How Does a Gap Year Affect Financial Aid?
A gap year is a period of time when a student suspends schooling in order to explore the world through work, volunteering, and/or travel. Most often, a gap year is taken between high school and college, although it can be taken during college or even after college graduation. Students use this time to take a break from academic burnout, gain knowledge about themselves, experience the world around them, broaden their own skillset, and give themselves additional maturity they didn’t have as a high school student.
Acceptance of a deferral depends on the college, and if a gap year is important to your student, asking some key questions before applying is important.
Do you have a clear plan for your gap year?
When seeking a deferral, colleges will want to know the specifics of what your student plans to do. There are companies that exist that provide structured gap year programs, or you can plan it yourself. Often gap year experiences are geared towards gaining experience in a potential career or volunteering with groups like Habitat for Humanity.
How will this gap year affect your student socially?
Will they miss not leaving for college at the same time as their friends? Will their career goals be impacted by starting a year later than their peers after graduation? If a student is going to be away from home during the year, the transition to living away from home at college may be an easier one.
How will the gap year affect your student academically?
Although most students do attend college after a gap year, consider whether your student will be able to handle this gap in their academic momentum. They need to recognize they will jump back into writing papers and taking tests after a year away, which can be difficult.
How will this impact us financially?
After returning from a gap year, the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) will need to be filed again for the first year of college, and the amount of financial aid your student qualifies for could be different if your financial situation has changed. So you'll want to consider if you plan to be in a better or worse situation after the gap year than you are currently.
If a family has multiple children, it is possible a gap year will put two students in college at the same time when they wouldn’t have been together before the gap year due to their age gap. Understanding the cost of college when you have two children enrolled simultaneously means planning ahead. You can learn more about your EFC and the impact of having multiple kids in college at the same time by checking out our videos on these topics on our Youtube channel, Beyond the 529, or by setting up a free call with someone from our team.
Colleges who accept deferrals will be clear about whether awarded scholarships will still apply when a student begins school after their gap year. Often the scholarships will still be available, but you want to make sure to confirm this with the institution.
Some gap years provide college credit. College credit for gap year programs can be a double-edged sword and need to be investigated closely. On the positive side, because you are earning college credit you can use 529 money to pay the cost of the course, and earning college credit may save money if your total number of needed credit hours is reduced at your school, but rarely is that the case, as not all colleges will accept these credits.
In addition, taking outside college courses may change your status from incoming freshman to transfer student impacting your financial aid, housing, course registration, and even in some cases forcing you to reapply. Make sure to do your homework to understand your situation based on your chosen college’s rules and your chosen gap year program.
Can your family afford not to take a gap year?
If your student is undecided on their career path, or even if college is right for them to begin with, taking a gap year may be just what is needed to answer those questions, and could be a wise step before embarking on a college career that may not be a good fit. Think of the money you will have saved on a mistaken college major choice.
There are many things for you and your student to consider when taking a gap year, and it's not as simple as taking a break from school for a bit. Whether this is right or not for your student requires consideration of many of the factors mentioned above. A college funding professional can help you evaluate these factors and understand exactly what your costs will be, so you can determine if a gap year is right for you and your family. If you would like to speak with an advisor from our team, schedule a free call with our team today!
Mike Bink, AAMS®, CCFS®
Mike works with families to simplify the college funding process and is widely recognized as an expert in college planning. He is passionate about empowering families to become informed consumers of higher education so that they don't pay a penny more for college than they absolutely have to.