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How would a gap year affect financial aid and FAFSA?

December 06, 2018

A gap year is taking a year off between high school and university and filling this “gap” with work experience, volunteer experience, or travel before starting college. This phenomenon has been popularized by Malia Obama, whose decision to take a gap year prior to commencing studies at Harvard was reported in the media. Taking a gap year gives students the opportunity to explore potential majors, industries, and fields of interest before commencing studies, but what does it mean for financial aid?


Gap Year Implications for College Admissions

Most students applying for a gap year choose to apply to college and the senior year of college and defer admission, instead of waiting until the end of their gap year to apply. The admission committee has the final determination in granting a deferral. In most cases, admission committees would like to see a detailed plan for the gap year program and plan for a term, rather than a vague “going to backpack through Europe” or “working for a year.” If the admission committee does not approve your deferral, there is no guarantee of acceptance in future years.


Gap Year Implications for Financial Aid and Scholarships

Taking a Gap Year also has implications for financial aid and scholarship packages. Even if you don’t plan to accept federal aid, many institutions require submitting the FAFSA as part of the admission and scholarship evaluation process. Students who take a gap year may have to relinquish scholarships or financial aid. Each year college and universities are awarded a certain amount of financial aid dollars and scholarships to give away. Deferring your admission or applying to college after the gap year can change your award amount.


Gap Year Implications for FAFSA

Students who choose to take a gap year must re-submit the FAFSA (Free Application For Federal Student Aid) the subsequent academic year. A student who works during the gap year will have to report the income, which could increase the EFC (Expected Family Contribution) and decrease the overall financial award. It’s essential to evaluate both income and other financial obligations when considering how a gap year can affect your FAFSA.


Even if there is no change in income or finances, the FAFSA award may change based on personal circumstances. Families with more than one student in college have a lower EFC per student. A student with an older sibling in college may earn a FAFSA award, but that same award may not be available if the older sibling is no longer in college when a student re-applies to the FAFSA.


Should I take a gap year?

Numerous studies analyze both the benefits of taking a gap year and adverse outcomes of taking a gap year. A gap year is a personal decision that can affect financial aid and scholarship awards positively or negatively depending on your circumstances. Also, gap years have become quite common, and it’s something that most college admission committees understand and are willing to work around. If you are considering taking a gap year, present a clear plan to the university admission committees, and remember to re-submit the FAFSA.