The second semester is well underway, and high school seniors are embarking on the beginning of the “lasts”—the final school dance, spring break, home basketball game and more. But amid the celebrations, some students are fretting about their next steps. Should they move forward with college applications and acceptances? Or should they jump feet first into the workforce? Increasingly, young adults are deciding to pursue another option after graduation—gap years. And studies show it’s paying off by setting them up for long-term success.
A gap year is generally defined as the period between high school graduation and college enrollment that a student uses to work, volunteer, travel or plan. The Bureau of Labor Statistics says the period is “not always 12 months but can be shorter or longer depending on a student’s needs.” Since entering the mainstream in the 1960s, gap years have steadily grown in popularity. Today, data shows that 40,000 to 60,000 American students take them annually.
So, why the rising interest in gap years? The benefits speak for themselves.
Cost-effective self-development: According to the College Board, the average estimated budget for full-time undergraduate students is $27,940 for public four-year in-state students. That number jumps to more than $45,000 for public four-year out-of-state students and nearly $60,000 for private four-year students. Gap years are a more cost-effective option, allowing students to explore future fields of study or desired career paths without accumulating debt. Certain programs, such as City Year Little Rock, even provide stipends and education awards for future tuition or to repay student loans.
Enhanced focus: Gap years allow students to determine their goals and plan accordingly. These experiences also help them to reset mentally and emotionally so they can confidently tackle their chosen next steps. A study by Middlebury College and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill noted that gap-year alums are more likely to graduate within four years than the national average of six. Time Magazine pointed out that these individuals’ greater academic focus also leads them to earn higher GPAs.
Real-world skill building: A Wall Street Journal survey found that more than 90% of executives said soft skills like effective communication and critical thinking were “equally important or more important than technical skills” in potential workers. Nearly the same percentage of respondents noted that finding job candidates with these skills was challenging. Gap years often take young adults out of their comfort zones, allowing them to gain in-demand capabilities, such as time management, problem-solving and collaboration, that help them excel in the workforce.
Data consistently shows that gap years offer students much more than year-long breaks from school or work. As the Gap
Year Association remarked, these experiences “deepen [young adults’] practical, professional and personal awareness,” resulting in benefits for them and their future employers. For those considering a year off, City Year Little Rock is recruiting student success coaches to serve in public schools at https://bit.ly/3DSVGfO. Those accepted will receive benefits, including a biweekly stipend, health insurance, 250+ hours of professional development and a Segal Education Award to pay for higher education at a four-year, two-year or technical college.
Jennifer Cobb is the senior vice president and executive director of City Year Little Rock, a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping students and schools succeed. For more information, visit cityyear.org.
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