Gap-Year and Short-Term Opportunities

Often people will take a year or two after graduation, prior to entering graduate or professional school (including medical school), or between Master’s and doctoral studies. The purpose can vary—It’s important to know yourself and your reasons behind a gap year.  Most importantly, you should have defined goals for this period of time, and know what you want to gain from the experience. Do you want a break from school before pursuing more education?  Are you not quite sure what you want to do yet, or what to concentrate on in graduate/professional school?  Then working in the industry of your interest or a related field and exploring options, while gaining experience, may be your best path. Do you need to improve your grades or complete a pre-requisite for medical or professional school applications?  Explore post-bac programs. Consider opportunities to travel, volunteer, or pursue a personal interest.   Also, particularly in some STEM fields, getting a year of industry experience can be really helpful—if the company likes your work and sees the benefit of you furthering your academic experience, they may even pay for your graduate school.

Is a gap year (or years) right for you?

First of all, check out the process as it pertains to your situation. Make sure you’ve considered impacts on visas, insurance, course planning and financial aid. If you’re considering taking time during your Duke career, the Time Away office can help answer your questions about a leave, support you both going and coming, as well as provide support during your leave.

Healthcare Related Opportunities
There are a multitude of opportunities available to you (and really, you can do whatever you want).  Actively explore and search for the right one for you.

Duke Health Professions Advising works closely with Duke students and alumni who aspire to careers in the health professions.
MedServe is a two-year service-learning fellowship for recent graduates interested in health careers, especially pre-med and pre-PA students. MedServe places future physicians in “rock star” primary care clinics across rural and other medically underserved communities in North Carolina. As Fellows, students work in both a clinical role (e.g. as a medical assistant) and community role (e.g. as a health coach).
American Public Health Association is the oldest, largest and most diverse organization of public health professionals in the world and has been working to improve public health since 1872. A variety of internships for undergrad and grad students are available.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) offers a variety of fellowship and internship opportunities for individuals who have, or will soon have a college degree. These programs can help jump-start a career in protecting the public’s health.
Office of Minority Health and Health Disparities supports various fellowships and training opportunities for qualified students at all levels of their education. Many of the opportunities involve working with the Federal Government or the Center for Disease Control (CDC).
Dept of Health and Human Services Emerging Leaders Program (ELP) is a competitive, two-year, paid, federal internship within HHS. The program provides interns with a unique opportunity to develop enhanced leadership skills in one of the largest federal agencies in the nation. HHS is looking for talented and highly-motivated individuals with a commitment to public service. The program provides an excellent opportunity for participants to begin a professional career in HHS.
Global Health Corps mobilizes a diverse community of leaders to build the movement for global health equity.

Gain more Clinical Experience

The following positions are attainable after your bachelor’s degree and can give you good insight into medical practice and the field.

