How Gap Years Work

Paying for a Gap Year
Getting a job -- even a part-time gig at a coffee shop -- can help offset the costs of a gap year.
Getting a job -- even a part-time gig at a coffee shop -- can help offset the costs of a gap year.
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For students and parents already stressed about the cost of college, the prospect of spending more money for a gap year may make them feel a little queasy. After all, some programs can cost as much as $30,000 to $40,000 [source: Gillies]. But with some extra effort, aspiring gappers can find creative ways to offset these costs, or even locate programs that are low-cost or free to begin with.

One way to lower your gap-year costs is to apply for scholarships and financial aid. Travel, adventure, and study abroad programs frequently offer participants small scholarships, but don't expect this kind of help from volunteer programs, which mainly spend their money helping people. There are also some cases where you can use federal financial aid to help defray the cost of a gap year program, but it can be complicated. In order to be eligible for this assistance, students must enroll in a program that has an academic element and is hosted by the university in which they're enrolled; they typically can't transfer those hours to the school of their choice. If nothing else talk to an accountant, as many of the costs associated with volunteer programs can be considered tax-deductible [source: White].

Showing a little initiative and resourcefulness can help cut costs, too. Consider doing some fundraising with your friends, family, church or the broader community. If your gap year is for a good cause, write letters telling people about what you want to do. Ask them to sponsor a day of your trip and send them a postcard about what awesome things you did that day. Some students have even had success using radio stations, YouTube or even crowdunding sites to promote their cause [sources: Whiteand AGA, "Financial Aid"]. If raising money isn't your thing, think about working six months and saving for a gap half-year. It can be just as meaningful at half the cost [source: Hoder].

Maybe the best way to keep expenses down, though, is by taking a free or low-cost gap year. AmeriCorps is the best-known free option, but there are others like the Student Conservation Corps and World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms that cover your room and board and might even offer a stipend. Other programs offer an experience similar to their higher-cost counterparts but at a fraction of the price. This could be an option if you are OK with fewer amenities and fewer opportunities to travel beyond your home base, but be sure to research them thoroughly to make sure they're legit [source: White].

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