How to Financially Plan for a Gap Year

A gap year for students is a break from formal academic study. Students may take a gap year after high school, or before entering college. They may also take a break while in college, or before starting graduate school. Some students take a semester off. Others take more than a year off. During this time away from the classroom, students may travel, complete internships, volunteer, or work part time or full time.

Gap year expenses vary. If you travel by air during a gap year, the flight to and from your destination typically comprises the largest expense. But smaller, incidental expenses can quickly add up. Some examples include daily transportation and laundry.

You can manage your gap year costs with a financial plan. Financing options include federal financial aid, scholarships, or grants. Read below for some advice on how to afford a gap year. As with all financial issues, speak with a financial advisor to receive guidance on how these tips and strategies apply to your personal situation.

FAQs


  • Q. Can you get financial aid after a gap year?

    Students may qualify for financial aid after taking a gap year. However, you must resubmit the Free Application for Federal Student Aid for each year you wish to receive financial aid.


  • Q. Does taking a gap year affect the FAFSA?

    Taking a gap year may affect the amount of financial aid you receive. Working during a gap year will also generate reportable income.


  • Q. Is it harder to get into college if you take a gap year?

    A gap year for students can enhance college admissions profiles. Demonstrate on applications that you used the time to develop your personal and professional interests outside of a classroom.


  • Q. Can you take two gap years?

    You can take two gap years. However, most students take 7-12 months away from school, according to a 2020 survey.


Plan Your Gap Year



Planning in advance eases concerns about affording a gap year. Creating your own gap year plan offers freedom and flexibility. However, you will have responsibility for handling — and paying for — all the details. A gap year travel agency can plan some or all of your experience. In exchange for paying a program fee, you will receive expert insight, advice, and support. The professionals will ensure that important details are not overlooked or left to chance.

If you will spend your gap year abroad, remember to budget for the time and money needed to obtain passports, visas, and other travel documents. Also keep in mind that the coronavirus pandemic — still ongoing when this guide was first published — may add complexity to travel planning.


  • Decide What To Do

    Next, decide where you want to go and, perhaps more importantly, what you want to do. Some common reasons for taking a gap year include developing foreign language skills, building career experience, and becoming a world citizen by living and working in another culture. You may take a gap year without earning money by volunteering your expertise though internships or language tutoring. In exchange, you could receive free living accommodations.

    Wanting to travel just for fun is a valid reason too. Travel facilitates human connection, broadens our horizons, and provides an opportunity to see and experience new things.


  • Create a Budget

    Once you have decided where to go and what to do, create a budget. Where you go and how you want to live will influence how much money you’ll need for your day-to-day living expenses. Depending on how you structure the experience, your expenses could range from $10 per day to more than $100 per day.


If you plan an independent trip, understand that you will be responsible for all incidental expenses. Finally, some gap year planning best practices include developing a flexible itinerary and avoiding travel during any holiday periods.

Fund Your Gap Year



You can use a variety of financial options to afford a gap year. First, you’ll want to estimate how much it will cost. And the cost will vary widely depending on the destination, and what you choose to do while you stay there. Many gap year programs cost between $5,000-$12,000.

Travel will likely make up a large portion of your costs — both to the destination and around the area during your stay. The Gap Year Association suggests including an analysis of your spending habits in this process. Once you’ve incorporated your estimated gap year costs into your financial plan, you can start saving. If you choose a gap year program that offers college credit, financial aid may cover some of the costs. Grants or scholarships may also help offset the cost.

529 College Savings Account


It’s possible to use a 529 college savings account to fund a gap year. However, limitations and some exemptions apply. You cannot use 529 funds to pay for gap year-related travel costs or daily living expenses. If you do, income taxes and a 10% penalty may apply. Before moving forward with this approach, experts recommend that you understand 529 plan rules.

Fundraising


Experts recommend making fundraising a part of your gap year financial plan. Fundraising could involve a number of initiatives, like launching a crowdfunding page, or sponsoring a trivia or athletic event. Regardless of the approach, part of the planning process should involve identifying “what you can do for your donors that would inspire them to donate to your plans,” according to the Gap Year Association. Successful fundraising involves building awareness and interest in a cause.

