The financial perks of taking a gap year before post-secondary
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When Jessica Moorhouse was graduating high school, she thought about taking a gap year before enrolling in post-secondary. Like many teenagers, she was interested in travelling before signing on for another several years of education.
But after some convincing from her parents, Moorhouse went straight to university that fall, eventually graduating with a degree in film.
“It was very common for parents to tell their kids, oh no, don’t take a gap year. Because if you do, it’s less likely that you’ll go back to school,” she said.
Looking back, the financial educator and host of the More Money podcast says she often wonders whether taking a gap year would have helped her figure out what she wanted before taking a program that didn’t ultimately lead her to the career she has today. She also thinks it could have prevented debt.
“I saved as much as I could for university. But if I had an extra year, I probably could have avoided taking out that student loan in my last year of university because I ran out of money,” she said.
Moorhouse said many high schoolers about to graduate could benefit from taking a year off — not just for fun, but for financial reasons.
Whether it’s because they have extra savings or don’t spend a year studying something they aren’t interested in, “I feel like a lot of people could probably actually save a lot of money,” she said.
Experts like Moorhouse say not only can a gap year help you figure out what to study, it also gives you a year to work and save money to avoid debt later down the line — if you set goals and stick to a budget.
Finances are one of the most common reasons students take a gap year, said Michelle Dittmer, president and co-founder of the Canadian Gap Year Association.
“Young people are becoming more aware of the finances associated with post-secondary, and the reality that they’re growing up in,” she said.
While there are obvious benefits to having a year to save up, the other financial benefits are harder to measure, said Dittmer. She said gap year students tend to take a more direct route through post-secondary, completing their studies in fewer years and therefore saving money — perhaps because they had a year to pick the right program.
A gap year also allows people to explore different educational pathways, such as college or trades programs, which can often cost less than a university degree, said Dittmer.
In order to actually benefit financially from a gap year, Moorhouse said it’s important to set savings goals and stick to a budget.
To do that, first you have to calculate just how much post-secondary will cost, from tuition to living expenses to travel, said Vanessa Bowen, a money coach and founder of Mint Worthy Co.
“With that clarity, you can then build a savings plan,” she said.
Bowen suggests putting those savings in a separate account, such as a tax-free savings account, so that you’re not tempted to use them on something else during your gap year.
Even if you’re taking the year to save money, Dittmer said you should still set aside some funds to do something fun with your time, such as travel.
“A big tip that I would give is, decide how much you are going to spend on your gap year before you decide how much you’re going to save,” she said.
Otherwise, even if you go into university with lots of extra savings, you may end up feeling like you missed out, she said.
If you want to spend more time travelling, Moorhouse said there’s no reason you can’t also earn money at the same time. You may be able to find an exchange program where you can travel and work, and there are plenty of other ways to work as you make your way around the world, she said.
“Maybe do more of a slow travel where you stay in a place, try to find some odd jobs or part time work when you’re there so you can make some extra money, and then move on to the next place,” she said.
If you’re thinking of taking a gap year, it’s important to figure out what your options are, said Moorhouse. For example, if you were already offered a post-secondary spot, make sure you know whether you can defer the offer and how that might affect any scholarships you have been awarded. The same goes for anyone taking a year off after already completing a year or more of post-secondary, she said — check the deferral rules and speak with an advisor to make sure you’re not missing anything.
Bowen also encourages learning about finances during your gap year so that you’re better prepared to budget with what you’ve saved once you start school. You can learn a lot from talking to your parents, she said, and it can be beneficial to discuss finances with them especially if they’re helping to pay for your education.
Other great uses of gap-year time include taking free career programs and applying to extra scholarships or grants, Dittmer said.
“Millions of dollars go unclaimed. And a lot of that is because grade 12 students are too busy to apply for them,” she said.
“So take the additional free time you have and free mental capacity, research them, find them, put together a kickass application and get the free money.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 16, 2023.