Finances & Communication
Planning your Finances
Finances as they relate to college can be some of the most tricky that are out there . . . let alone finances for your Gap Year. Especially so, however, when you're considering that Universities often have some rules around deferring to take a Gap Year. The traditional line of action in a Gap Year is:
- Apply to college, get accepted, and pay your deposit. This is also nice so that you have a plan. Granted, plans change and as you get greater clarity from your Gap Year, this very likely will happen. However, plans often enable you to be more present throughout your Gap Year.
- Ask for a deferral to do your Gap Year. Almost every university will offer a deferral, or a leave of absence, but differing universities will have some pretty radically different approaches for what strings are tied to such deferrals. In some cases, they may ask you to not enroll at another university. In other cases they may say you simply can't earn a certain number of credits. In every case, though, you should check with your Admissions Counselor at the university to make sure that if you have any strings attached, often to Financial Aid, then you know about them and don't run afoul.
- We've found that Tier 1 schools are almost always excited to have you do a Gap Year. They know the benefits it will have to you, to their campus life, and quite frankly they're in no shortage of applicants. Tier 2 schools often are a mixed bag. While most of them are very much in support of a Gap Year, they will often put more strings to your deferral - in short, if they like you, they want more assurances that you'll come back to that school after your Gap Year. Tier 3 schools (typically big State schools) will often either say there's no need to defer, just re-apply at the end of your Gap Year, or, they may in rare cases not even have heard of a Gap Year. So, as in all things in life, be sure to advocate for yourself and refer any unaware Admissions Representatives to the American Gap Association website: www.americangap.org.
Getting your Gap Year in order can be simple, . . . and complicated, depending obviously on the scope of your endeavors. A Gap Year, can be as short as a few months, and can last . . . well, obviously a year or more. As such, for your Gap Year you're looking at anything from $100-$200 dollars, to programs that will cost as much as $35,000. But, there's no "right" way to do your Gap Year - and a transformative experience that helps you get clarity about your future and Self, can be incredibly cheap. Please visit our Accredited Organizations and unaccredited programs to get a sense for just what options are out there, as well as what they cost. Also, check out the Financial Aid page that's here in the Resources section for ideas on fundraising.
Finances While on your Gap Year
Put everything valuable to you in a money belt and wear it. One of the most common mistakes is putting the money belt in your back pack, then getting distracted and having the entire thing stolen. This includes travel documents, ATM cards, etc.
- Find out about the costs associated with using your ATM card in different machines. Often times, there's a per-use fee, and a percentage-based fee (of as high as 5%) for use overseas.
- Carry a credit card as a backup.
- Don't bring it unless you're comfortable having it stolen. A $3,000 camera can be nice, but if you get so focused on its security then it's easy to miss all the fantastic things you're actually there for.
- Travel insurance is a great idea, but do your research. Organizations like International SOS, iNext, insuremytrip, STA, and Access America all have great insurance policies but you should know what you're covered for. And don't forget health insurance and medical evacuation . . . if something bad happens making sure that you can get to good health care is literally vital.
- Be responsible with your money. In the developing world especially, what your airfare likely cost is more than what most people will earn in a year. Additionally, even in the States, the cost of you taking a Gap Year is immense to many - so perhaps a bit of charity isn't a bad idea at home either. Finally, flaunting wealth in areas that don't have (something benign to you, such as an iPod or tablet) may represent far more cultural influences than you're aware of.
- When traveling overseas, don't buy foreign currency until you get there and when you do use the local ATMs. Bad exchange rates cost a lot especially when you're buying an "unattractive" currency from the States.
- Make sure the bills you bring are crisp. It's not uncommon for a local vendor to refuse a US dollar bill if it doesn't look newish. While this may seem unfair or a pain in the butt, if they get stuck now with a counterfeit bill then they're out those dollars.
- Travellers' cheques are not recommended these days. . . . Just use your ATM.
Recognizing that your Gap Year is for you as well as it is for your parents is often a revelation that occurs too far into the process to really take advantage of that separation. That being said, one of the worst things that you can do on your Gap Year is to grow overly dependent on communication. Remember that one of the major tenets for Gap Years is to leave your comfort zone and carrying mom and/or dad (let alone your bff, girlfriend or boyfriend) "in your pocket" makes the process of independence and self-awareness obviously more difficult. The problem isn't calling when you're happy and want to share, but when you're being faced with challenges and in reaching out thus abdicate the decision process to someone else. So unless you're traveling in a program that dictates otherwise, bringing a cell phone as a safety net can be a great idea. But, if you're using it more than once every other week then you should consider easing off for the full experience.
In most cases, you can dial home on a landline fairly cheaply. In fact, cell phones in many parts of the world simply cost more to dial from/to because the operators have to now access (i.e., pay) for not only their own equipment but also that of the cell companies.
Calling cards, while initially cheap, are often a pain in the butt unless you've done a LOT of research to find the best possible one for your needs. Dialing thirty digits to make a mistake on the 31st so that you can start over is laborious and frustrating. In most cases, asking around for the best deal on a landline is the best way to go.
Email is available EVERYWHERE in the developing world . . . unfortunately, in the more developed countries, like the United States, or Australia, sometimes the only places to get public access to the internet is through your smart phone, the local library, or at a hostel.
Don't forget about timezones when traveling overseas. It may seem fairly minor, but constantly getting woken up at 4am back home isn't as fun as you may think.
Traveling anywhere with a cell phone can be one of the best ways to have email, and emergency access to the internet. Cell phones can pretty consistently be purchased overseas with a pay-as-you-go plan. Bringing your US-based cell phone overseas with either be extremely expensive (as much as $8/minute) or simply unusable. If you want to bring your phone, make sure it's "unlocked" and uses a SIM card for the GSM network that is present in your host country. Not all phones are "quad-band" and many will require you to "jailbreak," "unlock," or buy an unlocked phone outright.