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6 Financially Savvy Moves To Make in a Gap Year Before College

lechatnoir / Getty Images

lechatnoir / Getty Images

A few decades ago, gap years weren’t very popular. Most people had never heard of taking a year off before college, and even fewer had tried it. Today, with the majority of high school graduates completing some college, more are choosing to take a year to travel, save money, or find themselves.

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By definition, a gap year is “a semester or year of experimental learning, typically taken after high school and prior to career or post-secondary education, in order to deepen one’s practical, professional, and personal awareness.” Gap years can be instrumental in helping a person discover what they want to study or who they are as a person.

They can also be extremely expensive. Planning ahead can not only help you prepare for the year — but also for the future. Before you take the leap, consider these six financially savvy moves to make during your gap year.

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Join the Workforce

People choose several reasons for taking a gap year. While traveling the world is an admirable ambition, it may not be within everyone’s budget. Instead of cleaning out your savings, consider taking a job after you graduate from high school.

Using the year to save money can help you exponentially once you start college. For instance, it may allow you to not have to work so that you can focus on your studies, or it may simply set you up with enough money to cover books and other expenses.

The majority of college students graduate with tens of thousands of dollars in student loans. Using your gap year to work can help you avoid being crushed by debt the day you receive your diploma. It may also help you decide what career path you want to choose. You don’t need to spend the year flipping burgers either. Find something that interests you and have fun.

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Audit a Course

If your reason for taking a gap year is academic burnout, then this may not be the best choice. But for everyone else, auditing courses during your year off can save you tons of money and help you narrow your decision when it comes to choosing a major.

Many of the best universities in the country offer the ability to audit a course either online or in person. When you audit, you will not receive academic credit for the class, but you won’t have the pressure of being graded either. Before you sign up, investigate how each institution handles auditing. While many offer online auditing for free, some require you to pay regular credit fees. 

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Look for Free Money

Just because you are spending your gap year backpacking across Europe doesn’t mean you can’t find ways to save for your future. During your gap year adventures, take the initiative to look for ways to pay for school.

Explore financial aid options and look for scholarships and grants. Getting money for school takes time and effort, but it’s definitely worth the struggle.

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Start Saving a Year in Advance

If you have your heart set on completing a year abroad or volunteering your time for a worthwhile cause, start saving now. Do your research and find out exactly how much it will cost you. Avoid the sticker shock of the gap year expenses like your VISA or travel insurance. Put birthday and graduation money in a gap year savings account.

Technically, this is a financial move you will want to make as a prospective gap year student, so you’ll need to take action sooner rather than later. If you are really savvy, you can look for gap year programs that either give you college credit or, gasp, pay you to do something extraordinary like teaching English in a foreign country.

Believe it or not, you can actually find financial aid for your gap year. Get hungry and make the experience of a lifetime happen. No monetary excuses allowed. 

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Move Home

This may not be the most popular advice, but one guaranteed way to save money during your gap year is to move home or stay home if you haven’t left the nest. If your goal is to have money in the bank when you leave for college, home is a good place to start.

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Consider Investing

One of the best financial decisions you can make during your gap year is to take the money you are saving and invest it. Making investments early in life can set you up for a healthy retirement. If you are disciplined, you can spend the 12 months before college saving thousands of dollars. Meet with a financial advisor and put that money to good use. Even a small investment can pay big time in the long run.

So, as you begin to think about what a gap year looks like for you, do some soul searching. Ask yourself what you hope to accomplish and how you are going to do it. Open that savings account now and start stashing money away. Whether you spend it on the gap year itself or save it for the future, you’ll be glad it’s there.

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