When it comes to choosing between gap year programs, cost is a major consideration, but it shouldn”t be the only one.

Cheap gap year programs might sound appealing to your wallet, but it’s just as important to find a program that offers a balance of affordability and quality, so you can have a meaningful experience without breaking the bank.

Photo by Betsy Winston

Figure Out Your Budget and Ultimate Goals for Your Gap Year Program

This might go without saying, but the first step to finding an affordable gap year program is to know your own budget. After all, what’s “affordable” to one person might not be “affordable” to another.

Consider the type of program you want

Part of understanding your budget is knowing what your ultimate goals are for your gap year experience.

Will you be heartbroken if your gap year doesn’t include plenty of time hiking through a mountain range?

Do you want to volunteer abroad?

Is it essential for you to earn college credits through your gap year program?

Before you start looking for gap year programs, it’s essential to know what you’re looking for. Consider the type of program you want to participate in and the skills and experiences you want to gain.

Knowing what you want will help you set a realistic budget, narrow down your search, and find affordable programs that align with your interests and goals.

Set a realistic budget — and try to stick to it!

Determine how much money you have available for your gap year based on your non-negotiables.

Consider all of your expenses, such as program fees, accommodations, meals, transportation, travel document fees, and activities.

Then set a realistic budget and make a plan for sticking to it.

Gap year student in sleeping bag at sunrisePhoto by Ishani Sawant

How To Stick To Your Budget

Once you’ve got your budget in mind, you’re ready to start searching for the best gap year programs within your means. Keep in mind that the cost of gap year programs varies widely depending on factors such as location, duration, activities, and accommodations.

Taking a gap year on a budget is easier than you think—you just need some careful planning and research.

Here are some things to consider when looking for a gap year program within your budget:

Consider Low-Cost Locations

Where you choose to spend your gap year will likely have the biggest impact on your budget. 

Traveling abroad is a great way to gain international experience, explore new cultures, and give language immersion a try, all of which are common goals among gap year students.

But, if, like many young people, your gap year will be your first experience traveling abroad for an extended amount of time, there are a number of things to consider.

Look for programs that offer similar experiences in multiple countries.

While it can be tempting to start your gap year planning with a specific country in mind, that can be incredibly limiting.

Instead, research programs based on climates that appeal to you and experiences that match your interests and goals.

Make sure you have a good understanding of currency and exchange rates.

Choosing to study abroad in a country where your home country’s currency is stronger is a great way to save. Be sure to research the cost of living in the country you plan to visit as well.

Account for passport, visa, and plane ticket fees in your budget.

If you’re planning to travel abroad for your gap year, make sure to start planning for logistics and travel costs as early as possible.

If you need to apply for or renew your passport or other travel documents, getting that done earlier rather than later can help avoid expedition fees. Plane tickets are also generally cheaper the earlier you purchase them.

Consider a domestic gap year.

If you want to minimize your travel expenses and splurge on experiences, consider one of our domestic gap year programs. NOLS offers a variety of transformative gap year programs right in the United States in locations that include the Rocky Mountains, Alaska, and the Pacific Northwest.

Consider a Shorter Duration

The duration of a gap year program is also a significant factor that contributes to its cost. 

Longer programs typically require more extensive accommodations and meals, which can increase the overall cost of the program. Shorter programs may offer a more affordable alternative, as they require fewer resources.

Shorter programs may range from a few weeks to a few months, depending on the program and its location. These programs are an excellent choice for those on a budget, as they provide meaningful experiences without breaking the bank.

At NOLS, we offer Gap Semester programs, as well as even shorter expeditions and courses that allow students to engage in life-changing experiences while gaining valuable leadership skills, certifications, and college credit.

3 gap year students hiking with mountains behind themPhoto by Matt Hage

Plan Your Itinerary Around Affordable Activities

Another significant factor that contributes to the cost of a gap year program is the type of activities offered. Affordable gap year programs may offer more budget-friendly activities to keep the cost of the program low.

NOLS gap year programs include opportunities for hiking and wilderness courses, which are an excellent way to connect with nature, explore new environments, and gain valuable new skills. 

These activities are often less expensive than city-based tours or excursions, making them a great choice for budget-conscious travelers.

Additionally, volunteering abroad is another affordable option for gap year programs. Many programs offer opportunities to work on community development projects, which not only provide an affordable way to spend time but also allow participants to make a positive impact.

Consider Simplified Accommodations

One of the most significant factors that contribute to the cost of gap year programs is the type of accommodations offered.

Programs that offer luxury hotels or private apartments are typically more expensive than more affordable gap year programs that provide camping or hostel accommodations.

Travel smart

Look for ways to save money while traveling, such as taking advantage of student discounts, using public transportation, or traveling during the off-season.

Be flexible with your itinerary and consider alternative modes of transportation, such as buses or trains, instead of expensive flights.

Plan Ahead

The earlier you start planning your gap year, the more time you have to save money and research affordable options.

Start planning at least six months in advance, and be sure to take into account any visa requirements or travel restrictions.

