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].
Author's Note: How Gap Years Work
I've always thought asking 18-year-olds to pick a college major is a recipe for disaster. How can we expect anyone with such little life experience to know what they want to do for the next 40 years? After writing this article, though, I can definitely see how a well-planned gap year might just help some people make better decisions about their future. I think it's great to take a year after high school to learn more about yourself and your interests, and even have a little fun in the process. It certainly beats switching gears when you're a few years into college, or worse, saddled with the responsibility of a family, career and mortgage!
More Great Links
- American Gap Association. "Financial Aid." 2014. (May 19, 2016) http://www.americangap.org/financial-aid.php
- American Gap Association. "Gap Year Data and Benefits." 2015. (May 19, 2016) http://www.americangap.org/data-benefits.php
- American Gap Association. "Planning Your Gap Year." 2014. (May 19, 2016) http://www.americangap.org/planning.php
- Birch, Elisa Rose and Paul Miller. "The Characteristics of 'Gap-Year' Students and Their Tertiary Academic Outcomes." Economic Record. Vol. 83, Iss. 262. Pages 329-344. Sept. 14, 2007. (May 20, 2016) http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1475-4932.2007.00418.x/abstract
- Bodkin, Peter. "Sydney University Study Reveals Students Who Take Gap Year Enjoy Better Results." Herald Sun. Sept. 17, 2013. (May 21, 2016) http://www.heraldsun.com.au/news/sydney-university-study-reveals-students-who-take-gap-year-enjoy-better-results/story-fnii5s3y-1226721089511
- Clagett, Bob. "Bob Clagett on Taking a Gap Year." College Admission. March 20, 2013. (May 20, 2016) http://collegeadmissionbook.com/blog/bob-clagett-taking-gap-year
- Crawford, Claire and Jonathan Cribb. "Gap Year Takers: Uptake, Trends and Long Term Outcomes." Department for Education. November 2012. (June 3, 2016) https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/219637/DFE-RR252.pdf
- Gillies, Trent. "Filling in the Gap Year After High School: Making the Most of Time Off." CNBC. May 15, 2016. (May 22, 2016) http://www.cnbc.com/2016/05/14/filling-in-the-gap-year-after-high-school-making-the-most-of-time-off.html
- Gregory, Sean. "Time Out: Gauging the Value of a Gap Year Before College." Time. Sept. 21, 2010. (May 22, 2016) http://content.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,2015783,00.html
- Haigler, Karl. "The Gap Year Advantage." Teen Life. Feb. 24, 2014. (May 20, 2016) https://www.teenlife.com/blogs/gap-year-advantage
- Hoder, Randye. "Why Your High School Senior Should Take a Gap Year." Time. May 14, 2014. (May 23, 2016) http://time.com/97065/gap-year-college/
- Holmes, Bradford. "Decide if a Gap Year Makes Sense for You." U.S. News & World Report. July 8, 2013. (May 21, 2016) http://www.usnews.com/education/blogs/college-admissions-playbook/2013/07/08/decide-if-a-gap-year-makes-sense-for-you
- Moy, Jennifer. "Why Are Gap Years More Common in Europe Than the US?" Go Overseas. July 25, 2013. (June 1, 2016) http://www.gooverseas.com/blog/why-gap-years-more-common-in-europe-us
- Rowe, Mark. "The Credibility Gap." Geographical. Vol. 80, Iss. 8. August 2008. (May 21, 2016) http://connection.ebscohost.com/c/articles/33269951/credibility-gap
- Shellenbarger, Sue. "Delaying College to Fill in the Gaps." The Wall Street Journal. Dec. 29, 2010. (May 23, 2016) http://www.wsj.com/articles/SB10001424052970203513204576047723922275698
- Strauss, Valerie. "What 'Gap' Years Are All About." Washington Post. Sept. 21, 2012. (May 23, 2016) https://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/post/a-primer-on-gap-years/2012/09/20/005d2a5c-033f-11e2-91e7-2962c74e7738_blog.html
- White, Kristin M. "The Complete Guide to the Gap Year: The Best Things to Do Between High School and College." Jossey-Bass. 2009. https://books.google.com/books/about/The_Complete_Guide_to_the_Gap_Year.html?id=Y-gAhChIGPUC