Research tells us that not only are gap years growing in popularity, they are beneficial across in the board in academics, professional life, and personal enrichment, too. Interest in gap years in the United States has risen within the past couple years, and young people who decide to take them “often return to school with renewed vigor and focus,” or emerge with the confidence, connections, and skills needed to continue building their professional work or out-of-school education. We know gap years are helpful to students, personally and academically, but sometimes, the question remains: Why take a gap year? We’re here to unpack that answer for you, with statistics and chats with UnCollege fellows who have been there and done that, all in a handy little list.
Taking a gap year can help you academically.
Worried leaving school could hurt your education? Think again! Gap years stand to enhance your academic performance…
– Schools such as Harvard, Princeton, and University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill actually encourage students to take a gap or “bridge” year.
– 60% of surveyed students say experiences during their gap year set them on the path to picking their current college major.
– Studies show students who take gap years have greater “academic momentum” in college, and are less likely to switch majors.
– Students who take gap years typically out-perform their peers academically.
Taking a gap year stands to help your career.
We’ve all heard the statistics--that two-thirds of graduates struggle to launch their careers, and that today, the numbers of underemployed young people are high. Taking a gap year can benefit your professional work, and even help inform the career path you take. UnCollege fellow Maisam told us that learning what career wasn’t the right fit for him was one of the most beneficial parts of his gap year: “When I want to Tanzania, I had a pretty big interest in medicine. I wasn’t 100% sure if I wanted to pursue it or not. I really don’t feel like I would have as much freedom with my schedule. You’re always on call as a doctor. Flexibility is definitely something that I value quite heavily when it comes to a job.”
– 88% of gap year students who went on to graduate said their gap year “significantly added to their employability.”
– A former senior admissions official at Harvard said students who take gap years are “more mature, more focused, and more aware of what they want to do with their college education.”
– A gap year can help you pick up soft skills, establish work experience, and establish life-long learning, like Jeffrey Selingo wrote: “We need to remember that lifelong education is no longer rhetoric, but reality.”
– Internships, apprenticeships, and part-time jobs one experiences during a gap year are great for networking, and are “substantial opportunities to gain realistic understanding of a field prior to taking on thousands in debt to study it.”
– Statistically, gap year students “who have gained valuable skills and perspectives go on to be successful, responsible citizens of the world.”
– According to the Chicago Tribune, "if young adults are to succeed eventually in the job market, they need environments where they can explore for a while before they settle.”
– Student who have taken gap years “reported being as much as 75% more likely to be "happy" or "extremely satisfied" with their careers post-university.”
A gap year can be a personally enriching part of education.
The best education enriches you personally as well as professionally. Gap years often employ both kinds of learning at the same time. UnCollege fellow Manna noted that her gap year gave her the “ the freedom and the leverage” to map out a plan for herself, “as opposed to having someone map it out for me and tell me what I have to do.” She observed that she has “been able to direct my own life and have gained a lot of perspective on what matters to me,” something echoed by fellow Lauren, who commented “when I went to Bali, I met people from all over the world, so many people I still talk to every day. You can just flourish, and learn so much about yourself, the world, and what you want to do.” So how exactly does a gap year expand your worldview, and why does that matter?
– Students who take gap years, especially those involving travel, benefit from “cross-cultural understanding and competence through cultural immersion.”
– The two highest-rated outcomes of a gap year are: "A better sense of who I am as a person and what is important to me" followed by “it gave me a better understanding of other countries, people, cultures, and ways of living.”
– According to UC Berkeley, gap years are “a time for making mistakes and learning from them. It’s not supposed to be easy.”
– Benefits of gap years include: Enhanced sense of humor and humility, tolerance of discomfort and uncertainty, new language skills, if traveling in non-English speaking countries, increased maturity and independence, and improved decision-making skills.
– 91% of employers recognize the benefits of travel on work or academic performance.
– 86% of students feel that travel is a vital part of education today.
– Gap year researcher Joe O’Shea states that gap years “help you see your own life and your own historical context and privileges in a new light, and it can help to enrich their college career afterward.”