Key Takeaways:

  • Set a realistic budget and consider ways to cut costs.
  • Research affordable gap year programs that vary in duration.
  • Consider alternative destinations.
  • Travel smart and take advantage of student discounts and off-season rates.
  • Plan ahead and start planning at least six months in advance.

4 gap year students sitting by the water with sailboats anchoredPhoto by Alisha Bube

Where to Splurge

Risk Management

Risk management should always be a top priority when taking a gap year. Splurging on programs that have strict protocols in place is worth it. While they may be more expensive, being with a program that you can trust is good for your peace of mind and well-being.

Expertise

Look for programs that have experienced and knowledgeable instructors and guides. This will ensure that you have a meaningful and educational experience. While it may be tempting to opt for cheaper programs with less experienced staff, it’s worth it to invest in quality instruction and guidance.

NOLS sets the standard for instructor excellence. Our instructors are wilderness experts and compassionate mentors committed to student well-being and success.

Cultural Immersion

One of the most valuable aspects of a gap year abroad is cultural immersion. Opt for programs that offer opportunities to engage with local communities and learn about their customs and traditions. While these programs may be more expensive, they provide a unique and enriching experience that is often worth the investment.

Keep in mind, a domestic gap year in a state or region that is new to you can be just as valuable for community building and increasing cultural awareness. The goal is to get to know the land and the people wherever you go.

Affordable Gap Year Programs at NOLS

At NOLS, we believe in making outdoor education accessible to all budgets. Here are the top 5 best gap year programs at NOLS and what makes them affordable:

5 gap year students in one raft whitewater raftingPhoto by Alex Sadler

Wind River Wilderness Expedition

The Wind River Wilderness month-long course is an incredible opportunity for individuals seeking a transformative experience during their gap semester.

You’ll be immersed in the stunning landscapes of Wyoming’s Wind River Range, where you’ll learn valuable outdoor skills such as backpacking, leadership skills related to communication, risk management, and decision-making, and environmental ethics.

What makes this program budget-friendly:

  • Location: If you live in the United States, this is a great domestic gap program that will help save on airline and passport fees.
  • Duration: The shorter duration of one month will save you money and allow you to pursue other interests during the rest of your gap year or semester (e.g. creative projects, a volunteer program, or paid work).
  • Expertise: You’ll engage in hands-on experiential learning, including backpacking, navigation, and basic wilderness first aid, under the guidance of highly experienced instructors.
  • Simplified Accommodations: This program focuses on backcountry living, camping, and backpacking which means you’ll save big on lodging, meals, and transportation.
  • Rentable Gear & Equipment: We encourage using what you already have, or renting items when possible. While you are not obligated to rent gear from us, there are several reasons why we suggest it. Our rental gear is high quality, chosen specifically for the heavy use it receives on courses. Rental prices are reasonable, so you can try out gear and make informed decisions on future adventures. After your course, you may purchase any of the items you rented at a reduced cost; this is a great way to begin building your personal system if you intend to keep exploring the outdoors.
  • College Credit: Earn up to 6 transferable college credits during this course:
    • 2 Environmental Studies
    • 2 Leadership Techniques
    • 2 Skills Practicum.

Semester in East Africa

Spend 75 days on a thrilling journey throughout Tanzania. You’ll gain hiking and mountaineering skills amidst the slopes of Mt. Kilimanjaro, and traverse the valleys of Ngorongoro Crater and Olduvai Gorge, delving into the rich tapestry of human history.

This program will immerse you in a variety of local cultures, allowing you to gain profound insights into contemporary Tanzanian life by connecting with the Maasai, Bushmen, Chaga, and Meru communities in rural villages. Tanzania’s vibrant wildlife, including giraffes and elephants, will captivate your senses as you encounter daily adventures.

What makes this program budget-friendly:

  • Location: The US dollar is typically strong in Tanzania, making it a relatively affordable location. Exchange rates change often, so make sure to check frequently.
  • Duration: The shorter duration of a semester will save you money and allow you to pursue other interests during the rest of your gap year (e.g. creative projects, volunteering, or working), or return to school or work sooner than you would if taking a full gap year.
  • Expertise: You’ll engage in hands-on experiential learning, including mountaineering, safari, and backpacking, under the guidance of highly experienced instructors.
  • Simplified Accommodations: Throughout the semester, you will embrace a tent-dwelling lifestyle, honing your skills in Leave No Trace principles for minimal environmental impact and mastering the art of preparing delicious camp stove meals. Moreover, the program offers a unique homestay experience, enabling you to live with a Tanzanian family and immerse yourself in their culture. The program fee includes all meals and transportation making it an affordable option for students.
  • Rentable Gear & Equipment: We encourage using what you already have, or renting items when possible. While you are not obligated to rent gear from us, there are several reasons why we suggest it. Our rental gear is high quality, chosen specifically for the heavy use it receives on courses. Rental prices are reasonable, so you can try out gear and make informed decisions on future adventures. After your course, you may purchase any of the items you rented at a reduced cost; this is a great way to begin building your personal system if you intend to keep exploring the outdoors.
  • College Credit: Earn up to 16 transferable college credits during this course:
    • 2 Cultural Studies
    • 3 Risk Assessment
    • 4 Skills Practicum
    • 4 Leadership Techniques
    • 3 Environmental Studies

2 gap year students hiking up a stony waterwayPhoto by Betsy Winston

Gap Year in Patagonia

Immerse yourself in the vibrant culture of Patagonia by spending your first 8-10 days living with a Spanish-speaking family in a remote campo, or ranch, setting.

