March 17, 2019

What Does a Gap Year Cost?

Center for Interim Programs
(This is our first post in a series on the economics of taking gap time.)

Saving for a gap year is not something parents normally think about when they put money aside for their child's education. We here at the Center for Interim Programs believe that the gap year is a key part of one’s education, rather than a break from it, and well worth paying for given the many long-term benefits. And, the reality is that a great gap year does not automatically have to cost a lot of money; costs really can run the gamut.

Some families are willing to budget many thousands of dollars for their gap year. Some are working with just a few thousand while others may only be willing or able to pay the costs incurred supporting a student at home. Fortunately, there is a wide range of program types and costs which allow each of these payment objectives to work for our gap-year families.

We often separate program options into four main categories: facilitated group programs, skill-based intensives, urban internships, and volunteer options.

Facilitated group programs run 3-9 months and are generally the most costly because they are specifically set up for gap year students and provide the most structure and support. These options typically involve 10-14 gap year peers and several leader/teachers engaging in a cultural study/service experience, or one with an outdoor adventure focus, or art history, or studio art, or language immersion. Costs for a 3-month program can range, for example, from $11-14,000 or higher, and are all-inclusive aside from airfare to get to where the program begins. A number of these programs offer need-based scholarships.

Skill-based intensives are generally shorter at 1-4 weeks and many involve certification of some kind, e.g. getting one’s Wilderness EMT, or becoming a ski or snowboard or yoga instructor. They can involve learning how to run a recording studio, or about filmmaking, or cooking, or writing. Costs can vary widely with month-long trainings at roughly $4200 for the recording arts, $2500 for yoga training, or $3700 for Wilderness EMT.

Finding internships for gap year students is challenging and these placements usually involve a fee for setting up the internship, housing, and providing a local contact person on the ground. Most students appreciate having a social life built in with fellow interns in shared housing as well as some structure and support on site. A 2-3 month commitment is common and students can head to Europe, Africa, Australia, New Zealand, Argentina, China, Costa Rica and other locations around the world. Costs for placements can run several thousand, not including housing and food, the latter of which can range widely depending on how often students eat out or cook in.

The final category of volunteer options can run all different lengths of time, are worldwide, and the most low cost. They are typically more rural than urban. Students can, for example, help clear trails in national parks, do disaster relief work, climb aboard as crew on tall ships, assist teaching kids or coaching them in sports, working with animals, etc. Many options provide housing and food for labor so the main cost is transportation to get to sites in the US or abroad. These are the options that allow a student on a tight budget to engage with fellow volunteers in settings that provide sufficient structure and support during a full gap year.

Students often do combinations of the above categories, sometimes picking one “splurge” and then weaving in more low cost options to balance out their budget. They can also work during summers and in between programs to save money to put toward the year. Increased financial awareness is a powerful benefit of taking gap time.

Our Sample Programs page offers more details on the wide array of program types. And our free brainstorming session is a great way to get a clear sense of specific costs based on a student’s particular interests and budget

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