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Gap Year Without Breaking The Bank

Gap Year Without Breaking The Bank

A gap year(s) between high school and college may be under consideration for many students. Planning a gap year needs a fair bit of research into the various programs, options, finances and planning for college.

Students have two options with respect to gap years. They can enroll in a college, pay their deposit and request a deferment of year or two on their enrollment. The public and private colleges may have different policies about deferment. The second option is that the students take a gap year without applying or enrolling in any college.

In either case, one of the big question that a student or family faces is what to do or learn during the gap year. There are many gap year programs, some structured, some less structured, but they can cost a fair bit of tuition money. The cost can range anywhere from $4,000 to $15,000. (research the numbers). While gap year programs have become increasingly popular, only a small fraction of students who may be interested in a gap year, enroll in the programs.

What are some of the gap year options that students can pursue without incurring a large cost and yet enrich their learning and experiences?


Working part time or even full time is a great idea. There are many jobs that are available to students with a high school diploma/GED. Do a search on any of the job websites such as Indeed with the search terms “Right Out of High School”. Some of the listed jobs are being an insurance adjustor trainee, line cook, automotive technician, working in retail, etc. National Park Service often has jobs and internships listed on their site. Take a look at their listings for Student Trainee . Anyone under the age of 30 can apply to the NPS youth internship positions. Interested in a specific park? Students should contact them directly and they may have a world of adventure waiting for the student.


Not fully sure about a part time or a full time job? There are many volunteering opportunities that can help a student gain meaningful experience and a lot of learning. NPS also has volunteer opportunities in case a student prefers to volunteer. There may be many local organizations that would be glad to have gap year students as volunteers. Red Cross has many programs for youth volunteers. Students can also look at Americorps and search for volunteer matches. Local organizations are also a good place to find out more about volunteering opportunities.


Studying during gap year is a bit of tricky terrain to navigate. Many colleges are very clear that students cannot earn or transfer gap year educational credits towards their general education or major specific credits. However, some colleges do allow credit transfer and there are programs that can help facilitate those opportunities for a tuition fee. That is the subject of another post! However, this does not preclude a student from learning about new subjects or building new skill sets. Students can always take a course or two at a community college, as long as they are not enrolled full time. This is a great opportunity for students to learn something completely different. Students can build a variety of skills including technical skills by learning on EdX or Coursera . Look for the free courses and get started on a different world of learning!

Students also blend learning with working, volunteering, interning, thus leading to a very enriched gap year experience without spending a lot of money upfront. If students choose to work, then they will be earning as compared to spending money!

While constructing a personalized path for a gap year is very exciting, there are certain things that students should be mindful about before designing their own path.

  • Time: The first thing is to be cognizant of the length of the proposed gap year. That is the biggest difference (other than cost) between a gap year program and a self designed path. Gap programs are for a specified time period thus providing a structure and an end time to the gap year experience. When students are on their own, then time can stretch into more than a year or two, especially if the gap year is taken directly without enrolling and deferring enrollment at a college. As long as students are aware of the timeline and act on it, a self designed path is a good option for a gap year.
  • Experience: The second thing is to design a cohesive and diverse set of experiences and yet be flexible and open to changes. If possible, pack in the 3 options of working, volunteering and learning into a gap year. will ensure a rich gap year experience at a much lowered cost as compared to a gap year program.

A gap year can be a rich and rewarding experience without breaking the bank. It just takes more planning, researching and being flexible. But it can be done by any student who would like to sculpt their own experiences.

If more than a couple of years elapse, then the best way to apply to college after the gap period would be to apply to a community college and then transfer to a 4 year college if desired.