These days, a college degree is pretty much mandatory to gain entrance into the working world. Heading off to begin your undergraduate studies right after high school is the norm for most students but if you’re burned out on reading, writing and arithmetic, waiting can work to your advantage.
Taking a gap year between high school and college gives you an opportunity to reenergize and explore your interests so you’ll have a better idea of what you want to study once it’s time to begin your freshman year. Using the time to volunteer, either locally or abroad, is also an excellent way to gain some real-world experience, which can be a major ace in the hole when you’re ready to kick start your career. Figuring out gap year finance issues is usually the biggest challenge but there are several ways to cover the expense that don’t involve racking up a load of debt or promising your firstborn to a guy named Rumpelstiltskin.
1. Apply for a scholarship or grant
Scoping out scholarship and grant programs is the first place you should look for gap year funding. Some programs use financial need as a criteria for eligibility while others make awards based on how you’re planning to spend your time. Unlike a loan, the money doesn’t have to be repaid and depending on the program, you may be able to use the money to pay for your living expenses or travel costs if you’re headed overseas.
If you’ve already been accepted into a degree program, you can check with your financial aid office to see if any scholarships or grants are offered. Funding is also available on a national scale. For example, the National Security Language Initiative for Youth offers merit-based awards for students who are interested in a language immersion experience overseas. Thinking Beyond Borders also bankrolls adventure-seeking students who are committed to giving back in underdeveloped countries.
2. Get a sponsor
In the sports world, sponsors pay big bucks to have athletes promote their brand and there’s no reason why you can’t apply the same principle to your gap year experience. Whether your plans involve doing good globally or putting your skills to use right in your hometown, there are likely to be some businesses that would be willing to pony up some cash in support of your efforts.
When you’re trying to identify likely sponsors, you want to hone in on companies and businesses that are relevant to what your project involves. For instance, let’s say you’re interested in traveling around the country and helping small communities to start organic gardens. You could reach out to farmers in your area or local businesses that support green initiatives and work your way up to larger corporations that share your vision.
3. Launch a fundraiser
If you’re not having any luck with finding a sponsor, a good old-fashioned fundraiser may be in order. There are plenty of things you can do right in your own neighborhood to start bringing in money, like setting up a car wash, organizing a bake sale or hosting a spaghetti dinner. Reaching out to your church or former high school and getting in touch with community organizations like Kiwanis and the Lion’s Club can help you spread word about your fundraising goals.
Thanks to the Internet, you can also take your efforts online. GoFundMe allows anyone to open an account for free and set up a goal. You create a profile, describing who you are and what the money is for and people can donate any amount they want. Once you hit your goal, you can request a check or bank transfer to get the money. If your gap year project has a creative bent, you can also try your luck with Kickstarter.
4. Tap your personal reserves
Spending money out of your own pocket might be a little painful but you may have to bite the bullet if you’re really serious about pursuing a gap year. Breaking open your piggy bank or cashing in those savings bonds your grandma bought you when you were little is a good place to start. If you’re expecting to get a big wad of cash when you graduate or you usually get money for your birthday, earmarking it for your expenses is a smart move.
Even if you don’t have a ton of savings, you can still find some extra pennies if you’re willing to make some sacrifices. Having a yard sale can bring in a few bucks and get rid of some clutter, which your parents might appreciate. If you don’t already have a job, you can look for ways to make money using your skill set, such as tutoring or cutting lawns. Just keep in mind that you may have to pay taxes on what you earn if it’s above a certain amount.
5. Borrow from the Bank of Mom and Dad
Hitting your parents up for money may not be right for everyone but it’s an option worth considering if you’ve come up short. If you’re planning to ask your parents for help with getting your gap year financed, you want to be clear on what their expectations are beforehand. If you’ll be responsible for paying the money back or they have stipulations as to how they want you to use it, it’s better to know that up front so you understand what strings are attached.