Erin Berthon, MA Career Manager, Wilkinson College of Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences, at Chapman University

Are you considering graduate studies? The idea of diving straight into several more years of education may not be enticing, whether due to other aspirations or simply feeling drained. Taking a gap year (or years) before graduate school can provide a refreshing change of pace. It’s an opportunity for students to venture beyond the confines of the classroom, explore, learn, and mature before embarking on the next phase of their academic journey. Moreover, you can leverage your gap year experiences to enhance your future career, and to carefully consider what you want to study in graduate school

A gap year can encompass many different paths, and there is no shortage of what to do during your time.  Before making a decision, it’s crucial to recognize what you hope to achieve during a gap year. Consider how you intend to allocate your time and what you aim to gain from the experience. Additionally, factor in practical considerations, like finances, to determine whether you’ll need to work or save up for your gap year adventures.

Now, the pivotal question: what activities can you engage in during your gap year? Fortunately, the options are abundant, promising not only personal growth but also professional development.

Work and/or Work Abroad

Working in a job that aligns with long-term goals during a gap year before grad school can provide practical experience and insights that enhance academic and professional pursuits. Whether gaining industry-specific skills, expanding professional networks, or accruing financial resources for graduate studies, working in a relevant job can offer numerous benefits. Hands-on experience in a related field, or even going abroad for a year,  can provide clarity and direction. A job that aligns with your grad school goals will offer valuable insights and will enrich your grad school experience.


Volunteering during a gap year before graduate school offers a unique chance to contribute to meaningful causes while honing essential skills. Engaging in volunteer work allows individuals to develop leadership, teamwork, and problem-solving abilities in real-world settings. Volunteering fosters a sense of social responsibility and empathy, qualities highly valued in academic communities and professional settings. Volunteer experiences can provide valuable insights into real-life issues, inspire research interests, and help create a great personal statement.


During a gap year preceding graduate school, traveling can be invaluable for personal and academic growth. Experiencing different cultures, languages, and ways of life broadens perspectives and fosters adaptability, qualities essential for success in academia and beyond. Exposure to diverse environments cultivates empathy and enhances communication skills, which are invaluable assets in graduate studies and future career endeavors. Traveling provides opportunities for self-discovery and reflection, aiding in the clarification of academic and professional aspirations. See the world and document it; the world is your oyster!

Ensure a thorough understanding of your decision-making process, experiences, and lessons learned during your gap year. Reflect on both expected and unexpected outcomes as they contribute to significant personal growth that resonates with your professional aspirations. Communicate this growth effectively in your personal statement for grad school, and emphasize the relevance of your gap year experiences to your career aspirations. Whether highlighting it on your resume, elaborating in a cover letter, or discussing it in an interview, showcasing your gap year can set you apart and underscore your readiness for real-world challenges.