momentum, it is unlikely gap year participants would end up graduating early or successfully waiving general education courses due to the credit they earn on a pre-college gap year program.

Tip 3: Encourage learning for the sake of learning

From a motivation perspective, students should not base their gap year decisions solely on the possibility of earning college credit. Sarah Dib, International Studies Director of CIEE Global Navigator High School Abroad, encourages students to “treat the gap year as an opportunity to explore the world and learn about themselves.” If a program does offer college credit (and the selected college accepts it), this is a value added component of the program, but it shouldn’t necessarily be the principal reason for choosing it.

Similar to the college application process, students should consider their personal, educational, and professional goals when considering a gap year program. Through powerful experiential learning, gap year students can break out of their comfort zone while exploring the intersection of their academic and personal interests.

Final Thoughts

IECs are quickly taking on expanded advising roles requiring deep knowledge of gap year programs including international volunteering, work exchange and internships, organized adventure travel, skill-building courses, and language studies abroad. Dedicated gap year counselors are a growing specialty among IECs, and as the number of students needing a break from the rigors of traditional academia increases, we must strike a delicate balance between navigating the bureaucracy of higher education and truly understanding the student’s needs and interests.

Expectations: The Ultimate Killer of Travel Dreams

I'm fresh off a three week road trip where I journeyed across the country from Los Angeles to Chicago. Unlike other trips where I read books, watched documentaries, pored over blog posts, and talked to fellow travelers about my destination, my goal for this trip was simply to minimize my expectations. While I did a fair amount of research on local hikes, campgrounds, bear safety (yikes!), etc., I wanted to experience the trip without pre-conceived notions of what others had to say about it. 

Journeying across highways and country roads allowed me to simply observe my surroundings, watching and listening without assigning meaning or making assumptions. This is undoubtedly one of the most difficult feats when it comes to traveling across cultures and regions even within your own country.

When advising my gap year and remote work clients, I  encourage them to start their travels with no expectations. This encourages curiosity and a sense of openness.  When travelers minimize expectations, we become more willing to push out of our comfort zones. We more easily adapt to our new environment, and most importantly, we can more easily stay focused on the present. Silvia Plath knew this approach well...

"If you expect nothing from somebody, you'll never be disappointed." - Silvia plath

In embarking on a trip or cultural experience with an open mind and a sense of curiosity, we can more accurately identify what assumptions we're making about whom. We can more easily see that our perspective is just that--our own small perceptions of the world.


the road trip stats:

  • 11 states

  • 2582 miles

  • four national parks (Zion, Yellowstone, mt rushmore, badlands)

  • six state parks/national forests (Custer sp was my fave)

  • one rodeo outing (CODY, WY)

  • 10 campgrounds/cabins/hotel/guest bedrooms

  • 350 bison watched from afar

  • zero bears seen (fine by me!)


Travel picture. USA. Gap Year Counselor.

Global Learning Nerds Unite!

Gap Year Counselor at international education conference. Intercultural learning specializing in professional development.

It's been a busy June! Earlier this month, me and 10,000 other passionate international educators from 100+ countries joined together at the NAFSA 2017 Annual Conference in Downtown Los Angeles (my backyard!).

We talked shop: trends, innovative practices, how to deal with global conflicts, and where the future of meaningful travel is going.

This was my seventh conference and as usual, it fed my [nerdy] global soul!

Meetings over Turkish coffee, networking events across DTLA, thought-provoking professional development sessions, and inspiring training seminars… Add 45+ languages being spoken and you have a global mix of individuals working together to bring the world to young and old.

The best part? I attended workshops by Janet Bennett, Ph.D. and Darla Deardorff, Ph.D., two of the leading researchers in intercultural competence research. Personally, I think they are the biggest reason why meaningful travel is more popular than it’s ever been before.

They have legitimized HOW and WHY breaking out of your comfort zone is so essential to survive in our globalized world.

Intercultural what?

Intercultural competence is a pretty simple concept actually.

It’s about being curious, self-aware, and empathetic towards others. That’s it.

Sure, it seems fluffy on the outside but us travelers know that experiencing a different culture has a huge impact on our identities. Something that has often been indescribable until Drs. Bennett and Deardorff (and a few others!) established its presence and importance.

“We are not truly educated until we have stepped outside our respective countries.” - Isabel Wilkerson

(NAFSA 2017 Plenary Speaker, Pulitzer prize winning journalist, and best-selling author of The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America's Great Migration)