Students opt for gap years, work experience

Lois Lee

January 30, 2012

In light of the economic climate, students are basing gap year decision on financial considerations

Wharton sophomore Alex Evanczuk lived overseas on $2,000 for an entire year — less than what a semester of a freshman dining plan would have cost him.

For students like Evanczuk, taking a gap year comes not only with a broader world view, but also a lighter wallet.

While traditional gap year programs may cost thousands of dollars — an eight-month Global Gap Year in countries like Ecuador, Peru and China through Thinking Beyond Borders can cost up to $34,500 — a few are finding ways to lessen the financial burden.

Evanczuk, who deferred enrollment after being accepted to Penn, spent the year before he arrived on campus at a Rotary Exchange in Taiwan.

Housing, meals and allowance were provided for him by the program, and he only had to pay for his airfare.

“I spent less than $2,000 for an entire year so it was a lot cheaper than college,” Evanczuk said, adding that his gap year alternative proved to be all-benefit, no-cost.

According to Dean of Admissions Eric Furda, between 50 and 65 students defer enrollment to Penn in any given year. With the recent economic climate, he said, many of these students are basing their gap year decisions on financial considerations.

“I don’t think a gap year is a luxury,” founder of Ivy Coach Bev Taylor said. “I think whatever the student’s passion is what the student needs to do in a gap year.”

Engineering freshman Morgan Snyder, who is currently planning a gap year, said financial concerns played a major role in her decision. She researched alternatives to more costly programs since she would be paying out of her own pocket.

“Mostly because of the financial reasons and also for other personal reasons, I crossed all of those programs off my list really early. Most of the opportunities I’m looking at are working with NGOs in Bangalore,” Snyder said, adding the only drawback is that she will have to organize most of her trip.

When students like Snyder return to Penn after taking a gap year, there is no effect on their financial aid packages, according to Director of Financial Aid Bill Schilling.

Apart from the financial aid re-application form that is required every year, he explained, “their aid eligibility from Penn would just pick up where it left off once they return, again, understanding that re-application is necessary.”

However, gap years may affect financial aid packages of older siblings, since the number of children currently attending college is a consideration in the financial aid evaluation process, he added.

When Evanczuk re-applied for financial aid at the end of his gap year, however, he discovered that his and his older brother’s aid packages did not change significantly.

Tim Lear — director of college counseling at the Pingry School in Martinsville, N.J. — added that he has observed more students opt for work experience during their gap year, rather than simply taking an expensive trip abroad.

Like Furda, he attributed part of this to economic considerations.

“It’s a mistaken idea that it’s better to do something strictly academic,” he said. “[Work experience] teaches them some humility and some survival skills … that they almost don’t learn anywhere else, certainly not to the same degree.”

Aaron Wilson, who is currently taking time off after his freshman year at Penn, has taken two different gap years

He initially deferred enrollment at Penn to travel to Israel and Europe and decided this year to extend his summer internship into a year-long job located near his home.

Wilson said he learned just as much in his gap year in a working environment as in his gap year abroad.

“I haven’t learned as much about myself from working, but I’m learning much, much more about the world around me,” he said. “I’m learning way more than I could have learned in any class. I have a lot of responsibility in what I do.”