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By Nathaniel Silin
Special to Valley News 

Practical Money Matters: Could a gap year after high school make financial sense?


Last updated 7/27/2018 at 12:34pm

In some parts of the world, a gap year – a yearlong break between high school and college – is the norm. It’s starting to catch on in the U.S. as well.

It’s a chance for recent high school graduates to earn money, challenge themselves, explore the world and build their resume while experimenting with different career paths.

Those who take full advantage of the opportunity often find the experience to be rewarding and beneficial. And colleges report that students who start school after a gap year tend to earn higher grades, are more involved with campus life and graduate within four years at a higher rate than their non-gap-year peers.

Many people spend at least part of the year traveling, working or volunteering away from home. During the year, they may discover that what they originally wanted to study isn’t a good fit, or they may come away with a newfound passion.

Entering college with this knowledge can help them focus on a major, plan their classes and graduate early. Or, at least avoid changing majors and extending their schooling. In either case, they can save tens of thousands of dollars.

During a gap year, young adults also often take a more direct role in their day-to-day finances. They can develop a greater appreciation for earning and spending money. In turn, this experience can give them a framework when taking out student loans and an extra push to apply for scholarships.

First, find structure for a gap year. To avoid squandering the year, look into formal programs that can help people achieve or define their personal, academic or career goals. According to the American Gap Association, a nonprofit based in Portland, Oregon, over 80 percent of gap year students said the skills they acquired helped them be successful in their career after school.

Many choose service-oriented work. The federally backed AmeriCorps programs places volunteers throughout the U.S. to help communities in needs. Once a full-time 10- to 11-month commitment is completed, a student may be eligible for a scholarship worth up to $5,815 in fiscal year 2017. Some colleges and universities will also match a portion of the award.

Working for a local business could be another great option. Earn money, see the work is enjoyable, network and maybe line up work during school or for future summer jobs. The industry connections and mentorship received can also be valuable for a post-graduation job search.

Another resource for finding a program is the USA Gap Year Fairs, which profiles a broad range of gap year experiences. Privately run programs may not offer compensation, but sometimes students can work in exchange for room and board. The experience can also serve as a foundation for cover letters when applying for jobs or college admissions essays.

Next to consider is funding the gap year. There are gap year options for students from all socio-economic backgrounds.

The AGA maintains a list of financial aid opportunities that can help a student fund a gap year. The mix of merit- and need-based scholarships could cover the cost of a program or offset the cost of traveling or volunteering. If there’s a particular program of interest, ask the organization for recommendations.

Also, inquire with a university to see if it recommends or runs any programs. Some schools offer scholarships to admitted students who take a gap year, and a few will give college credit for completing certain programs.

Once the student begins their college education, try to capitalize on the year off. There are many scholarships available to continuing college students, and the gained experience could be a good jumping-off point for an essay.

The bottom line is taking a gap year between high school and college is increasingly popular, although still not as common as it is in some other parts of the world. While jumping right into college and getting a degree is the traditional path toward employment, some parents and students see the benefit of taking a year off to better define one’s goals and gain real-world experience before going to college.

Nathaniel Sillin directs Visa’s financial education programs. To follow Practical Money Skills on Twitter, visit

The article is intended to provide general information and should not be considered legal, tax or financial advice. It’s always a good idea to consult a legal, tax or financial advisor for specific information on how certain laws apply personally and about individual financial situations.


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