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Can I Afford to Take a Gap Year?

Before you take a gap year, it’s important to understand what it entails and whether you can afford it. Here’s what you need to know.

One way to experience the world in the midst of getting an education is to take a gap year. However, before you move forward with a gap year, it’s important to understand what that entails and run the numbers to see whether you can afford it.

Before you plan for a gap year, here’s what you need to know.

What is a gap year?

A gap year is what it sounds like: a break in your formal educational pursuits. Gap years can be taken at different points in your educational career. Common times for students to take a gap year include:

  • After high school and before college
  • Partway through undergraduate school as a break
  • After receiving an undergraduate degree and before starting graduate school

Depending on your goals and interests, a gap year can actually last less than or more than a year. For some students, a gap year is more like two gap years. Other students take off a semester before returning to school.

During a gap year, you might choose to see the world, work or both. Depending on how you proceed, a gap year could provide you with a way to refresh yourself before getting back to your studies or give you a chance to earn money for college.

How to plan for a gap year

Once you decide taking a gap year is the right move for you, make a plan. Here are some things to consider as you plan your gap year.

Decide what you want to do

Start by figuring out what you want to do for your gap year. Do you want to travel and experience the world? Do you hope to work? Are you going to do a little of both?

You’ll need to decide what kind of work you want to do if that’s the route you plan to take. If you plan to travel, you’ll have to determine which countries you want to go to. Additionally, if you want to go abroad, you’ll have to figure out what kind of visa you’ll need as well as the types of activities you can do on that visa. Some visas don’t allow you to work while you’re in the country.

As soon as you figure out what you’re going to do and the paperwork you need in order to make it happen, you can move forward with the next phase of your planning.

Determine whether you want to plan it on your own

Depending on your situation, it’s possible to use an organization to plan your gap year. These programs might cost more than planning the gap year yourself, but they can make it more convenient for you, as they manage all aspects of your travel and living arrangements.

On the other hand, if you plan your gap year yourself, you’ll have more flexibility in where you go and what you do, and you might be able to spend less money overall. 

Create a budget for your gap year

Your gap year is likely to cost money. Even if you work during your gap year, there’s a good chance that you’ll end up spending money. In addition to travel costs, you also need to budget for living expenses such as food and board. 

Consider using a cost-of-living calculator to estimate your expenses in a particular city or country. If you know you’ll travel around, do multiple cities. You can also compare cities’ costs to figure out where you should base yourself as you move forward.

Be realistic about your budget and what it will cover. Figure out a monthly amount you will spend so that you can create a plan to bring in the money you need to cover your costs.

How to fund your gap year

Once you have a budget for your gap year, you’ll need to know how to fund it. Finding sources of financing can be a little difficult, mainly because your student loans might not cover the cost of your gap year. Here are some ideas for finding the money for your gap year:

  • Work: Work can include a “traditional” job, but if you plan to travel as you work, you might need to look for other sources of income. Different programs can help you find living arrangements and connect you with work experiences, including at hostels and in agricultural labor, so you can cover your expenses.
  • Scholarships: There are scholarships aimed at helping young people travel for a gap year. Look into them to see if you can get some money to help.
  • Funding platforms: You can also see if your friends and family will help you. Platforms such as GoFundMe and Patreon can provide you with ways to receive money as you travel the world during a gap year.
  • Savings: If you plan in advance, you might be able to use your savings to fund your gap year. Create a plan to set aside money to use in the future.

Know how to get back into school

Once you finish your gap year, you need to have a plan for getting back to school. In general, it’s possible to do so, but you might have to make special arrangements. If you’ve been in a program, talk to your administrator about how to take a leave of absence. In some cases, if you follow the correct procedure, scholarships you received might still be waiting for you when you return. If you are at risk of losing your scholarships or other financial aid during a gap year, though, you might not be able to afford to take one until after you finish your degree.

You will also need to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid again to see if you qualify for aid. If you earned money during your gap year, it could affect how much aid you receive when you return. Finally, don’t forget to look into private student loans. Juno can help you compare private student loan options as you transition back to your educational pursuits.

Bottom line

A gap year can provide you with a variety of opportunities to see the world and earn money. However, before you go, make sure you can afford to take a gap year and plan for how you will return to your education when it’s over.

Miranda Marquit

Written By

Miranda Marquit

Miranda has 10+ years of experience covering financial markets for various online and offline publications, including contributions to Marketwatch, NPR, Forbes, FOX Business, Yahoo Finance, and The Hill. She is the co-host of the Money Tree Investing podcast and she has a Master of Arts in Journalism from Syracuse University


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