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With so many possibilities out there, the question, ‘What can I do in my gap year?’, takes some thought. The good news is that if you’re looking to make friends, travel, learn, grow, pick up skills, and explore career paths, there’s one option that gives you all of that and more. Nonprofit internships.

You’ve likely already been told that a gap year is a valuable opportunity for early career development, and an internship is the best way to capitalize on it. What makes a nonprofit internship especially valuable is that you receive all the same experience, skill-building, and mentorship while contributing to a meaningful cause.

If you don’t believe us, listen to the experience of one of our recent gap year interns.

In this blog, you’ll find a step-by-step guide on how to find the perfect gap year internship in the nonprofit sector. We’ll answer questions like ‘What can I do during my gap year?’ and ‘What makes the perfect gap year internship?’. Finally, we’ll suggest some of the best gap year options among our available internships.

Step 1: Self-Reflection

To get what you want from a gap year, you’re going to have to decide what you want.

Try not to get carried away with those grandiose cliches like ‘discovering yourself’ or ‘career headstarts’. It puts a lot of pressure on the planning process and can lead to decision paralysis.

Instead, keep it simple. Set yourself small, achievable goals that make sense for your life at present, not where you hope to be in the future. Ask questions like:

  • Do I want to experience working with children before committing to an education degree?
  • Do I want to investigate a social entrepreneurship internship before beginning my business degree?
  • Do I need scientific research experience to apply to a higher-ranking university?
  • Do I want to know more about a particular field? Contribute to a specific cause? Or visit a certain country?
  • Or do I just want to try new things in my gap year, travel abroad, and have fun?

Primarily, this approach lets you easily set your goals without having to predict the future. Secondly, it allows more freedom during your internship. It allows you to be surprised by what you discover and follow your intuition.

You might consider extending your internship. You might consider another. You might decide to continue your gap year traveling after your internship. Being able to follow your curiosity like this is often where the self-discovery comes in.

student typing on laptop at desk in house

Step 2: Research and Exploration

Once you know your goals, it’s time to start researching the gap year options out there.

Google ‘What can I do during my gap year?’ and a million things will come up. Don’t try and consider every possibility, or you’ll spend the year scrolling through search results. Let your interests guide your search. If you know what makes the perfect gap year internship for you, you’ll sift through the options quickly.

Once you start finding opportunities you like, be sure to research both the position itself and the organization you’ll be working for. You want to find a role that suits your interests within an organization that aligns with your values.

The important part of this stage is to keep open-minded and not get overly attached. Remember, applications can be competitive. Besides, the first thing you’ll learn about how to find the perfect gap year internship is that there are plenty of perfect options out there.

Step 3: Define Your Preferences

By the end of your research stage, you’ll have a long list of the best gap year travel programs, internships, and more. Now it’s time to work out which of them could happen.

When we say ‘define your preferences’ here, we also mean consider the logistical plausibility of gap year options. You’ve had your time for blue-sky thinking; now it’s time to get realistic. Consider things like:

  • Duration. – How long do you want your internship to last? Some opportunities may be as short as a few weeks, while others could span several months.
  • Size of the Organization. – Decide whether you prefer a large corporation, a small startup, or a non-profit. (Obviously, we advise the nonprofit route; see why here.)
  • Paid vs. Unpaid. – Determine if you need a paid internship to support your finances or if you’re willing to take an unpaid opportunity for the experience.
  • Budget. – Flights, accommodation, living costs—all these things add up. If you opt for an unpaid internship, these costs are coming directly out of your pocket too.
  • Remote vs. In-Person. – Consider whether you are comfortable with remote work or if you prefer an in-person internship. The flexibility of remote work opens up a much wider range of opportunities and is great if you can’t afford to travel. There are fantastic remote nonprofit internships too.
young men doing school work

Step 4: Connect and Network

One of the key ingredients of what makes the perfect gap year internship is networking opportunities, and these begin before the internship.

Now is a key time to start reaching out to potential mentors or contacts, expressing your interest in their work, and asking for suggestions for your gap year internship. Use online platforms like LinkedIn and cast a wide net for connecting with professionals and organizations. If you can, attend career fairs, seminars, and workshops to meet professionals in your desired field.

These connections may just give advice; they may offer another internship opportunity; or they may remember you for future openings. So, for those wondering, ‘What can I do during my gap year that will benefit my career?’, get networking. Engaging with individuals in your industry provides valuable insights and can lead to unexpected opportunities in the future.

This is also a great point for you to get in touch with us if you want to discuss your plans and see what opportunities we have available.

Step 5: Application and Selection

Now that you’ve cut your long list down to a shortlist and made a few contacts, it’s time to start the application process.

First of all, tailor your resume and cover letter to each internship you apply for. This is perhaps the most important thing to learn about how to find the perfect gap year internship. Don’t do all that legwork researching, only to fumble the bag with a shoddy cover letter.

Highlight your skills, experiences, and passion for the field. Also, mention if you attended any networking events during your search. Don’t oversell yourself. Be concise in your writing, and let your interests and experiences speak for themselves.

When you receive internship offers, evaluate them based on your goals, preferences, and values. Finally, be sure to clarify the terms and conditions of the internship, including responsibilities, hours, and any additional benefits.

woman picking books in front of a book shelf

Best Gap Year Internships

Now that you know how to find the perfect gap year internship for you, here are some of the best options that can help you kickstart your search. Below are some of our available programs that we consider our best gap year options. This is because they don’t necessarily require a certain academic background.

However, we’re able to place interns in a variety of focus areas and at all skill levels. So, whether you’ve just finished high school or university or you’re a young professional looking for a gap year career break, browse the rest of our gap year internships too.

Marine Conservation Program in South Africa

Embark on a thrilling journey to Simon’s Town, South Africa, where you can participate in our Marine Conservation Program. Here’s your chance to make a meaningful impact on marine life while gaining valuable experience in the field. You’ll spend your days on research dives, studying kelp forests and endemic species of fish and sharks, and leading teams of volunteers on dives.

snorkeler swimming in blue seawater

Education and Youth Development Internship in Ecuador

Discover the Amazon Rainforest while working with the indigenous Kichwa community, Shanida, and become an advocate for social change. As an intern, you’ll not only gain teaching experience with children and adults but also work on community uplift beyond the classroom. Join Manna Project International in breaking the cycle of poverty through holistic community development.

Marketing and Fundraising Internship in Portugal

Here’s an exciting opportunity for individuals looking to support animal welfare in Portugal. Join our marketing and fundraising internship with SOS Animal and help raise vital funds for vulnerable animals. You’ll learn more about the unique fauna and flora native to Portugal and how an environmental nonprofit operates, all while developing your marketing and fundraising expertise.

Now It’s Time to Choose Your Gap Year Internship!

As you can see, there’s a lot to consider when asking, ‘What can I do during my gap year?’. A gap year is a unique time where you can enjoy some of the independence of adulthood without everything else that comes with it. Truly, there is no other time in life when you can enjoy such freedom. So, make the most of it!

Working out how to find the perfect gap year internship is a significant step toward making your gap year a transformative and enriching experience. By following the steps above, you’ll be well on your way to a gap year adventure that leaves a lasting impact on your life.

Browse all our available nonprofit internships

This blog was written by Tom Rusbridge