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How to Pay for a Gap Year

By Gabriel Jimenez-Ekman

Gabriel Jimenez-Ekman is a content editor and writer at Scholarships360. He has managed communications and written content for a diverse array of organizations, including a farmer’s market, a concert venue, a student farm, an environmental NGO, and a PR agency. Gabriel graduated from Kenyon College with a degree in sociology.

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Edited by Maria Geiger

Maria Geiger is Director of Content at Scholarships360. She is a former online educational technology instructor and adjunct writing instructor. In addition to education reform, Maria’s interests include viewpoint diversity, blended/flipped learning, digital communication, and integrating media/web tools into the curriculum to better facilitate student engagement. Maria earned both a B.A. and an M.A. in English Literature from Monmouth University, an M. Ed. in Education from Monmouth University, and a Virtual Online Teaching Certificate (VOLT) from the University of Pennsylvania.

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Updated: November 2nd, 2023
How to Pay for a Gap Year

The idea of taking a year off from school to see the world is appealing to many students. But their plans may get stuck when it comes time to figure out how to pay for a gap year. Gap year financing can be tricky, and is not quite as clear-cut as financial aid for college courses. Luckily, there are a few ways to go about it. In this article, we’ll show you a few different ways to pay for a gap year. It’s a good idea to make use of as many of these options as you can to get a robust source of funds. Let’s get into it!

Related: Taking a gap year: Everything you need to know

What is a gap year?

A gap year is a break in between a student’s senior year of high school and their first year of college. Oftentimes, students will gain admission to college during their senior year, and then defer their enrollment for the following year. This way, they already have their admissions process sorted out, and they can live in the moment for the entirety of the gap year.

Some students choose to enroll in gap year programs that include programming specially designed for gap year students. These programs often involve travel and allow students to learn in out-of-classroom settings. Other students choose more self-directed gap years, and others just choose to work to save up some money towards their college education. Some students even take “gap semesters” rather than a full year. 

Related: Top gap semester programs

Look into financial aid through your program 

One of the best places to start when you’re looking into how to pay for a gap year is your program’s financial aid options. They may offer grants for your transportation to and from the program, or offer to subsidize part of your tuition or living expenses. Make sure to reach out to any program that interests you to see what they can offer.

External grants and scholarships

Depending on the program you’re considering, you may be eligible for many of the same financial aid resources as college students. If your program offers college credit, for example, you may qualify for a Pell Grant, which can help significantly with your gap year costs.

There are also a wide variety of scholarships from other organizations. Check out some of the scholarships below:

Some of these only apply to a limited number of gap year programs, but others can be used no matter what program you choose.

See also: Top 10 gap year programs

Consider tapping into your college savings

Be cautious with this option; college savings are a precious resource that allow you to complete your education and open countless career opportunities after graduation. You should bear in mind that you may have to take out additional student loans to compensate for any funds you take out of your college savings. That being said, withdrawing from your college savings can be an option if you need funds for your gap year.

Most of the time, gap year programs are significantly less expensive than college education. So, if you choose an affordable program, your withdrawal may be a drop in the bucket compared to your college expenses. Even so, it’s a good idea to have a clear dialogue with your parents about these decisions. This way, you can ensure that you are not making a decision you’ll come to regret.

Getting a job

Getting a job can be a great way to fund your gap year. You can either choose to work part-time throughout your entire gap year, or work full-time for the first half of the year and then enroll in a semester-long program for the second half. You can also search for online jobs that you can take with you wherever you go!

Your choice between these options will probably depend on the nature of your program. If you want to spend your gap year traveling through the jungle or sailing the sea, it will be hard to find a part-time cashiering gig on the side. So, you may want to work for half the year and travel for the second half. But if your gap year program is located in a city, you can probably manage to work part-time while you complete the programming.

Key Takeaways

Key Takeaways

  • Gap year programs qualify for many of the same financial aid opportunities as university tuition, so long as they offer college credit
  • Individual programs may offer scholarships to their students
  • Students can also apply for scholarships from other organizations, such as the opportunities listed above
  • Getting a job is a great way to fund a gap year, whether you work throughout your gap year or work full-time for half the year and embark on your program for the other half
Key Takeaways

Frequently asked questions about how to pay for a gap year

Can I use the Pell Grant to pay for a gap year?

If you are enrolling in a gap year program that offers college credit, you may be able to use the Pell Grant to subsidize your education. Be sure to get in touch with your program to find out the answer. Also, fill out the FAFSA as soon as possible to find out if your family’s finances qualify you.

Can I use student loans to pay for a gap year?

If your gap year program offers college credits, you may be able to take out federal loans to subsidize your tuition. You may also be able to qualify for private student loans; this varies on a case-by-case basis. Be sure to get in touch with your program to find out what loans they qualify for.

Can I use funds from my 529 Plan to pay for a gap year?

529 Plan funds can be used for  gap year programs, but they will only retain their tax benefits if you spend the funds on approved educational expenses. If your gap year program offers college credit, odds are your 529 Plan funds will still qualify for their benefits. But the only way to be sure is to reach out to the program coordinator and find out. You can also look more closely into the rules of your 529 Plan.

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