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Is a Gap Year the Right Choice for You?

The decision to take a gap year (also known as a bridge year) comes with a lot of benefits, but this kind of experience isn’t for everyone and it can have its drawbacks too. If you’re trying to decide whether or not to go this route, there are a great many factors to consider. A new report could help you understand the practice, and its impact, a little better.

gap year benefits

(Photo Credit: Nick Kenrick/Flickr)

Researchers from the Institute for Survey Research at Temple University designed the survey, which was administered to alumni of gap-year programs. Over 500 people completed the survey over the course of 11 months. The resulting data tell us a lot about the bridge-year experience and how it impacts participants. Let’s take a closer look at some of the key findings from the study.

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  1. Most respondents followed a traditional bridge-year track, taking their gap year between high school and college.

Seventy-seven percent of respondents said that they took their gap year between high school and college. Only 16 percent said they took the year during college or post-secondary school, returning to the same institution after their travels. The rest either did their year after college or graduate school or did not return to school after their gap year.

However, most students did follow the traditional track – promptly beginning college as soon as their experience was completed. A report on the survey done by the American Gap Association also cites a Wall Street Journal piece that found that 90 percent of gap-year students returned to college within a year.

  1. The more education their parents had, the more “gappers” said they had influenced their decision.

Only 10 percent of gap-year students whose parents had “less than a bachelor’s degree” said they were “influenced by parents and peers to take a gap year.” However, when at least one parent had a bachelor’s, the figure went up to 18 percent. When students had at least one parent with a graduate degree, 30 percent said they influenced them toward their choice. Perhaps parents who’ve attended school are more likely to make this recommendation, but that could be the case for any number of reasons.

  1. Gap-year enrollment is increasing.

Attendance at gap-year fairs has more than doubled since 2010, and more students are opting to take a year off as time goes on. For example, gap-year enrollment was up more than 20 percent during the 2014-2015 school year compared to the previous academic year.

  1. Students did it because they wanted to “gain life experience/grow personally.”

When survey respondents were asked to identify reasons why they had elected to take a gap year, 92 percent said that it was to gain life experience/grow personally. Eighty-five percent said they’d wanted to travel and experience other cultures, and 81 percent said that they’d done it, in part, because they wanted to take a break from their academic track. Other popular reasons, with affirmatives ranging between 28 and 52 percent, related to pursuing career or study options and to gaining work experience. Additionally, 48 percent of gap-year students said they’d wanted to volunteer.

  1. Alumni reported that the greatest impact was felt on a personal level.

When alumni of gap-year programs were asked how the experience impacted them, an overwhelming number of factors related to personal shifts rose to the surface in their responses. Here are just a few:

  • 98 percent said it had helped them develop as a person.
  • 98 percent reported that it allowed them time for personal reflection.
  • 97 percent said that the experience made them more mature.
  • 96 percent said that it helped them become more confident.

For more information, be sure to check out the full report.

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