The cost of a gap year is often a deterrent for many families, but when you break it down, you can start to see how a gap year can actually save you money in the long run. First things first: most gap programs cost anywhere from $500 to $20,000, with extensive, heavily supervised nine-month programs, like the one offered by Winterline, topping out at around $50,000. For students doing independent gap years, costs vary widely based on locations and activities.
Before you close out your web browser, let’s take a step back and look at the options available for paying for a year “on.”
Starting with the programs may seem like counter-intuitive advice, but plenty of programs have scholarships in place to support students. In 2013 alone, AGA-affiliated organizations gave away almost $3 million. Many of the programs also offer tuition reductions. While not everyone will qualify, it won’t hurt to inquire about whether you're eligible. Additionally, programs will often work to customize a payment plan with you. By spreading out payments over six months, or the full year, many families find the sticker shock is less palpable.
There are also programs like AmeriCorps and City Year that are free and offer stipends to students in exchange for a year of service. Unlike other gap programs, you won’t have the opportunity to custom-tailor your experience, but if your interests align with the missions of these organizations, it’s a win-win.
College Financial Aid For The Gap year
As we mentioned last week, colleges are starting to change their tune about the gap year—and some collegiate supporters are even putting dollars behind gappers. For example, Florida State University just unrolled a new policy to give away $50,000 to gappers (up to $5,000 for each student). To be considered, students who apply to take the deferral must write an essay outlining their educational goals and how they think a gap year will enrich their future trajectory.
“We’re serious about democratizing access,” says Joe O’Shea, Director of Undergraduate Research and Academic Engagement at FSU. “We think the policy will help us attract top students to the university. It's a longer investment strategy with a heavy front-end investment for us, but we think it will pay off.”
Individual programs at the collegiate level, like those of the Tufts and Princeton bridge years, have also been established to democratize the gap experience. “One of Princeton’s priorities is to make the program cost-neutral for families,” says Scott Leroy, Associate Director of Princeton’s Bridge Year Program. “Currently we’re heading into our seventh cohort, which will offer the program to thirty-five students.”
The Tufts program, which launched in 2015, offered its first fifteen spots to incoming Tufts students. For more than half of the participants, the program was completely free due to their financial aid packets. The program pays for all the needed airfare, health insurance, a living stipend, and an online course that aims to enrich the experience of students while they’re abroad.
Fundraising For The Gap Year
If you’re going through a program, dissect the outlined fee, then try to reduce it as much as possible. For example, matching gifts from companies and organizations in your neighborhood can help to support a gapper, and Cross-Cultural Solutions’ Cassandra Tomkin says some programs, like CCS, are non-profits, which means participants can claim the experience as a tax deduction.
Good old fashioned fundraising can also help lessen your out-of-pocket expenses. Think about if you can organize a community car wash, bake sale, or walk-a-thon to support your cause. Approaching the editor of the local newspaper and suggesting an article about gap years and your gap year plan in particular, with a plug at the end about your fundraising campaign.
“We had one student who ice-skated through the canals of Camden, and people donated money for every mile.,” says Tomkin. “Traditional fundraising works. Everything from writing letters to two-hundred people who you have contact with, or posting on social media, to putting together a dinner and doing a little presentation.” You should also check out the sites GoFundMe.com, IndieGoGo.com and Kickstarter.com, which all provide a platform for raising money on social media.
Have questions about how to fund your gap year? Tweet them to us @GapToGreat.