Here are some tips from my experience as a gap year advisor about how to execute a Gap Year no matter your budget.
Advice for Parents
Developing a budget early on in your planning process will make everything easier in the long run. Many gap years are funded with parent and student contributions. Sit down with your child and discuss how much they can realistically put in and how much you feel comfortable contributing. If you feel uncomfortable giving an exact figure, suggest a donation of a specific aspect of the gap year, such as flights or the program fee of the chosen activity.
Common Cost of a Gap Year
It can range from a couple thousand dollars to a year’s worth of college. To break it down, here are some estimated costs of a few different opportunities:
International volunteering: $250-$1,000/month
Semester-length service learning: $7,000-$15,000/semester
International Interning: Onetime fee of $1,500 for placement and support, plus living expenses
Backpacking Europe: $1,500/month
Hiking the Appalachian Trail: $5,000-$6,000 (for 5 months)
Working Abroad or Work Exchange: Free or Income, minus the cost of travel and visa application
Many students choose to get a summer job during the summer leading up to their gap year. This is the perfect opportunity to save money for a gap year. Summer jobs are often close to home but many students can also earn money by working at sleepaway camps, dude ranches or national parks.
Advice for Students
First of all, only consider fundraising if you plan on full-time volunteering with an accredited non-profit or charity. Friends and family will not want to donate to that surfing camp in Costa Rica you really want to check out. However, if you are going to Ecuador to teach English or Nepal to work in public health, these are causes most people you know will be happy to contribute towards. Here are few fundraising strategies I’ve found effective:
- Tell people what you will be doing and why. Don’t just say you’re traveling to Nepal. Explain that Nepal has one of the worst records in prenatal care for mothers and you will be working in communities to educate women about keeping themselves healthy. Give information on the background problem, and what you will be doing to improve the situation.
- Start a FirstGiving.com or other crowdsourcing page. FirstGiving allows you to create a webpage and have people donate online. This makes it easier for people and easier = more donations!
- Utilize Facebook . Make sure to post your fundraising page on Facebook or other social media that the adults in your life use. Update friends with your goal and how close you are. People will donate if they know you’re getting closer to your goal.
- Write well-written letters to local businesses. You never know who will donate!
- Host a fundraiser. It’s a lot of work, but holding a Battle of the Bands or a quiz night in support of your project can bring in a lot of money at once if done properly. Enlist the help of friends and have fun while doing it!
- Let the newspaper know what you’re up to. Hometown papers always need a good human interest piece. Tell them your story, and an article may stir up some donations!
- Keep donors updated when you are on your gap year. Once people donate to your cause, you are obliged to let them know where their dollar went. Keeping a blog about your experience or e-mailing donors every month is a great way to make donors feel appreciated.
Be realistic when budgeting for independent travel. You don’t want to run out of money on the road! Lonely Planet and other travel guides offer a daily budget suggestion, which is usually pretty accurate. Figure in extras like whitewater rafting or a nice meal, but be sure to give yourself some padding for the unexpected!
Now get moving! Remember, with realistic goals and a solid plan of action, a great gap year is within your reach.
Attend Julia’s workshop, “College or Gap Year: Which is Right for You?”, held on Friday, January 30, from 6:00-7:15 p.m., at the Downers Grove Public Library (1050 Curtiss Street, Downers Grove, IL). Sponsored by My College Planning Team. Julia will also be at the Chicago-area National Gap Year Fair at New Trier High School in Winnetka, Illiniois, on Saturday, Jan 31, from 12:00-3:00pm.