  • Medical Scribe
  • EMT (does take prior training, so potentially start while in school)
  • Medical Assistant
  • Research Assistant
The Duke Office of University Scholars and Fellows can help you explore the Fulbright and  a variety of opportunities that might fit with your interests.
Interstride is an online resource aimed at facilitating employment for international students. It’s job boards offer a multitude of international experiences as well as US opportunities for international students who wish to stay in the US. And domestic students who may wish to work abroad.
The Fulbright U.S. Student Program provides grants for individually designed study/research projects or for English Teaching Assistant Programs.
The Fulbright English Teaching Assistant (ETA) Programs place Fulbrighters in classrooms abroad to provide assistance to the local English teachers. ETAs help teach English language while serving as cultural ambassadors for the U.S.
The Peace Corps is a service opportunity for motivated changemakers to immerse themselves in a community abroad, working side by side with local leaders to tackle the most pressing challenges of our generation.
The James C. Gaither Junior Fellows program through the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace offers approximately 11-13 one-year fellowships to uniquely qualified graduating seniors and individuals who have graduated during the past academic year to work as research assistants to Carnegie’s senior scholars.
The Teaching Assistant Program in France offers you the opportunity to work in France for seven months, teaching English to French students of all ages.
Council on International Exchange Teach Abroad (CIEE) program offers volunteer opportunities to teach English abroad.
JET (Japan Exchange and Teaching) is a competitive employment opportunity that allows young professionals with an interest in Japan to live and work in cities, towns, and villages throughout Japan. Most participants serve as Assistant Language Teachers (ALTs) and work in public and private schools throughout Japan; some work as Coordinators for International Relations (CIRs) as interpreters/translators.
Think Swiss Research Scholarships are open to undergraduate and graduate students wanting to do research at a public Swiss university or research institute for two to three months. This program provides a monthly scholarship of approx. USD 1,600 and is open to students of all fields.
BUNAC offers a range of work abroad, volunteer abroad, and teaching overseas programs to destinations such as Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Cambodia, South Africa, Ghana, China, and Peru
City Year corps member serve full-time as tutors and mentors in schools, running after-school programs, leading and developing youth leadership programs, and vacation camps to make a difference in the lives of children and their communities.
AmeriCorps State and National provides funds to local and national organizations and agencies committed to using national service to address critical community needs in education, public safety, health and environment. There are numerous individual organizations that, as AmeriCorps member organizations, hire one or more Corps members each year. Search the website to find more information about becoming a Corps member with a participating Americorps organization.
Teach For America (TFA) finds and nurture leaders who commit to expanding opportunity for low-income students, beginning with at least two years teaching in a public school.
Citizen Schools helps all students thrive in school and beyond through hands-on learning and career mentors. Every student has the potential to thrive in school and beyond, but not all have the opportunities to do so.
We have had alumni go to NYC to dance in the ballet, write books and start a photography business before applying to graduate/professional school.  These and many other experiences can lend to who you are as a person and give you an academic break prior to going back to school.Try writing a travel blog as you explore the within the US or internationally. This can be a great example of writing and communication ability for future employers, and can serve as an amazing memento of your trip.
Venture for America (VFA) is a two-year fellowship for recent college grads who want to build companies and become entrepreneurs.
The Lewis Hine Documentary Fellows Program connects the talents of young documentarians with the resources and needs of community-based organizations. The program places fellows with organizations seeking creative solutions to the specific problems faced by women, children, adolescents, and young adults in socially and economically disadvantaged areas.
Green Corps trains organizers, provide field support for today’s critical environmental campaigns, and graduate activists who possess the skills, temperament and commitment to fight and win tomorrow’s environmental battles.
Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farma (WWOOF) is a movement linking volunteers with organic farmers and growers to promote cultural and educational experiences based on trust and non-monetary exchange, thereby helping to build a sustainable, global community.
The Tidelines Institute mission is to educate a diverse generation of citizens, stewards, and leaders through immersive courses in the communities and wildlands of Alaska,
exploring our home through the liberal arts and scientific inquiry, hands-on work and sustainable harvest, community events, hiking and paddling, and honoring Tlingit culture and values.
The Toledo Institute of Development and Environment (TIDE) manages three protected areas in the Caribbean, as well as pioneers award-winning initiatives that are being replicated as models of sustainable development elsewhere. Passionate college graduates and student researchers are invited to volunteer for a minimum of 6 months in Punta Gorda, Belize on an as-needed basis.
Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) Science and Technology and Policy Program (STP) serves as a next step in the educational and professional development of scientists and engineers interested in energy efficiency and renewable energy policy.
Duke College Advising Corps (CAC) works to increase the number of low-income, first-generation college and underrepresented high school students in rural North Carolina who enter and complete higher education. Duke currently has 16 college advisors in central North Carolina high schools. The program is sponsored by the John M. Belk Foundation, AmeriCorps, The Anonymous Trust and The Duke Endowment.
National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS) is a nonprofit global wilderness school that seeks to help you improve your skills as a leader. They even have a course in wilderness medicine, for those interested in a medical career. Through wilderness education and experiences, they provide the environment and training, both in classrooms and in remote wilderness areas around the world, to build your leadership potential.
The White House Internship Program is a public service leadership program that provides a unique opportunity to gain valuable professional experience and build leadership skills. This hands-on program is designed to mentor and cultivate today’s young leaders, strengthen their understanding of the Executive Office, and prepare them for future public service opportunities.
Humanity in Action Fellowship programs look at the ways in which communities co-exist to create a society by investigating human rights, democracy, and structural injustice, each bridging the international and the domestic, the theoretical and the practical, the political and the personal.
Disney College Program offers the opportunity for college students and recent grads to work in many areas of their parks in Orlando or Anaheim, gaining customer service and operations experience at one of the best companies in the business. For other, more specific-to-industry options, check out the “Quick Links” at the bottom of Disney’s page.
Hart Fellowship Program (HFP) offers recent Duke graduates 10-month fellowships with organizations that are facing complex social, political and humanitarian problems. This capstone experience helps fellows develop their own vision for ethical leadership as they move into professional life. (international and domestic)
Smithsonian Fellowships and Internships provides hundreds of graduate students and holders of doctorates independent research opportunities under the guidance of a member of their world-class research staff. Fellows have the opportunity to study and work intensively with Smithsonian collections and experts in their fields. In addition, more than 1,500 students pursue internships offered across the organization.
Coro Fellows Program in Public Affairs (9 mos)  develops emerging leaders to work and lead across different sectors by equipping them with knowledge, skills, and networks to accelerate positive change. Throughout the nine months, each fellow participates in a series of full-time projects across a variety of sectors in public affairs, including a final independent project of the fellow’s choosing.
Lead 4 America recruits, trains, and places locally-rooted, dynamic young leaders in communities across America to address critical community challenges while strengthening the civic fabric of their towns. We specifically focus on channeling talent back to locations where the narrative of success too often means leaving and never coming back.

Have Fun

It’s also possible to make a gratifying, purposeful year just doing something fun.  Resorts and other seasonal places often hire temporary workers in destination locations. is a job board for seasonal and destination jobs. features worldwide resort jobs with ski and snowboard resorts, camps, national parks, cruise ships, restaurants and hotels.

Fellowships, both academic and working, are opportunities available to those who have completed an undergraduate degree by the time the program begins. Professional fellowships are competitive in nature, can be located anywhere in the world, and serve as a fantastic launching pad for careers in ANY field and/or admissions into graduate and professional school.

Fellowship Databases

Duke Fellowship Programs & Departments

Keep the following in mind as you consider a gap year

  • Have a solid, defined plan for your gap year
  • Identify skills you wish to build during this time
  • Determine how will you support yourself
  • What are your goals and motivations
  • Do you have the motivation needed to get back to academics after a year or more away