The financial impact of COVID-19 is causing many students to consider a gap year. Thirty-five per cent of recent high school graduates are considering taking a gap year or attending college part-time, according to a recent survey in the Chronicle of Higher Education. In many cases, students are planning to get jobs to help their families.
What is a Gap Year?
A gap year refers to a year off between the time you graduate high school and the time you begin college. Some students enter formal gap year programs and embark on a period of self-discovery by traveling the world and volunteering in developing countries or here at home. Other students pursue unpaid internships.
Formal gap year programs offer many benefits; however, they can also be quite expensive. A gap year program could easily cost in excess of $30,000.
The Risk of Taking a Gap Year
Taking a gap year before transitioning to college can be done. However, some students who opt to work instead of participate in a formal gap program, could run the risk of abandoning their college dream altogether. This is especially true for students from low-income families. In an interview with US News & World Report, the dean of campus life at NY Institute of Technology said that “many students who work after graduating high school in hopes of saving for college never actually go to college."
As you consider all of your options, here are five alternatives you should consider instead of taking a gap year:
1. Consider a more affordable college
If your college cost is too high, even after considering loans, then considering cheaper options might be the way to go. Instead of taking a gap year, you could instead start at a two-year college. This is often a cheaper option than a four-year college. Plus, you will still be able to transfer to a four-year institution later date.
Before you commit to attending a two year college, I would strongly recommend learning about any articulation agreements they have with 4-year colleges and universities. This agreement (or transfer pathway) guarantees that your credits will be accepted at the senior institution. All two-year colleges will maintain a list of colleges with whom they have this agreement. In some cases, these agreements only apply to certain majors.
2. Instead of a Gap Year, live at home
Instead of taking a gap year, consider living at home while attending college to reduce your overall college costs. Living at home could easily save you $10,000 each year. According to College Board’s 2019 Trend in College Pricing report, the average room and board cost at a 4-year public university is $11,510; $12,990 at a private university.
In any case, living on a college campus might not even be an option, in the near future, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Many colleges are planning to continue meeting online in Fall 2020.
3. Appeal your financial aid award
Before you commit to taking a gap year, consider appealing your financial aid award. If your family's financial circumstances have changed, you should appeal your financial aid award.
Each college has different procedures for filing a financial aid appeal, but most will require supporting documents to substantiate these changes. Be prepared for this. Depending on your circumstances, you could end up with an increase in your overall financial aid award.
4. Consider part-time college
Even if your family circumstances require that you work full time, it doesn't mean you have to end up taking a gap year. In the short-term, you could consider going to college part-time while working. Just don't let your work negatively impact your academics. By the way, part-time students are also eligible for financial aid.
5. Loans could keep you from taking a Gap Year
To overcome any financial burden you are experiencing, consider taking out student loans instead of taking a gap year. Earning a college degree is worth the investment as long as you do not over-borrow. Most financial experts believe you should keep your total undergraduate debt at or below your first year salary after college.
The pandemic has created a lot of economic and personal uncertainty. However, going straight to college instead of taking a gap year could ensure you do not derail your long-term college and professional goals. Remember, as devastating as the COVID-19 is right now, it too shall pass.