By Skylar Nicholson, University of Georgia

Erin Lamb chose to take a gap year between her freshman and sophomore years of college when she was then a student at Samford University.

“Our society says you go to high school, you graduate high school and you go to college. So, it can probably be scary to break the mold on that, but doing that teaches you so much about who you are in relation to the world,” said Lamb, who used the time to intern in Guatemala and participate in the World Race program in Nicaragua and Costa Rica.

“I think it has better equipped me to go back to school now and be sure of who I am and what I’m doing,” said Lamb, who said she feels she has a newfound direction in her education. She is now at Georgia College pursuing a music therapy degree and is set to graduate in 2022.

A gap year is when a student typically takes a break between high school and college or between years in their undergraduate program to pursue life outside of the classroom, or sometimes as a year after graduation before starting a job. A study by the Cooperative Institutional Research Program at UCLA found that 3% of students in the U.S. choose to take a year off before continuing on in their academic careers.

Bill Kieser, a doctoral student in the department of finance at the University of Georgia, said “it is an extremely valuable investment to invest in your own human capital” through experiences such as a gap year.

Colleges are encouraging students to take advantage of a gap year to improve interpersonal skills, gain workforce experience or as a chance to simply see the world. As schools across the country adopt the idea, they allow students to keep their accepted status and return a year later after completing their gap year. Harvard, for example, reported that between 80 and 110 of its 6,700 students take a gap year and the number of students involved continues to rise.

Raising the money to support a gap year is a crucial part in making a successful gap year happen. Taking part in gap year programs can cost thousands of dollars and much of that money may have to be paid in full before leaving for the experience.

Lamb said she found success from creating social media posts and directly asking for financial support, receiving $400 from a single post in one night. She also solicited contributions through handwritten letters to members of her community which included an unused envelope with a return address. Other funds were raised from selling t-shirts and setting up a web page to help raise awareness in her community about her upcoming non-traditional educational plans.

Lamb also worked two jobs, averaging 60 hours a week, to be able to make enough money to afford the costs associated with her gap year on top of her fundraising efforts. She found financial success through keeping a strict weekly and monthly cash budget.

“I would mostly get money out of the ATM and put however much I had for the week in my wallet and then keep the rest somewhere in an envelope so that it was spread out over the specific amounts. So, once I didn’t have any more in my wallet then I knew that I didn’t have any more to spend that week,” said Lamb.

Her monthly budget broke down to $50 a week for food and incidentals, but in total, her gap year cost about $6,800, she said.

Kieser said a strong budget to help keep a student accountable can be easily created in an Excel spreadsheet. Having a spreadsheet puts the numbers in black and white and allows a person to really see their full financial situation in detail, he added.

“Simply look at what are your expected revenues are, whether it is from an incumbent job, money from allowances and family support. And then what are your actual costs are,” Kieser said.

Overall, planning is key when deciding to take a gap year. Lamb said that when looking back on her experience, she thinks more planning ahead would have reduced stress about finances.

“Definitely knowing ahead of time and having a plan would have been very beneficial,” she said.

Skylar Nicholson is a journalism major in the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Georgia.