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Looking for an Affordable Gap Year Program?

The other day we went online to look and the results amazed us. Affordable gap year programs are hard to find. Most gap year programs cost more than $1,000 a week. That's $20k for a semester. For many people, that’s just not possible. You might have even spit your orange juice all over the breakfast table when you realized how much these programs charge.

But don’t worry, just because you’re interested in a cheap gap year program doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice the quality of your experience.

A bar graph comparing popular gap year program's prices, showing HDC is the most affordable

By design, we’re one of the most affordable Gap Year programs you will find.

When we ask our students why they chose us, many say words like “community,” “philosophy” or “strong recommendations.”  Another thing we commonly hear is that our programs are relatively affordable. Lots of young people want to find a gap year program and are on a budget. You can see in the table above that most programs charge $20k for a semester. That’s over three times the amount we charge for our programs--definitely not a cheap gap year program.  

We're passionate about providing Gap Year programs on a low budget because we don't believe in contributing to education debt.

We were able to face the risk and uncertainty that came with starting the High Desert Center because we didn't have debt. We believe that it's incredibly difficult to make choices that represent your values and the skills you want to pursue while paying off loans. Many students who join us for our programs earn the money themselves, and the act of working for this experience demonstrates our collective value of self-reliance. When we read stories like this one about a family's unexpected financial struggles in the face of student debt, or this one chronicling a woman's struggle with student loan forgiveness, or this one about a naive teenager who took on student debt, we are motivated to provide incredible educational opportunities that are accessible.

How We Keep Our Costs Down When Traveling


Cook our own food

Travel by van or public transport

Backpack & rock climb

Create our own adventures instead of hiring external companies

A young man leaps off a dock into the Colorado river

So the question is, why is it that we’re so much more affordable than other programs?  

We live simply ourselves, we don’t hire accountants, we drive older cars and use our personal vehicles. We work hard to keep costs down. We try and live sustainably.  All these things help with costs.  But when it comes down to it there is a deeper reason why we create cheap gap year programs.

We know that being thrifty fosters creativity and has interesting and amazing benefits besides just saving money. Our programs help you learn new skills and to see and be in the world in a different way. We meet farmers and cook our own food. Instead of flying here or there we get in the van and drive or throw on a pack and walk. What we see and experience along the way to Northern Mexico, or on the bus to Guatemala is as much a part of the adventure as being at the destination.

Here’s why we love it. We:

pass through amazing landscapes, backpack in canyons, and explore anasazi ruins along the way

feel good about having cross-cultural adventures that use minimal fossil fuels

practice our Spanish and immerse ourselves in Mexican culture

explore the connections between Northern Mexico and our Colorado lives, like how we share the Colorado River, how Mexico provides 70% of the vegetables in the US, and how our immigration and environmental policies have visible effects on Mexicans.

This type of learning, which is rich and adventurous simply costs less.

Six teenagers participating in a wilderness gap year have fun posing for a group photo.
two women weaving on the street
Group shows their hearvest of apples and basil in an orchard

Cheap gap year programs do not mean a lesser quality of experience!

Most of the best moments in our lives have little to do with money and more to do with the people we’re with, the uniqueness of the challenges we face, and our sense of being successful. Fostering community and enjoying connections is one of the most rewarding and least expensive things we can do. At High Desert Center we intentionally use as little money as possible and have the highest quality experience, learning, and fun.

As the folks over at Go Abroad say:

"A Toyota Camry and a Lamborghini are both “quality” cars, but they provide different types of “quality.” Gap year programs at all price points can be of equal quality as well, but with differing expectations about their perks and supports."

Here are some of our favorite low cost learning moments.

Showing all our favorite low cost adventures like climbing mountains, learning how to build, & growing our food,.

We choose these things over expensive plane flights or hiring rafting companies.  The mountains that make up our wild backyard are dear to us. We value a lifestyle that feels full of adventure all the time, not only during expensive vacations.  We also value using less gasoline and making good compost.

If your dream gap year program is to visit the best beaches around the world, that’s obviously not us. It’s not a low cost trip either. Our locations, some of the best kept secrets in the western US, are low cost places to travel. 

We create low cost, high quality programs that are markedly different from other programs because we value student initiative.

Students decide much of what we do. They also cook, make bread, and clean the composting toilet. Self-reliance and the ability to make stuff happen are skills that we all value.

If you’re embarking on a gap year with the intention to grow, it's unlikely you'll do this work alone. Living with a group of peers and taking on challenges you’ve never encountered is sure to push you. Having awesome staff who support you is essential.

When we say that looking for an affordable gap year program doesn’t always mean that the quality is sacrificed, we know the importance of high quality staff.  Our staff is one of our greatest assets because they create transformational moments and motivate our students to get past things that were holding them back. By the end of your gap year you have a bunch of awesome friends, memories, and stories. You also have a stronger sense of who you are. Consider your Gap Year an investment in yourself.

Group of young people smiling together in front of an older white van
young man with sunglasses sitting in red rock desert

One more time for the people in the back: our inexpensive gap year program is a top tier experience.

And still, for a young person, $9,850 dollars probably seems like a lot. That works out to around $1,900 per month for the time we’re together. However, most other programs charge up to $5,000 per month. Our value to cost ratio is fantastic if you factor in room, board, travel, unlimited fresh air, great friends and a ton of learning opportunities, and guidance. 

With unlimited budget it is easy to buy a plane ticket overseas and hire adventure companies to take us on exotic adventures.  But to figure out how to create a sustainable lifestyle full of adventure is a bigger, more important and more rewarding challenge. 

Our programs are relatively affordable because we live what we teach. We choose meaningful experience and connection. Our goal is to help participants figure out their own way to lead a happy, inspired and purposeful life that is socially and environmentally responsible and of course...  affordable.


Young man in overalls smiling
Group of hikers standing infront of a saguaro cactus


High quality Gap Year programs, committed to your financial freedom, exist. Being thrifty can go hand and hand with ecological responsibility, adventure, and growth. If it's cheaper, easier on the environment, and delivers adventurous learning moments, why wouldn't you  apply?

Want to learn more about our programs?

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