Taking a Year Off Before College: Can I Afford a Gap Year?

By Robin Pendoley
For StudentAdvisor.com

taking a year off before college gap yearEven in a struggling economy and with the price of higher education climbing every day, it’s important to remember one thing: EVERYONE CAN AFFORD A GAP YEAR.

In fact, I’m going to argue that you can’t afford not to do a gap year. It’s a bold statement, but consider these two things:

1.  Gap Years Can Help Pay for College

For those worried about the high cost of college tuition, there are a number of gap year options that will pay students both a living stipend and an education award. City Year and AmeriCorps provide a range of service learning opportunities in communities around the US, including both individual and team settings. A year of service is rewarded with a modest living stipend and a $5500 Segal AmeriCorps Education Award to be applied toward college tuition. Additionally, many colleges around the country will augment that award, sometimes even doubling or tripling its value.

2.  Students Who Take a Gap Year Get More Out of College

Bob Claggett, Dean of Admissions at Middlebury College, was quoted in Time Magazine in September 2010 saying that the gap year was the single best indicator for success of students on his campus. Gap year students widely report being more focused, driven, and directed during their college years. With as many as 50% of students dropping out of college before graduation, investing in a gap year may be the best way to ensure the money invested in college tuition will be well spent. (For more on this, check out my previous post.)

So, whether your primary concern is paying for college or ensuring you get the most from your college years, a gap year is a crucial step before college.

“How Much Should I Spend?”

Of course, there are many gap year options and the best fit for you may charge tuition or a fee. While money is an important factor when comparing programs, it’s important to not let it limit your search. Ultimately, you want to find a program that is both affordable and the right fit for what you want to learn and gain.

Here are some things to consider when evaluating the cost of the programs you are considering:

You Get What You Pay For

When looking at the cost of a program, remember to look carefully at what you get for the money you spend. Small group sizes, safety precautions, support services, itinerary details, and quality of experience and learning opportunities are all details to investigate. 

thinking beyond borders gap year tripCollege Credit = $

 Some organizations offer college credit for successful completion of their gap year program. It is important to check with your university ahead of your program to determine if those credits will transfer. If your college does, the credits earned may satisfy general education requirements, shortening your time on campus and reducing tuition costs. Additionally, accredited programs are often eligible for traditional college scholarships like those that can be found on Fastweb.

Scholarships and Financial Aid

Many gap year programs offer need-based scholarship and financial aid resources to accepted students. Scholarships can range from a few hundred dollars to enough funds to cover all costs of participating. Some programs will assist students in raising funds on their own to cover the cost of the program. Additionally, local and national service organizations like Rotary International provide scholarships for student exchange. If you are planning to apply for scholarships or raise funds it is critical to apply to the programs and scholarships early.

Earn Your Keep

Plan ahead and schedule time over weekends, summers, or holidays to work and earn money to put toward the cost of your gap year. Additionally, some students choose to spend the first few months of their gap year working full time locally to finance programs or travel later in the year.

Virtually every student can benefit from a gap year. With some planning and legwork, a gap year is possible for every student, regardless of financial concerns.

Robin Pendoley is Co-Founder & CEO of Thinking Beyond Borders, an educational gap year program.

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