Gap years have become increasingly popular among graduating high school students. A gap year is when students delay starting college for year to pursue other interests. Generally, the students have already been accepted to a college and ask to defer their admissions for a year but it’s not necessary. Nor do students have to pay for high price programs to have a meaningful gap year. In fact, a well thought out and executed gap year experience can actually save students significant money.
1. Graduate on Time
Gap years are about exploration and experience. And remember, they don’t have to cost a lot of money. When students take the time to explore their different interests, they can make more informed decisions when deciding on a major and classes. This is important because students who start in one major and switch to another risk not graduating on time. It’s better to put those doubts to rest before you start paying tuition.
2. Gain Work Related Experience and Connections
Students who take gap years have opportunities to gain experience and connections that they might otherwise not have been able to squeeze into a summer between semesters. A year off gives students time to develop some of the more intangible interpersonal skills critical for getting the most out of summer internships.
It’s also a head start on experience that can help get the internships in the first place. Many students find that they have to do an unpaid internship before they get a paid one. The gap year has the potential to lead directly to paid internships. This, of course, means students start earning money sooner, and are in a position to find a job after graduation more quickly.
3. Better at “Adulting”
Another way a gap year can save you money is because after a year of more personal responsibility, hopefully, students are going to be more mature. While no one really wants to talk about it, there’s a learning curve in becoming a self-sufficient adult. The fact is that the inevitable stumbles often have financial consequences. Better for students to stumble and learn during a gap year when your semester’s GPA isn’t at stake.
A lower GPA can lead to having retake a class or change majors, which leads to taking longer to graduate, which means spending more money on college and less time earning money at a paying job.
4. Improve Scholarship Chances
This is closely related to better adulting. Students who are more organized and focused are likely to have better GPAs. They take the time to prepare for tests and keep up with assignment deadlines. Not only does this help ensure they graduate on time, this could improve their eligibility for scholarships to help pay for college. Some of the best outside scholarships are for student already in college.
5. Improve Financial Aid
Ok, this is for families with the potential to have more than one child in college at a time. The premise is simple, a family’s EFC is about the same no matter how many children are in college. So if you have an EFC of $30,000 and just one child in school, then that schools gets all of your EFC. If you have two, then the EFC is split (roughly) between two colleges.
Having one student do a gap year while another graduates from high school early could save two or more years’ worth of EFC. Yes, it’s for families in a very specific situation, but it’s something to keep in mind.
6. Opportunity for More Affordable College
One of the most overlooked ways a gap year can save you money is by using it as a “redo” for college admissions. We’re not talking about getting into the dream school that turned you down. As mentioned at the beginning, most students have already been accepted into a college and then defer starting to do a gap year. But for those who didn’t get the financial aid they need to afford college, a gap year is a chance to target more affordable colleges for the next year.
And for students that insist that they need to attend a specific college because of its reputation or specific program, a gap year can be a financial reality check. Such students can defer and spend the year making sure that the amount of money they’ll have to borrow will be worth it.
They need to be organized and do informational interviews with alumni in the field and people responsible for hiring them. They need to contact professional organizations and talk to their members and find out how much a specific program is worth.
If families are seriously considering borrowing more than $10,000 a year to pay for college, then taking a year to determine the actual return on investment seems like a prudent thing to do.
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