Gap Year

Does a Gap Year Affect Scholarships and Financial Aid?

Learn what happens to your financial aid and scholarships if you take a gap year before college.

Key Takeaways 🔑

  • Taking a gap year before college does not affect your ability to apply for financial aid in the future.
  • Merit-based scholarships generally do not change if you defer your enrollment a year.
  • Need-based grants and scholarships tend to only be affected if your family's financial situation changes during your gap year.

A gap year is a great opportunity to take some time to travel and learn about the world before heading off to university. One question you (and your parents) may be asking is whether taking a gap year will affect financial aid or scholarships you’ve already received or plan to apply for. This question isn’t always straightforward to answer, so we’re here to help.

If you’ve already applied to college and decided to defer your admission in pursuit of a year abroad, don’t let worrying about your scholarships get in your way. Here’s everything you need to know to make sure you can take a gap year and still receive college scholarships and financial aid.


When it comes to student loans and your gap year, things are pretty simple. Taking a gap year before college does not affect your ability to apply for financial aid in the future. You’ll still be eligible to apply for federal student loans from the US government or private loans from companies like Sallie Mae.

If you fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) to apply for federal financial aid and then decide to take a gap year after it is processed, you won’t need to cancel your loan. Federal loans are only dispersed if you enroll in classes.

Keep in mind that the FAFSA must be filled out every year so don’t forget to do that before you plan to start university.

Scholarships & grants

If you are accepted to university then defer your enrollment, you may be able to put any scholarships or need-based funding you’ve received on hold as well. It depends on the type of aid though and most answers are unique to the college or organization.

  • Federal Pell Grant: The Pell Grant is awarded to students who fill out the FAFSA and have an estimated family contribution (EFC) below a certain limit set by the federal government. Unless your family’s financial situation drastically changes over the course of your gap year, you should be eligible again the following year if you submit a new FAFSA form.
  • University-based scholarships: Whether you can defer need-based or merit-based scholarships depends solely on your prospective university. Some withdraw any offers if you defer while other universities will hold the scholarships until the following year as long as you still meet the requirements (ex. high school GPA). If you are eligible for any university scholarships, this is an important thing to discuss with the admissions office.
  • Private scholarships and grants: Private organizations that grant aid may allow you to defer your award until after your gap year. If you do receive a scholarship or grant, contact the organization to explain your situation. If you present your plan for your gap year as well as when you plan to return to university, you may be able to sway the committee. Don’t be afraid to ask – the worst they can say is no.

In the event you haven’t applied to college and don’t have any scholarships waiting for you, be aware that taking a gap year won’t count against you should you apply for any the following year. Actually, taking a gap year might help your applications stand out!

Federal Work-Study

The Federal Work-Study (FWS) program provides part-time jobs to undergrad and grad students who demonstrate financial need. To apply, students will need to fill out the FAFSA.

Funds for the FWS program are limited which means the jobs available to students are also limited. If you’ve already been offered a financial aid package, including a FWS position, then decide to go on a gap year, you won’t be able to defer your job offer. To be considered for a FWS job again, you’ll need to fill out a FAFSA the following year.


Pursue your gap year with ease!

A woman carrying a surf board walks on a beach at sunset.

Now that gap years are becoming more common, there are plenty of options for students when it comes to deferring their aid money. If you research and plan accordingly, you can transition from a thrilling gap year to your college career with ease.