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Education news and issues in the Ozarks.

Gap Years: How the Growing Trend Impacts Students

File photo, MSU graduation
MSU Photographic Services

The two traditional choices before students post high school are either college or enter the workforce. But these days a third option is getting more consideration. Common in Europe and the United Kingdom, the phenomenon of taking a “gap year” has reached the US and opened up a new horizon for young adults.

Although this experience happens most often between high school and college, Missouri State University Career Center Director Jill Wiggins notes that college students are starting to take advantage of the trend as well.

“A gap year would probably be best explained as someone who is not going directly into the work force or directly into graduate school out of their undergraduate program,” says Wiggins.  

While some parents might look at this as an excuse to avoid college or finding a job, the American Gap Association, an accredited organization that collects information regarding the trend, says that there are some qualifications for gap year status. The time must include “increased self-awareness, learning about different cultural perspectives, and experimenting with future possible careers.”

Wiggins says that this type of time spent away from academia doesn’t seem to affect a student’s future career in a negative way.

“Employers tell us that they are okay with college students taking a gap year, they would much rather see them take that gap year now, than to spend money onboarding them, training them, and then several years later have that individual decide, ‘you know what, I really wish I would have travelled the world.’”

Questions remain however about what demographic is participating in this movement, says David Mitchell, professor of economics at Missouri State University.

“If you look at the data, it’s really basically rich kids that are doing this. The kids that are poor and middle class, they can’t afford to take a year off to go and discover themselves in Europe,” Mitchell says.  

Gap years and student employment after college take on the roles of the chicken and the egg. If the students taking gap year expeditions are wealthy and will attend good schools anyways, does the gap year actually effect the outcome of employment or academic success?

Mitchell also adds that only a small percentage of American students are taking part in this extra-curricular option, between 30,000 to 50,000 graduates.

For more information on gap years and accredited gap year programs, visit the AGA website.