Gap Year

How Will Taking a Gap Year Affect College Scholarships?

Rebecca Alwine

Rebecca is a freelance writer, army wife and mother of three who thoroughly enjoyed her undergraduate study abroad program in San Jose, Costa Rica.

Gap years are wonderful for high school graduates, college students looking for some time off, college graduates, and anyone in between. Taking a gap year can help you figure out what to do next, allow you some time to travel, or introduce you to new cultures and languages. There are many benefits to taking a gap year, and there are even some gap year scholarships available to help fund your adventures during that year.

One question you may be asking (and your parents may be asking) is: Does taking a gap year affect scholarships you’ve already received or been promised? 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 scholarships get in your way. Here’s everything you need to know to make sure you can take a gap year and still receive your college scholarships.

Types of Scholarships

Since college in the United States is so outrageously expensive, there are many different ways to secure funding. When the admissions office lets you know about your deferral request, they will also update you as to the awarded scholarships and if they will apply after your gap year. Usually they will, but it’s not a guarantee. Here’s what you need to know.

FAFSA

As you’ve realized by navigating the college admission process, the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is often required by academic institutions, even if you aren’t planning to use federal aid. If you take a gap year, you may find your award amount changes because colleges and universities have a certain amount of federal aid to give away each year.

The biggest downside to the FAFSA is filling it out every year, which means when you take a gap year, you’ll need to resubmit for the next academic year. If your gap year plan involves working, that income will need to be reported, which will probably increase the Expected Family Contribution and can decrease the amount awarded. If working is your gap year plan, then make sure you take this into consideration when making your decision.

Working through your gap year is a great opportunity to save money to pay for the next year of college as well, so that should be considered an option as well. One fun way to work while exploring another country is as an au pair. Programs like Au Pair Australia and Wanderlust Au Pair China are a great place to start.

Of course, the FAFSA amount may change based on other personal circumstances. The EFC lowers per student, so if an older sibling graduated during your gap year the amount awarded may decrease, but if a younger sibling then applies after your gap year, the amount awarded may increase.

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Federal Loans

Did you know federal loans can be deferred until you start taking classes? The time frame varies depending on the loan but is either six or nine months. This is different from the deferment on loan payments, which typically start after you graduate, leave school for other reasons (gap year!), or drop below half-time.

So, you may be responsible for paying on your student loans during your gap year, which should be part of the decision-making process.

If you can’t pay your loans during your gap year, you have a few other options. Talk to your lender about a forbearance option, which will allow you to pause your monthly payments for a period. You can also look at income-driven repayment plans, which typically require you to pay between 10 and 20% of your income.

If you are participating in a gap year program that awards college credits, you may be able to avoid student loan payments. There are several accredited programs that offer the opportunity to earn college credits during your gap year and allow you to use gap year scholarships to pay for them. Here are a few of those:

  • EF Gap Year allows you to earn college credits, explore multiple countries, and learn a language while developing leadership skills and immersing yourself in a different culture.
  • Verto Education gives high school graduates the opportunity to travel and take a gap year while still completing their education in four years. They take the traditional first year of college and make it fun, calling it a “gap year without the gap.”
  • Global Experiences is another highly respected gap year program designed to give students the leadership and professional development required to be successful post-college while allowing them to experience another culture.

Private Scholarships & Loans

Some private student loans have a grace period like federal loans, but not all do. The period will depend on the terms, enrollment situation, and lender. But the good news is you only have to pay back what you borrowed, so taking a gap year won’t add to the amount of money you owe, except for any interest accrued.

Private scholarships and grants have specific requirements, and some may state that you lose financial aid if you drop below full or even part-time enrollment. The best thing to do, in all situations, is to talk to the scholarship or grant program and explain your plan.

Remember to Plan Ahead

When you’re nearing the end of your gap year, it’s time to take a look at your financial situation for the next academic year. Enrolling full-time in classes will defer payments of federal financial aid, allow you to be eligible for merit-based scholarship, and should pose no problems in applying for and receiving private scholarships and grants. Just don’t wait until the last minute, because you’ll need to fill out the FAFSA again for those post gap year scholarships.