Does a Gap Year Affect Financial Aid?
What to Consider Before Taking a Gap Year
Over time, the cost of college continues to rise. As a result, it's little surprise that some students might decide to put off continuing their education immediately after finishing high school.
Some students are simply not ready for the college experience, or they may want to explore the world a little more before settling into the college routine. Others use the opportunity to earn money to help pay down some of the costs of a college education. Along with that, there might be an interest in getting to know yourself before you commit to a costly college education.
In the end, though, some students might decide that they want to attend college after their gap year. Even with the rising costs, college might still be worth it for them.
Before you decide if taking a gap year is right for you, here are a few things to consider.
A Gap Year Isn't Just a Year Off
Your gap year should not be looked at as just taking a year to goof off and party before going to college. Potential colleges will not look favorably upon that, and your parents probably won’t appreciate it either.
Instead, look at taking a gap year as a way to further refine your college and career choices. Find a program or an opportunity that really allows you to explore and find out who you are and who you want to be.
Some of the advantages of taking a gap year might include:
- Travel and the ability to experience other cultures
- Gain life experience
- Explore career options
- Take a break from the academic track
- Explore study options
Realize that a gap year can be a productive time for participants, and making the most of it can further your studies and your ability to make a difference later on.
Apply First and Then Request a Deferral
Many students find it easier to apply to college while still in high school, as there is a huge support system in place for this process. You have easier access to the necessary letters of recommendation, transcripts, and testing opportunities. On top of this, you also have teachers and counselors who can help you with your application. It can be difficult to achieve all of this on your own and the process can become even more cumbersome if you decide to travel during your gap year.
Once accepted, send a letter requesting deferred admittance. Outline your plans for the gap year before your first tuition payment is due. In many cases, you might be able to convince the school to grant your request—especially if you have a plan to volunteer or work even while you travel.
Ask If You Can Get Credit for Your Activities
Some colleges will grant credit for activities performed during a gap year, particularly if they are of an educational nature. Talk to the admissions department, explain what you plan on doing, and find out if credit might be available. This could cut down on the number of classes you will eventually have to take at this college.
There are resources, like the Gap Year Association, that can help you identify potential educational, volunteer, and work opportunities that might be compatible with earning college credit during your gap year.
Watch for Financial Aid Consequences
Most forms of financial aid require a student to be actively enrolled in a degree-granting program. Federal financial aid can be deferred for up to six or nine months (depending on your loan) until you start taking classes, but be aware that some colleges might not have institutional grants or scholarships available after a gap year. Check with your specific college to determine procedures for gap year students.
Also, realize that you'll need to fill out your Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) for the school year that you plan to return. There could be consequences related to your Expected Family Contribution (EFC) when you put off attending school. For example, the EFC formula takes into account how many students are attending college at one time. If an older sibling is in their senior year of college during your gap year, when you return, your EFC is likely to be higher now that your sibling has completed their degree.
The EFC is being phased out and replaced by the Student Aid Index (SAI), beginning with applications for the 2023-24 school year.
Should You Earn Money During Your Gap Year?
While it might seem like taking a year to earn a substantial amount of money to help pay for college costs is a good idea, remember that you will still have to complete a FAFSA before starting your college classes. When you earn money, it has to be reported when you fill out the FAFSA. This additional income could inflate the amount of money you will be expected to contribute and might decrease your eligibility for financial aid.
The good news is that you might be able to get some help paying for your gap year. Learn more from the American Gap Association, and find out about possible gap year scholarships and grants.
However, even though it might impact your financial aid, it still might make sense to take a gap year. Carefully consider the options, and look into scholarships for your gap year to help with costs. One of the biggest downsides to a gap year is that it can cost money—and some programs are more expensive than others. You might need to find a way to earn money if a gap year is important to you, regardless of how it impacts your financial aid.
Stay in Touch
If you have been accepted to a college, be sure to stay in touch with them as you are considered part of their student body. Respond to their mailings and make sure you will be ready to join the freshman class once your gap year experience is completed.
Find out if you can be assigned a counselor, or find someone in the admissions office you can rely on for information. Stay up-to-date on student orientation.
Another consideration is that you might be able to enroll in online classes, depending on the campus and their openness to digital learning. If that's the case, you might be able to qualify as a student and even get financial aid, as long as your online classes qualify you for part-time attendance.
Be Prepared to Explain Your Gap Year Later
Finally, you might need to be able to explain your gap year. Future employers may look at the timeframes between your high school and college graduations and wonder about the gap. Be prepared to explain what you did during your gap year in a job interview, and show how that experience can actually make you a better employee.