Try Scholarships to Pay for a Gap Year, Time Off From College

Scholarships can help finance off-campus internships, semesters abroad and volunteer opportunities.

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Internships and language programs are just a few ways you can build your resume while taking time away from campus.
Internships and language programs are just a few ways you can build your resume while taking time away from campus.

For many students, experiences outside the classroom can be just as valuable as time spent in a lecture hall. If you're thinking about taking time off to work, travel or volunteer, make sure you do it right, so you don't end up wasting money or regretting your decision when you go back to college.

To get the most out of your time away from school, turn to this practical guide from Scholarships.com. From internships in your field to teaching English abroad, there are plenty of options for building your resume while you are away from campus. 

To find the program that suits you best, check out the database from The Center for Interim Programs, which lets you search for volunteer, internship or study abroad opportunities. 

[See the colleges with the highest rate of student internships.] 

A year away from school doesn't have to leave you strapped for cash. Your college or university can offer help with finding your ideal placement, be it in the U.S. or abroad. If continuing to earn academic credit is important to you, it can help you with that, too. 

Colleges are increasingly recognizing the benefit of taking some productive time off campus, and many will offer scholarships to help make it happen. Make sure you visit your college's financial aid or study abroad office to see what may be available to you. 

There are also several private scholarships that can help fund your time away. 

The Council on International Education Exchange offers a wealth of different gap year programs, including scholarships for students in certain fields. Fund for Education Abroad offers scholarships for students receiving academic credit to study abroad. You can receive up to $10,000, but you must be participating in a rigorous study abroad education program to be eligible. 

[Learn about the pros and cons of taking a gap year.] 

Have you always dreamed of traveling to South America? LIVFund.org offers scholarships to support students who want to spend a year learning, interning or volunteering in Central and South America. Two $500 scholarships will be awarded per month. Anyone over 18 can apply, but make sure you submit your application at least six months before you plan to begin your time abroad. 

If visiting the Middle East is more interesting to you, check out the Mosaic Grants Program offered by Unofficial Ambassadors, which helps make it possible for students to spend time in primarily Muslim countries through awards ranging from $500 to $1,000. 

Several scholarships offered for study abroad are geared to specific interests or goals. For example, if you want to learn a new language, the National Security Language Initiative for Youth program, sponsored by the U.S. Department of State, will pay for high school students and recent high school grads to study abroad while learning languages that are less commonly taught, such as Arabic, Russian, Persian, Chinese, Turkish, Hindi and Korean. 

Current college students can also apply for the Critical Language Scholarship program, which offers experiences abroad in 13 critical need languages for U.S. college students. 

[Get additional advice on studying abroad.] 

You don't have to leave the country to take a year off doing something you love. If you're interested in the betterment of our environment, make sure you look into the Brower Youth Awards, which are part of an initiative by Earth Island Institute to empower young people who show leadership in confronting environmental issues. 

Selected individuals will receive $3,000 and the opportunity to participate in a week of environmental leadership activities in California. 

Don't forget to check with local organizations to find community funding for your activities while away from school. Many local organizations will lend a helping hand if you're looking for sponsorship for volunteer activities to better your community. The Foundation Center partners with public libraries to offer databases of local funding sources for individuals seeking financial support for their activities. 

For example, students living in or attending high school in parts of central Pennsylvania are eligible to apply for the Speedwell Foundation Study Abroad Scholarship to spend a year abroad in a non-English speaking country. 

These are just some of the scholarships out there for students taking time off. Once you know what you want to do with your time away from college, you can search for funding specific to your plans. Talk to an adviser at your school to make sure you have a plan to continue with your education successfully upon your return so there aren't any surprises or missed deadlines when you get back to class. 

Time off can be incredibly rewarding, and these scholarships and tips will help you make the most of it by spending more time learning and exploring – and less time stressing over how to pay for your gap year activities. 

Angela Frisk holds a Bachelor of Science degree from the University of Minnesota—Twin Cities and is a former scholarship recipient. She joined Scholarship America in 2012.