This unique opportunity for language immersion will provide you with a deep understanding and appreciation of the local culture and way of life.

Throughout the remainder of the course, you will embark on a thrilling exploration of Patagonia’s remote mountains and captivating coastlines, gaining valuable knowledge about the environment and skills in wilderness first aid, mountaineering, sea kayaking, and rock climbing. 

These components combine to create a comprehensive backcountry immersion that will not only transform your life but also equip you with confidence as a global traveler, foster leadership qualities, and strengthen your sense of purpose and passion.

What makes this program budget-friendly:

  • Location: The US dollar is typically strong in Patagonia, making it a relatively affordable location. Exchange rates change often, so make sure to check frequently.
  • Expertise: You’ll engage in hands-on experiential learning, including mountaineering, sea kayaking, and backpacking, under the guidance of highly experienced instructors.
  • Simplified Accommodations: During the first portion of the program, you’ll stay with a local family, honing your Spanish language skills and learning about the local community and environment. The rest of the program will be spent in tents practicing Leave No Trace principles for minimal environmental impact and mastering the art of preparing delicious camp stove meals. The program fee includes all meals and transportation making it an affordable option for young adults.
  • Rentable Gear & Equipment: We encourage using what you already have, or renting items when possible. While you are not obligated to rent gear from us, there are several reasons why we suggest it. Our rental gear is high quality, chosen specifically for the heavy use it receives on courses. Rental prices are reasonable, so you can try out gear and make informed decisions on future adventures. After your course, you may purchase any of the items you rented at a reduced cost.
  • College Credit: Earn up to 27 transferable college credits during this course:
    • 2 Cultural Studies
    • 3 WFR
    • 2 Outdoor Educator
    • 2 Expedition Planning
    • 4 Risk Management
    • 6 Skills Practicum
    • 4 Leadership Techniques
    • 4 Environmental Studies

2 gap year students on a sailboatPhoto by Alisha Bube

Scholarships and Financial Aid at NOLS

Many young people who embark on a NOLS gap year or semester use financial aid and scholarships to help fund their expeditions and courses. We believe in the value of our transformative gap year experiences and are committed to working with you to make your dream expedition attainable. We encourage you to explore the possibilities of funding your adventure through our financial aid resources:

NOLS Scholarships

At NOLS, we award generous need-based scholarships to gap year students each year. Our scholarships take into account unusual expenses and special or changing circumstances. Scholarships can range from a small portion to larger amounts of the course cost. It is very rare for a scholarship to exceed 50% of the listed tuition price.

529 Plans & AmeriCorps Awards

If you’re eligible for a 529 College Savings Plan or AmeriCorps Education Award, you may use it to cover a majority of the costs of your course, thanks to NOLS’ partnership with Western Colorado University.

You can use your AmeriCorps Education Award for any NOLS expedition course five days or longer. For any expedition course 60 days or longer, NOLS will match your education award up to $2,000 dollars. AmeriCorps awards can be combined with other funding types, such as scholarships or 529 Plan funding.

Veterans Benefits

Veterans can use their veteran benefits for a Wyoming-based expedition at NOLS. Through these courses, you will gain personal growth and learn valuable life skills that can help push you toward success in higher education or the workforce.

Veterans will finish the course with a certification that employers respect, a sense of community, and the skills to take on new adventures. Benefits can be used for NOLS according to Title 38 United States Code.

Federal Aid & Consortium Agreements

Students currently attending a college or university who are embarking on a gap program between semesters can sometimes use federal financial aid or loans to help fund their NOLS course.

NOLS cannot accept federal aid or loans directly, as we are not a Title IV, degree-granting institution, but we do offer the possibility of a consortium agreement to make the transfer of this aid possible. Learn more about NOLS financial aid.

Be sure you understand the eligibility requirements and application deadlines for each scholarship and aid opportunity to maximize your chances of receiving financial assistance.

Start Planning Your Affordable Gap Year with NOLS

Whether you’re seeking personal growth, outdoor skills, or cultural immersion, we have the perfect affordable gap program for you.

Learn more about our gap year programs and find the one that aligns with your interests, goals, and budget.

Don’t forget to schedule time to connect with our gap year advisor to discuss scholarships and financial aid options. Start planning your transformative gap year experience today!

 

Source link: https://blog.nols.edu/how-to-find-affordable-gap-year-programs by NOLS at blog.nols.edu