transitioning to college

In many countries students take a gap year, or a year off, after completing high school before heading to college. The United States remains the exception to this trend, with the gap year viewed as an opportunity available only to the wealthiest students.

Currently, there are a handful of colleges who have established programs designed to fund a limited number of students and remove the financial barriers typically associated with a gap year.  Princeton and the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill were two early adopters of this type of program. In mid-March of this year, Tufts University announced a new one plus four program, which offers national and international service opportunities for participating students.  The Tufts program will be sponsored by the university and is open to all students regardless of financial need.

When considering whether or not to take a gap year, there are some questions related to affordability that you are going to want to investigate:

  • How much can you afford?  Plan for living and travel expenses as well as program fees
  • What are the financial implications of deferring admission? Often schools do not guarantee scholarships if a student changes his start date to a later semester or academic year
  • What is the process for reapplying for aid? Generally, families will need to reapply for financial aid for the following year and may see changes in the aid originally offered
  • How might my financial aid offer change? For students who work during their gap year, earnings can affect financial aid eligibility the next year
  • Without external funding, what will your out of pocket costs be?  Are there scholarships you can find to cover these expenses?

Depending on the program you choose, there are likely to be some additional financial costs.  While you may spend the next year as a volunteer and receive housing and food in exchange for your efforts, there are many other exciting chances to seize life-changing experiences that may not come cheap.  For example, you may want to take the time to travel while you are overseas or living in other parts of the country.

So where can you find help to pay for your gap year experience? There are few websites we recommend you review:

There are also sites for students pursuing very specific experiences:

  • America’s Unofficial Ambassadors program provides funding to students who are volunteering in Muslim countries – http://unofficialambassadors.com/
  • Brower Youth Awards is a domestic program that offers awards to students who are invested in creating programs that promote social and environmental change – http://www.broweryouthawards.org/
  • City Year compensates students with a stipend to meet living expenses for 11 months while working with students in needy school districts helping them achieve success and making it to graduation – http://www.cityyear.org/what-we-do. Make sure that you also check with local organizations and the college that you are attending for additional opportunities

Time away between high school and college can offer huge rewards!  While many colleges recognize the value in taking a gap year, students will have a more enjoyable experience all around when there is sufficient funding to cover those opportunities presented during their gap year.



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Written by Beth Feinberg Keenan
Beth Feinberg Keenan is a member of College Coach’s team of college finance experts. Before joining College Coach, Beth worked as a Senior Financial Aid Officer at Northeastern University.