Gap year: Top 3 things parents in The Woodlands need to know

By: HFG Wealth Management
| Published 05/18/2017

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THE WOODLANDS, Texas -- High school graduation is nearly here, which means families with students entering their senior year need to start thinking about what their student will do after graduation.

One often overlooked option is having the student attend a gap year program before entering college.

Donnie Carpenter, HFG Wealth Management Director of Client Services and Financial Planning, answers the top three questions about gap year programs.

What is a gap year program?

Gap year programs have been growing in popularity for some time, but the concept has almost always been around. The idea is that most students have no idea what career they want to enter on the other side of school, and thus what they should study.

Instead of going from high school straight into college, they can get some experience that will help them understand more about themselves and what careers may be a good fit.

Some students do this by getting a job and staying at home, building up their savings and learning if a retail or service job is where they want to land. Other students attend a local community college to explore different fields at a fraction of the cost of a four-year college, but most community colleges have far fewer fields of study than traditional universities. Still other students may want to join the army, Greenpeace, a mission agency, or take some other opportunity to travel and gain life experience.

A relatively new option is to attend a gap year program. There are generally three types: traveling, volunteering, and working.

Why should we consider a gap year program?

Many 18-year- olds are not ready to decide what they want to do with the rest of their life. A gap year program gives them time and space to consider their options, as well as obtain experiences that may help shape their future career.

For example, a client's son was interested in doing something involving the ocean, so his parents sent him on a gap year program that had him spending a semester at sea. He is now an oceanographer, having found a career he is passionate about, while his wife, whom he met on the ship, became a school teacher after learning she wasn’t as interested in the sea as she thought.

Is there a cost to gap year programs, and if so, how do we pay for it?

Gap year programs are businesses that sell education and experiences, so there is a cost involved. It can run from a few thousand dollars to tens of thousands of dollars. One program involves traveling to multiple countries over 9 months and costs $55,000, while another has the student live 20 days at sea for 3 credit hours and costs $6,000. Depending on the type of program, you may be able to use financial aid, or even your 529 account to pay for the gap year. To be eligible for financial aid or to get tax-free withdrawals from your 529, a program must be affiliated with a university.

For more information about HFG Wealth Management, visit hfgwm.com.

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