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How Can I Get Financial Aid for My Gap Year?

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Many gap year programs recognize the financial barriers some participants may face and offer various forms of financial assistance to make their programs more accessible. Some forms of funding include scholarships and donations, but most gappers work and save up money on their own. To maximize your ability to find funding, start planning as early as possible and apply for every scholarship and grant you qualify for. Finding funding will require careful planning and a significant amount of work, so you’ll need to plan accordingly. 

Can You Use Financial Aid for a Gap Year Program?

There are two main ways to approach a gap year: deferring admission and delaying application. Deferring means you’ve been accepted, your financial aid has been determined, but you defer or postpone college or university attendance for a year. Delaying means you are delaying the application process and will apply during your gap time. Different types of aid are provided through sources like federal and state agencies, colleges, high schools, foundations and corporations, and the amount of aid you receive depends on federal, state and institutional guidelines. 

The first step is to file the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), to determine your college financial aid. There are two types of aid: need-based and merit-based. Federal need-based aid is determined by a family’s demonstrated ability to pay for college as calculated by the FAFSA. Merit aid can be awarded by an institution, college or private organization to a student for a specific talent or an athletic or academic ability; these awards aren’t based on financial need. The type of aid offered also determines whether it will have to be repaid. Most students qualify for some type of federal student aid. 

  • Federal Stafford Loans are available to all students, regardless of financial need. If the loan is subsidized, the government pays the interest while you’re in school; for unsubsidized, you have the option of capitalizing the interest or paying the interest quarterly during the in-school period. 
  • Federal grants offer money that doesn’t need to be repaid. The most well-known is the need-based Pell Grant. To qualify, you must be a full-time undergraduate student with an Expected Family Contribution (EFC) below the limit determined each year. 
  • Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunities Grant (SEOG grant) is a need-based grant awarded to those students demonstrating the greatest financial need.
  • Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship provides up to $5,000 for American students to pursue overseas study for college credit. If you receive a federal Pell grant, you’re eligible to apply. 
  • Work-study programs provide part-time work, typically on campus, to help students cover college-related expenses. Students need to qualify through the FAFSA with demonstrated financial need. 
  • Parent PLUS Loans for Undergraduate Students are available to your parents if you’re a dependent undergraduate student-to help finance your education. Parents may borrow up to the full cost of your education, less the amount of any other financial aid you receive. 
  • 529 Educational Plan is an education savings plan operated by a state or educational institution designed to help families set aside funds for future college costs. You may be able to use these funds for for-credit college courses included in some Gap programs.

In order to access financial aid, you’ll need to be a matriculated student at a college or university. You may be able to set up a consortium agreement where you remain a student at your “host” school and continue to receive financial aid. There are also gap year programs where you can earn college credit. Be sure to communicate with your school to ensure there won’t be any unexpected or negative interference with your financial aid or program by taking a gap year. 

Can a Gap Year Impact My Financial Aid?

Depending on your financial aid situation, a gap year might impact your award amount. Typically, merit-based aid will remain unaffected, but it’s super important to contact your financial aid office to ensure you know the potential changes. Need-based aid from your college will change based on your financial situation, so you’ll have to resubmit your FAFSA and/or CSS Profile for the year you plan to attend college. If your financial situation becomes better or worse in that year, it’ll impact your aid, and if you spend your gap year working, you’ll have to report that income. 

Money from private scholarships varies on a case-by-case basis, some will be flexible and allow you to use the money for the year you start school, but others may not. Colleges who accept deferrals will be clear about whether awarded scholarships will still apply when a student begins school after their gap year. Make sure to check with any private scholarships you were awarded to see how a gap year could affect your award. Most gap year scholarships fall under two categories, need-based and merit-based. Whether or not you qualify for either or both depends on the individual requirements, so be sure to read closely before applying.

When researching gap year programs, be sure to inquire about their financial aid options and application processes. Each program may have its own set of criteria and deadlines for financial aid applications. There are many ways to fund your gap year experience, and through utilizing one, or likely many of these options, students have realized their goal of participating in a gap year program. 

Dragons Financial Aid Information and Advice 

The reality of providing the highest-quality and best-staffed cultural immersion experiences in the industry is that the associated costs are high. Although Dragons program tuition is competitive with the general market, we recognize that summer and gap year programming can feel out of the realm of financial possibility for some. To make our programs more accessible to those of all economic means, we offer need-based financial aid


STEP 1: Fill out the standard online application. The application fee is waived for students applying for financial aid.

STEP 2: Submit a cover letter and supplemental financial documents. Email them to [email protected]. Your cover letter should include:

  1. Your reasons for wanting to participate in a program, and why we should consider you for aid
  2. Why you think you would be a great Dragons student
  3. Your top THREE preferences for program/country/area
  4. A summary of how much tuition you and your family can contribute toward a program and any other relevant financial information we should know
  5. Financial Documents: submit either a copy of your parent’s most recent tax returns or a copy of your FAFSA

STEP 3: As soon as we have all of the three pieces of your application, we’ll get in touch within a few weeks. If you’re selected by the Financial Aid Committee to move onto the next steps, we’ll set up a phone interview.


  • APPLY EARLY: We accept students and award aid on a rolling basis. You can apply anytime, but the sooner you apply, the greater your chance is of receiving funds.
  • BE PATIENT: It takes time for the Financial Aid Committee to make a decision as the enrollment and fund allocation process involves many moving variables. 
  • BE FLEXIBLE: The more flexible you are in terms of the location and type of program you seek, the more likely we will be able to find a space for you. 
  • JUST APPLY: If you feel strongly that Dragons is right for you, we want to hear why. We select students who’ll bring the most into a course and get the most out of it, and those who take the time and energy to demonstrate that in their application.

We know the financial aid process can often feel overwhelming, so feel free to contact us with questions anytime.

Here’s a PDF version of Dragons Financial Aid Process & Advice that’s printer-friendly if needed.

More about Financial Aid

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