Taking a year off from college

Taking a Year Off from College: What Do I Do Now?

Taking a year off from college can happen in any year. Students want to take a gap year to explore, build skills, or gain life experience. Maybe they need to take a leave of absence for personal reasons. In 2020, a common reason for investigating this option is COVID-19. No matter the reason…the question often comes up, “What do I do now?”

In a typical year, a formalized gap year program might include foreign travel, and these programs are still continuing in 2020, although in some modified form. Click to read our blog post about what a typical gap year program can look like.

Carpe Diem, a “typical” gap year program, cancelled their fall international programs and (at the time of this publication) are still considering whether or not spring 2021 programs will take place. Keep in mind: these formalized programs can be expensive. Carpe Diem’s domestic program, Borderlands, is still continuing at a cost of $12,400. (A partner of Carpe Diem, Carpe Mundi, is designed for first generation college students and those eligible for full Pell Grants attending Portland area colleges.)

Common considerations include working or taking courses at a community college. Be very aware of your college’s policy on taking courses at other colleges! Normally this practice is not allowed, but in 2020, colleges have been more flexible. Beyond work and taking classes, what are some formalized programs a college student can participate in while taking a year off from college?

AmeriCorps NCCC

The AmeriCorps NCCC program gives students age 18-26 the chance to spend 10-12 months working for the benefit of others in national and community service projects. A participant has their room and board and transportation expenses paid for. They also receive an education award after the completion of their service. Currently, the program is still operating despite COVID-19. Corps members travel the country meeting others, developing leadership skills, and having a meaningful impact in communities nationwide.


What the heck is WWOOF? WWOOF stands for “Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms.” Students become WWOOFers and spend part of their day working on an organic farm and receive free room and board for their help. Be sure to investigate the farm you will work on and perhaps go with a friend. You will want to choose a reputable farm that has provided good experiences to students in the past.

Food Corps

Food Corps is part of the AmeriCorps service network. Their mission is to connect kids with healthy food. Their service members are placed in schools across the country to teach about cooking, gardening, and tasting. As with NCCC, members receive a living stipend and an education award. Students need to apply for this opportunity. Food Corps is a full-time, eleven and a half month commitment which runs from August to July each year. The application period opens in January and closes in April each year with offers sent in June.

Habitat for Humanity

“Affordable housing plays a critical role in strong and stable communities.” While the Global Village (international projects) is currently closed due to COVID-19, there are other long-term volunteer opportunities working on housing projects across the nation. You can also find opportunities closer to home.

The Student Conservation Association

While currently not active because of COVID-19, the Student Conservation Association typically works to “protect and restore national parks, marine sanctuaries, cultural landmarks, and community green spaces in all 50 states.” SCA offers team-based and individual internship gap year programs. “Whether your dream is to lead public programs as a park ranger, trek the backcountry as a field scientist, or explore new sustainability solutions as an urban planner, SCA has something for you.” (Students interested in conservation might enjoy the virtual project here.)

City Year

City Year is another AmeriCorps partner program where members serve “as student success coaches, helping students build on their strengths and cultivate social, emotional and academic skills that are important in school and life” in under-resourced communities. They are currently still accepting applications with start dates in November 2020 and continuing through January 2021. Students serve full time partnering with teachers to work as success coaches and tutors. They may work on after school programs and organize school-wide events.

Quaker Voluntary Service

For those looking for a more faith-based program, Quaker Voluntary Service is a 11-month program where students work full-time in “professional positions at community based organizations addressing a wide range of issues, while living in a cooperative house and worshiping with, and being mentored by, local Quakers. Fellows receive housing, transportation, food, support for health and wellness (including access to health insurance if needed), and a small stipend, while engaging in regular self-led workshops and retreats that allow for continuing education in social justice, faith, and community building topics.”

Despite COVID-19, there are still formalized program options out there.

Consider what your objective is. What are you passionate about? Research the options thoroughly to understand if they will be a good fit and go for it.

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