Whether it’s to expand your horizons or your contacts book, there’s likely to be a gap year itinerary to suit you.

A gap year sounds the perfect time to learn white water rafting, go trekking in the Himalayas or spend time swimming with dolphins. But for every new graduate opting to devote their gap year to exotic travel, nature watching or extreme sports, there is another one concentrating on boosting their employability – via an internship, work scheme or an international community or environmental project, for example.

If you decide to take some well-earned time off before heading out into the world of work, the benefits of a well-structured gap year can be enormous to your career, as well as to you as an individual.

Skiing to the top

Jon Rose, an ex-surveyor, is the course co-ordinator at Snow Challenge, which offers a 12-week course for ski improvers and would-be ski instructors in the Canadian Rockies that attracts mostly male high-flyers in IT and banking, as well as school leavers and recent graduates looking for a way into one of the big professions.

At a cost of £6,350, which includes “everything apart from beer money”, the course might not immediately sound like a recipe for success in finance or technology. But according to Rose, the sheer physical challenge involved can bring out hidden talents. “I’ve seen hundreds of graduates come onto this course and really mature over the 12 weeks, even those who haven’t done much more than sit around and do the occasional essay for the past three years.

“Networking with others already in, or looking to join, the same sort of profession is a big plus, as is the development of team working skills in what can be a very challenging environment.”

Mountbatten Internship Programme – a golden ticket

Away from the ski slopes, the Mountbatten Institute, once known as the Mountbatten Internship Programme, was founded in New York in 1984. Its rather grand-sounding mission is to “foster international and cross-cultural understanding through experiential education, practical training and residence abroad”, and it is also rather handy if you want to join an international bank, law firm or other large organisation.

The programme offers a one-year training programme in either New York or London to around 500 graduates each year and is viewed by many City employers as a first-class ticket to a glittering career.

Bunac – it’s a world thing

If the Mountbatten internship is aimed at those with their long-term professional future already fixed firmly in their minds, then Bunac’s less ambitious aim is simply to find young people opportunities to work, teach and volunteer all over the world.

Yet here too, says Haydn Parks, Bunac’s marketing and promotions manager, participants need reassurance that the whole experience will be beneficial to their long term career prospects. “Some young people want danger and excitement and a physical challenge or even risk, while others are looking for better understanding of the world and a glimpse of how business operates on different continents,” he says. “Whether you opt for paid employment in the US or Canada, or would prefer to volunteer in Africa or Asia, gap year graduates tend to want to network with their contemporaries, broaden their perspectives and see at close range how the other half of the world live. “Along the way, they gain independence and self assurance, an impressive range of practical skills and make their CV look very interesting and unique,” he adds.

Sociologists tell us that the current generation of graduates – the so-called Generation Y – are more dependent on their parents than ever before; both emotionally and financially. While Parks doesn’t believe that all gap year candidates fit into this mould, he stresses that “hand-holding by Bunac is there for those who need it”. “We offer a full support package for anyone feeling homesick or unhappy but for the most part, people do successfully complete their assignment and feel a real sense of achievement at having done so,” he says.

In terms of cost, Summer Camp USA will set you back £329, including accommodation and flights, while the various volunteer programmes weigh in at between £250 and £1,565.

Most BUNAC volunteers are female and between them, they represent a broad range of arts, humanities, science and social science degree subjects.

Adventures with Raleigh International

Raleigh International, previously known as Operation Raleigh, is an education charity that provides adventurous and challenging expeditions for young people from all backgrounds and nationalities. Over the last 24 years, some 30,000 people have been involved in more than 250 expeditions to more than 40countries. New ventures in India include building elephant trenches to keep elephants and their human neighbours apart, and anti poaching expeditions at an Indian National Park.

Raleigh Venturers, who are usually between 17 and 24 years old, can opt for a four-week, or a more popular 10-week, expedition, which consists of three different environmental, community and adventure projects (see cover image) such as laying a nature trail, building a school and perhaps climbing a volcano in Costa Rica. Prices range from £1,500 for a four-week expedition to £2,995 for 10 weeks, excluding flights, and the money is usually raised via a programme of fund-raising.

“We take people out of their comfort zone and put them in a safe but challenging environment where they grow as individuals and acquire new skills,” says Raleigh’s head of sales and marketing Rachel Collinson. “There is no doubt that anyone with Raleigh International on their CV attracts more attention among top employers.”

For more information