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Taking a gap year off before starting college is becoming increasingly more common in the U.S. — especially with the coronavirus pandemic.
In fact, 40% of incoming freshmen now say they might take a gap year instead of going straight to college, according to a survey by SimpsonScarborough.
But if you’re thinking about taking a gap year, here’s what you should know first:
- What is a gap year?
- Student loans, financial aid, and gap years
- Pros and cons of a gap year
- How to pay for a gap year
What is a gap year?
A gap year is a planned year off from attending college — often between graduating high school and starting college, though it could be at any time during your education.
Generally, a gap year is meant to broaden your view of the world in some way as well as to let you rest before your next big academic push.
For example, you could work an internship, volunteer, or learn a new language through an immersion program.
What should you do during a gap year?
While traveling is a popular way to spend a gap year, it’s not a viable option for everyone. It’s also understandably off the table for many students because of the coronavirus.
However, there are also gap year opportunities available right here in the U.S. through online programs. A few of these include:
Keep in mind that some programs might be limited or unavailable because of the pandemic.
Student loans, financial aid, and gap years
Depending on when you take your gap year, it could have very different impacts on your finances. Here’s how a gap year might affect you at each stage:
If you’re considering a gap year before you start college, it’s a good idea to talk to any colleges you might apply to first to see what their policies for gap year students are.
This will let you take advantage of all of the college admissions resources available to high school seniors while also securing your place at the college when you return.
Navigating your financial aid during a gap year could be a bit trickier. You might qualify for financial aid or even scholarships through your school, but these are often contingent on maintaining a certain number of credit hours — which you won’t be able to do if you’re taking time off for a gap year.
Be sure to speak to your school’s financial aid office to see what your options might be.
Learn More: Federal Student Loans and COVID-19: What You Need to Know
If you’re already in college, you might have already used some federal financial aid or taken out college loans. Here’s how a gap year could affect your federal or private student loans:
- Federal student loans generally come with a six-month grace period. While you might be able to take a semester off without worrying about making payments, taking a full year off might mean dipping into your grace period. If your grace period ends during your gap year, you’ll need to start making payments or see if you qualify for deferment or forbearance.
- Private student loans sometimes come with a grace period, but not all do. You can check with your lender to see if you’ll need to start making payments during your gap year. Some lenders also offer deferment or forbearance if you’re having trouble with your payments — you can check with your lender to see what options might be available.
This coronavirus relief might make it easier for some borrowers to afford a gap year without having to worry about federal student loan payments for the time being.
Before grad school
You’ll also need to consider the grace periods on your student loans if you’re planning to take a break before attending graduate school.
This is especially true if you’ve already amassed a hefty amount of undergraduate debt or are going to attend an expensive career training program, such as law school, medical school, or business school.
If you’re wondering how long it’ll take to pay off your student loans, enter your current loan information into the calculator below to find out. Use the slider to see how increasing your payments can change the payoff date.
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Pros and cons of a gap year
Here are a few factors to consider when deciding whether to take a gap year or not:
How to pay for a gap year
While a gap year could be costly depending on your plans, there are several ways to cover your living expenses. Here are a few options:
- Scholarships and grants: There are certain scholarships and grants that can be used specifically to pay for a gap year. For example, Free to Roam Adventures offers need-based scholarships to help high seniors cover the cost of a gap year.
- Get a job: Gap years also don’t have to be a round-the-world, jet-setting adventure — you can also earn an income while still doing meaningful work in your gap year. For example, you could sign up to teach English classes abroad or work in your hometown while doing an online program.
- Take out a personal loan: A personal loan could help you manage your gap year expenses, though you’ll generally need good to excellent credit as well as verifiable income to be eligible. Some lenders allow cosigners on personal loans, which might help you get approved or could qualify you for a lower interest rate than you’d get on your own.
- Refinance your student loans: If you refinance student loans, you might qualify for a lower interest rate or reduced monthly payment, which could reduce the strain on your budget. Keep in mind that if you refinance federal student loans, you’ll lose your federal student loan benefits — including access to income-driven repayment and student loan forgiveness programs.
If you decide to refinance your student loans, be sure to consider as many lenders as possible to find the right loan for you. Credible makes this easy — you can compare your prequalified rates from our partner lenders in the table below in two minutes.
|Lender||Fixed rates from (APR)||Variable rates from (APR)||Loan terms (years)|
|4.4%+||4.99%+||5, 7, 10, 15, 20|
|5.39%+1||6.66%+1||5, 7, 10, 15, 20|
|5.99%+2||5.99%+2||5, 7, 10, 12, 15|
|7.16%+5||7.71%+5||5, 10, 15, 20|
|5.08%+3||5.03%+3||5, 7, 10, 15, 20|
|5.61%+4||7.6%+4||5, 10, 15, 20|
|4.49%+||5.02%+||5, 7, 10, 15|
|5.5%+||N/A||7, 10, 15|
|5.79%+||N/A||5, 10, 15|
|Compare personalized rates from multiple lenders without affecting your credit score. 100% free!
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