We interviewed founder of The 529 Advantage, Jason Stout, on what his service offers. He explains what The 529 Advantage is, what programs are available, and tips for taking a gap year.
Tell us about The 529 Advantage.
We are a free service that matches young people with educational opportunities that will take them on a journey of self-discovery, prepare them for life, and lead them toward purpose.
The 529 Advantage was founded with the belief that a one-size-fits-all education has been overemphasized, to the detriment of a demographic of many young people who don’t necessarily fit the mold of a student who would thrive in a traditional 4-year college environment (or at least not immediately after high school).
It’s also geared towards high-school aged kids who may need a navigator to help them decide what educational path they want to pursue. We believe, simply put, it’s time for a more holistic approach to all educational options, one that takes the individual into account.
The experience of education should be to enrich one’s life and prepare the student for the journey ahead—an experience rooted in discovering their strengths and exploring their passions. For some people, this is a traditional education; for others, that feels like swimming upstream. They may want an adventure that looks entirely different.
We explore the latter by presenting myriad, non-traditional educational options that will help your student find their best self. Until now, most families have been under the assumption that 529s can only be used for traditional 4-year colleges and universities. In reality, thanks to college partnerships, 529 funds can be used for a number of additional programs that may be better suited for your young adult, or towards gap year programs that will help them succeed in choosing the right major when they do attend a college or university.
What programs are available?
529 plans can be used for a list of programs that include gap year, college break, outdoor, and vocational training.
While some organizations have postponed participation until summer of 2021 due to COVID-19, a number of programs successfully ran courses this Fall by implementing a well-managed safety protocol.
The options are diverse, eclectic, domestic and global. Examples include Irish Gap Year, where students can travel on an adventure to Ireland for a semester, or The Boulder Outdoor Survival School, where he or she can learn how to survive in the wilderness, or, they can pick from one of Verto Education’s list of programs as part of your undergraduate degree.
Furthermore, students, ages 14 and older, 9th grade and higher can use their 529 plan to participate in a list of summer outdoor-adventure programs and receive concurrent college credit.
Can you use a 529 plan with all of the programs?
Yes, you can use your family’s 529 plan with all of our programs through their college partners (that include Western Colorado University, Portland State University, and William of Mary).
What tips would you suggest to those interested in a gap year?
They should look for something that’s fun, interesting and at the same time, challenges them. This particular window for a young person – typically starting at the age of legal adulthood – is arguably the richest time for resilience-cultivation, self-awareness, global understanding, and career-exploration. We believe that the life-experience gained from travel, at this opportune time in life, sets students up for success in the real world. Taking an intentional gap year has been shown to increase college graduation rates, improve GPAs, increase participation in campus activities, and overall increase career satisfaction.
For someone new to 529 college saving plans, what should they know?
529s are an excellent investment and the spending options are growing every day. A 529 plan is a tax-advantaged savings account designed to be used for the beneficiary’s education expenses.
To learn more about The 529 Advantage, check out their website.