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Seven Affordable Gap Year Ideas

You don’t have to be rich or British (the gap year concept originated in the UK) to reap all the benefits of a gap year, nor do you have to be a graduating high school senior. Whether you’re between careers or taking a break from your studies, everyone can benefit from a year out.

Gap Year Ideas

Last week, I wrote about my gap year experience. Despite my reservations, I was happy to receive several emails and comments from readers who could relate. I was also delighted to get emails from readers interested in taking a gap year but not sure where to start.

My gap year was funded via a government fellowship, but I’ll get to those details in a bit! Even without scholarships, gap years don’t need to be ridiculously expensive. Here are some ideas for an amazing gap year that won’t deplete your college fund:

Find Your Own Project of Interest 

For a biannual membership fee of $29, you can join Work Away or Help X to search for volunteer opportunities abroad. Each platform offers a wide range of projects on every corner of the globe, from helping out in a hostel in Nicaragua to teaching English in Poland to volunteering with animal conservation efforts in Ecuador.

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In exchange for your help, most hosts offer free accommodation and/or a stipend. Both sites feature more traditional volunteer opportunities as well and are a much cheaper alternative to volunteer placement services.

WWOOF operates similarly, except it focuses on connecting organic farms with volunteers. Volunteering on a farm doesn’t seem like my cup of tea, but backpackers love WWOOF and I have only heard positive things.

Take a Working Holiday

While you certainly won’t get rich by doing a working holiday, you should be able to earn enough to cover your expenses and live fairly comfortably. There are loads of options for earning money while traveling, including teaching English, working as an Au Pair, or enrolling in a working holiday visa scheme.

Most working holiday participants go to Australia or New Zealand, but depending on your nationality, there are several options for working holiday visas.

Teaching English in South Korea has become a popular option for recent college grads, as the benefits are pretty sweet. For more options, check out this list of countries where English teachers aren’t required to have a degree.

Language Schools

If one of your gap year goals is to learn a new language, consider taking the time to focus exclusively on language study. There’s no better way to learn than immersion methods!

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For example, if you’re interested in learning Spanish, language schools in South America are inexpensive, and tuition usually includes accommodation and activities.

Look for an Internship Abroad

It’s not easy to find an internship abroad, especially a paid one. This doesn’t mean it’s impossible –  you will just need a lot of patience!

Idealist is an excellent place to start your internship search.  International internships with free housing and/or a monthly stipend are posted on a semi-regular basis.

AISEC also helps students secure internships abroad while only charging minimal operational fees.

There’s an overwhelming amount of companies charging thousands of dollars to coordinate unpaid internship placements. Save your money – with a little grit, seeking expensive outside help is completely unnecessary.

Go Backpacking

Who says your gap year has to be well-structured or career-oriented? Save for a few months, grab your backpack, and go! While volunteering or working abroad is certainly rewarding, so is traveling in general! If you’re tight on cash and traveling alone for the first time, I recommend Southeast Asia. It’s safe, cheap, and easy to navigate compared to other regions with similar living expenses.

Gap Year Suggestions

City Year

You don’t have to go abroad to make an impact. If you’re passionate about social justice, consider applying for AmeriCorp’s City Year. City Year volunteers work with students in inner city schools, aiming to improve graduation rates in America’s most underprivileged school districts.

Volunteers receive a small monthly stipend and the program covers most living expenses. Those who successfully complete the program are eligible for the Segal Education Award (worth ~$5,730), which can be used for future studies or to pay off student loans. Many universities match or supplement the award through private funding as well.

US State Department Scholarships

The Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs offers a variety of funding for those interested in cross-cultural exchange. Most of the scholarships offered are for foreign students interested in learning more about the US, but there are a few programs open to American citizens.

The two programs best suited for the average gap year candidate would be NSLI-Y and CBYX.

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NSLI-Y supports students interested in studying languages less commonly taught in school, such as Turkish, Korean, and Russian. The cut-off age for the youth program (there’s also a similar scholarship for college students) is 18-19, so this would only be an option for graduating high school seniors looking for a gap year.

Another amazing scholarship opportunity is CBYX, which is  how I spent my gap year. The CBYX scholarship is dually funded by the US and German governments, offering students a fully-funded year in Germany attending German high school, university or completing an internship. Click here for more information on CBYX and the application process.

If you’re a German citizen interested in going to the United States, the German version of the program is known as the Parlamentarische Patenschafts-Programm.


I hope these affordable gap year suggestions are helpful! If there’s anything I missed, please don’t hesitate to share! If you took a gap year, how were you able to fund it?

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7 Comments

  • Reply
    Lauren
    August 12, 2015 at 7:39 am

    I totally back up City Year! I just finished a similar AmeriCorps program, doing behavioral intervention at a middle school in New Orleans. Life-changing. Great tips 🙂

    L

    • Reply
      Allison
      August 12, 2015 at 7:54 am

      Hi Lauren – thanks for stopping by, so glad you liked the tips and that you had a positive AmeriCorps experience 🙂

  • Reply
    Flavia
    August 12, 2015 at 12:02 pm

    Just discovered your blog, love it! 🙂

    • Reply
      Allison
      August 12, 2015 at 6:42 pm

      Thank you, Flavia – means a lot 🙂

  • Reply
    Amanda | Chasing My Sunshine
    August 18, 2015 at 8:39 am

    I am planning a gap year after I graduate with my Masters. I am definitely bookmarking this page for reference. I am currently looking into teaching in Thailand or working for Americorps for a year. Who knows where my gap year will take me!

  • Reply
    Annika
    December 27, 2015 at 9:42 pm

    I am currently a high school senior heavily considering a gap year as application deadlines are approaching. I want to start a music blog as music and writing are something I am very passionate about. Is it possible for me to make any money off of that in a year? Any tips to grow a reputable blog in a short amount of time? Love this post, by the way!

    • Reply
      Allison
      December 29, 2015 at 12:24 am

      Hi Annika, I’m going to send you an email offering some advice, if it’s alright with you!

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