Gap Year Statistics: United States

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Gap Year Statistics: United States

We have curated seven pieces of information, data, and/or statistics surrounding the motivations of students in the United States who decide upon a gap year after high school and before entering college. Additionally, we have located five pieces of information, data, and/or statistics surrounding the pain points/obstacles/challenges of this same cohort who opt for a gap year after high school and before entering college. Some data points have been provided verbatim so as not to detract from the overall meaning and interpretation of the information.

Gap Year: Motivations

  • According to a comprehensive 2020 survey from Gap Year Association [GYA], the motivations for most members of this cohort boiled down to three things: to get life experience; to develop themselves; and to travel in order to be able to experience other cultures and varying perspectives. Eighty-one percent of the people surveyed said it was because of wanting to gain life experiences and to grow personally, while 70% revealed the motivation for a gap year was more about traveling and seeing and experiencing other cultures.

  • When comparing the 2015 survey data to the newest version, the needle did not move over one motivating factor. Feeling burnt out and wanting to take a break from school was a central motivating factor five years ago, as it is now with 35% of respondents citing that reason in 2020.
  • Motivation to take a gap year based on the urging of others does not appear to be a key factor for the participants in the 2020 survey. Only 12% reported that their parents and peers’ encouragement was a central motivating factor for taking a gap year. Even fewer cited encouragement from colleges (3%) and high school staff (2%) as a driving force to participate in a gap year experience. Encouragement from others was also not a primary motivating factor for those who participated in the 2015 NAS.

  • Even though encouragement from colleges and universities did not rate high as a motivation for taking a gap year, there is a growing segment of these institutions that are encouraging, and even requiring, taking a gap year. "A growing list of colleges, from Tufts University to Harvard University to University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, are providing incentives such as preferred admission, financial aid, and course credit to increase the number of students who do it."
  • A survey published in the Wall Street Journal found that "the two most common reasons for taking a gap year were students experiencing burnout from the competitive pressure of high school and wanting to learn more about themselves."
  • While COVID-19 has been cited as a pain point in the subsequent section of the research, there are those that consider it a motivation. "The American Council on Education conducted a survey in April 2020 that revealed 10% of college students were unsure about their plans for re-enrolling in school for the fall. Although taking a gap year isn’t high on young Americans’ to-do lists, the current COVID-19 climate has left many wondering if a year off from academics" might be a good idea, which makes it a possible motivating factor. To further bolster that ACE survey, Baltimore-based consulting firm Art & Science Group completed a study in April 2020 as well, and they found that 17% of students had changed their college plans due to Covid-19, and of those students, 16% indicated that they would take a gap year because of it.
  • "Harvard University has made a practice of encouraging its admitted students to consider deferring admission and taking a gap year. Twenty percent of its first-year students have now been motivated to take them up on that offer, which is approximately three times the number that usually defer."

Gap Year: Pain Points/Obstacles/Challenges

  • When digging into the obstacles that caused the least amount of issues with the respondents, 10% revealed that they faced challenges if/when deferring their college acceptance or enrollment, 13% said they considered resistance from their parents and caregivers as a major obstacle in planning a gap year, and 3% and 4% respectively asserted that they faced resistance from their higher educational institution, and teachers or counselors. It is of note that 13% stated they did not face any obstacles in taking their gap year.
  • According to Wil Del Pilar, vice president of higher education policy at the Education Trust, "Once you start working full-time and take on adult responsibilities, it's hard to go back and then start attending classes full-time. Students who attend part-time generally take longer to finish and are less likely to finish. Remedying the problem needs to begin with looking at the specific reasons students are interested in delaying, mainly financial uncertainty and concerns around safety and experience."
  • In future GYA research surveys, COVID-19 will likely be an obstacle that will be studied to better understand its impact on taking a gap year that involves traveling to another country. In a Forbes article the author advises against taking a gap year while COVID-19 is still an issue, citing that "a gap year is costly and online learning can be effective. Historically, a key reason many students take a gap year is to acquire the associated life experiences and maturity that will make the following years of undergraduate study richer and more valuable. A virtual gap year to simply wait out the pandemic doesn’t bring any of these benefits. Further, regardless of motivation and format, a gap year comes with substantial costs."
  • A key challenge surrounding taking a gap year during the pandemic are the limited opportunities. "Many popular options, like international travel or an internship in an office, have been affected by the spread of the coronavirus."

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