Personal or Home Equity Loan


You may also finance a gap year through a personal or home equity loan. However, there are disadvantages in using personal loans or a home equity loan to pay for the experience. While repayment for education-related loans is usually deferred, the repayment for personal loans typically begins 30 days after the loan’s disbursement.

Jobs


FInally, working can also offset gap year costs. A temporary or part-time job will build your resume and facilitate professional networking experiences.

Resources


  • Brower Youth Awards Each year, the Earth Island Institute awards six $3,000 scholarships for people ages 13-22 who live in North America. The scholarships honor the leaders of projects or campaigns supporting environmental advocacy or environmental justice.
  • Budget Pulse Designed for individuals or families, this free, online budgeting tool provides a dashboard that allows you to visualize your entire financial picture. It accepts imported data from popular spreadsheet programs, like Quicken and Microsoft Excel. BudgetPulse does not require you to link your personal bank information with the app.
  • Cost of Living Calculator Numbeo is a crowd-sourced database offering cost of living comparisons and calculators. The site features free data for more than 10,000 U.S. and international cities. Numbeo also provides data and comparisons for property prices, healthcare, traffic, and crime.
  • GoAbroad This nonprofit organization connects students who want to travel abroad with companies that offer international programs. Go Abroad features information on more than 12,000 verified programs, 45,000 reviews, more than 4,700 travel articles and blogs, and hundreds of scholarships.
  • GoFundMe This popular digital crowdfunding platform's functionality makes it easy to set up a campaign with just a few clicks or swipes. The nonprofit offers 24/7 customer and tech support. Users also can easily share the story behind their campaign through social media, text, and email.
  • HostelJobs This website publishes thousands of international hostel job opportunities that can help fund a gap year for students. Recent listings include part-time, full-time, internship, and work-exchange positions in guest services, sales, marketing, housekeeping, and food service.
  • Mint This free online and mobile app provides an overview of your entire financial life. Mint provides information, management, and updates at a glance about your bank, credit card, investment, and loan accounts. You can set email or mobile alerts to track pending bills and avoid late fees. You must synchronize your financial accounts with the app for full functionality.
  • National Security Language Initiative for Youth This U.S. State Department program awards merit-based language immersion scholarships to high school students. The program's goal is improving U.S. residents' language and cultural engagement with people who speak Arabic, Chinese, Hindi, Indonesian, Korean, Persian, Russian, and Turkish. The American Councils for International Education runs the program in cooperation with the State Department.
  • Oyster Oyster is a U.K.-based, family-owned company that specializes in arranging paid and volunteer work abroad experiences. The company serves people in all demographic, educational, and career stages, including those taking a career break, and retirees. Oyster helps people create trips that incorporate responsible travel, environmental awareness, and personal health and safety.
  • Patreon Pateron allows individuals and nonprofits to engage and fundraise directly with followers and audiences. The platform supports writers, podcasters, educators, visual artists, and musicians through a tiered membership program.
  • Rover If you like animals, Rover allows you to earn money by taking care of other people's pets. The platform matches pet guardians with providers who offer services that include dog walking, house sitting, and dog daycare. Caring for someone else's dog or cat overnight in your home generates the highest earnings.
  • Trusted Housesitters This platform connects people looking for house sitters to take care of their pets and property. In exchange for an annual membership fee, you receive access to international potential matches.
  • Volunteering Journeys Volunteering Journeys facilitates opportunities for volunteer work and travel to India, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Cambodia, Thailand, and Peru. The organization works to serve needs in these communities, and provides meaningful, gratifying volunteer experiences.
  • Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms This organization connects people interested in sustainable, organic agriculture with farmers who share the same values. Also known as WWOOF, the organization promotes educational and cultural exchanges. Participants in the U.S. version of the program work about five days per week on a farm. In exchange, they receive free lodging, and in some instances, free food.

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