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Applied Project: Impact of the Gap Year on Students


The gap year has been a normal phenomenon for young people who are in that stage of academic life where they are expected to make a transition between High school life and college life. Proponents of the gap year have identified several reasons why they are in support of this concept. They have argued that the gap year avails the students with ample time to rejuvenate, it is a quiet period for one to reflect and chart out their academic and professional life and also that it is a period in which one can save for tuition. Furthermore, they have pointed out that such experience gained working or volunteering just before joining college will not hurt someone’s resume. However there are those proponents who are against this school of thought and they mainly argue that the year gap can hurt a students’ chances since it might lead to a loss of focus academically, the sudden inactivity may cause apathy, loss of peer help and disillusionment (Martin & Andrew, 2010).

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Problem statement

The problem which will be addressed by this study is the extent to which the gap year influences the student’s personal, academic, professional and general morale. It will attempt to weigh the pro and cons of the year gap given capturing if the gap year is a benefit or a detriment as far as expected students’ development across the board.

Formulation of Research questions

The questions to be addressed are what are the short term and the long term impacts of the gap year to the students. It will try to measure whether it is the negative impacts outweigh the positive ones or it is the other way. Doing this will try to bring both the proponents for and those against the concept onboard and at the same time generate new knowledge into the subject. The research questions that will be covered in the paper are:

  • To what extent does the gap year benefit the students?
  • To what extent does the gap year hamper the student’s development?
  • What are the determining factors that influence a student’s decision to opt for a gap year or refrain from one?

Significance of the study

While the search for further findings of the effects of the gap year should continue unabated, it should not preclude the necessity associated with gathering vital information which would also try to shed some light into ways of how the gap year could possibly contribute positively to the wider society apart from benefiting the students. Hence empirical assessments should be done to determine how the negative effects of the gap year can be minimized and at the same maximizing the benefits which the community at large can accrue from the gap year. A proper understanding of all the dynamics involved by the concept of the gap year is expected to greatly assist the prospective students to execute the appropriate plans and also it will help the concerned authorities to formulate policies that would address any gaps.

Scope of the study

This study will confine itself to the city of Chicago since it is a huge metropolis with a good mix of both public and private high schools and colleges. Specifically, the study will confine itself to gathering vital information from both high school and college students concerning their view of the gap year. Input from relevant bodies concerned with education will also be encouraged.

Limitations of the study

The following are the limitations that posed a challenge to the researcher. The researcher faced limitations in the time since he is a full-time student.

There was the problem of inadequate funds since the researcher had failed to acquire any form of sponsorship. Some respondents were suspicious and hence were not forthcoming with vital information.

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Conceptual Framework
Conceptual Framework

The above illustration helps to demonstrate why the gap year is very important in students’ development. The amalgamation of these elements illuminates clearly the importance of the year gap as in:

  • Time to rejuvenate. It has been noted that students benefit positively from a deserved break from High school so that they can be energized to face the new challenges in college
  • Time to reflect on academic and professional life. Students can have ample time to reflect on what is best suited for them academically and professionally.
  • Gain vital experience. It is argued that hands-on experience so gained from any work before joining college or by undertaking a volunteering adventure will go a long way in improving one’s resume.
  • Enables one to save. Those who hail from humble homes have a chance to work and save some money for tuition.

Literature review

Past discoveries have indeed found out that the gap year is a golden opportunity for those students who come from humble backgrounds. The gap year comes in handy as they can actively take part in harnessing the means of joining college. This fosters a sense of ownership within them and they are also able to appreciate the kind of sacrifices that it had taken for them to reach that level. This way there morale and determination are solidified (Hannah Purnell, 2007).

(Hulstrand ,2010), has pointed out that ‘The gap year can help students gain greater confidence, a clearer direction, and invaluable life experience. In addition, more and more educators, from college presidents to directors of admissions and education abroad advisers are beginning to recognize the benefits of a “gap year” not only for students, but for the colleges they end up attending as well.

Interestingly enough,( Sara Sutton,2009) has pointed out that the gap year can be beneficial to the Least Developed Countries(LDCs) during these hidden economic times when jobs are hard to come by. She explains that students who volunteer to go and serve in such countries will not only be beneficial to those countries but also to their own by acting as good ambassadors. More so, these students acquire first-hand experience in working in a multicultural set up which will not be so bad seeing that the world today is slowly but surely becoming a global village with subsequent advances in technology.

Overview of the literature review

The existing literature attempts to explain the effects of the gap year on student development. However, most of the literature review has tended to emphasize the contradicting view advanced by the various proponents who are either for the concept or against it. Even if they have tried to shed light on the various aspects that are shrouded by the gap year, most of these studies tend to lean heavily on one side. This might imply that the findings discovered may not be generalizable to the issue of the year gap in totality ( Hills and Jacob, 2010).

Research Design

The descriptive research was focused on using a survey design because of the need to describe the nature influential and the main factors which will determine the extent to which the gap year influences students’ development academically, professionally and personally. It is also designed to identify any other beneficiaries from a gap year.

Area of Study

Target population Number
High school students 60
College students 60
Tutors 20
Educational officers 10
Parents 20
Total 170

Sampling Design and Procedure

Five types of respondents were identified as above. The study adopted a purposive stratified sampling methodology. This was influenced by the researcher’s convenience and the willingness of the individual respondents to provide information.

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Data Collection Instruments

The following data collection instruments were used by the researcher;

Observation. The researcher/investigator went out to several city schools and colleges where he interacted with students and tutors. He also got in touch with several parents and educational officers. He aimed to observe student behavior and therefore be in a position to determine the effects of the gap year on their performance and personal development.

Interviews. This is a conversation whose main objective is to collect data through verbal interactions with the respondents. The researcher used both structured and unstructured interviews.

Literature search. This is works on a particular subject giving specific information. Here it was considered necessary since some information could not be obtained either through observation or even interviews.

Data Collection Procedure

The following is the procedure followed in collecting information;

  • The instrument design was formulated
  • Administering the instruments included interviews and participant observation
  • Collecting, coding, editing and tabulating the data in preparation for analysis.

The data collected was analyzed using descriptive statistics. This was due to the diverse nature of the research.


Inasmuch as various theories have been advanced in attempts to either credit or discredit the very existence of the gap year, my observation has revealed that there is still room for additional knowledge on the aforementioned subject is needed to put the matter beyond any final conclusion be ti from the proponents for or those for it. However, my own experience and discoveries leave me with little or no choice to lean on the side that is in agreement that the gap year is essential to the development of the students. I would not want to water down the efforts that have been forwarded by the proponents who are against the view that the gap year is detrimental to a student’s all-around development but my assumptions carry forth from the findings I have been able to establish.

First of all, through my own personal experience, I have come to conclusively arrive at the conclusion that the gap year enables a student to rejuvenate his/her energies so that he/she joins college with an energized body, soul and mind. Having attended a boarding high school, pretty little apart from academic life was happening to me during my High school tenure. Thus, it was with profuse relief that I took a break from the academic lifestyle to get acquainted with the way of life in a normal society before embarking on another entirely different lifestyle in a college setup. Most of the students I interviewed seem to share similar sentiments.

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Similarly, a break from the normal academic life avails ample time for a student to clearly reflect on his future academic and professional direction. I encountered a situation where a young lady studying medicine had arrived at that decision through sheer serendipity. Having opted to volunteer as a medic aide in South America during her gap year, she was able to firsthand experience what it takes to become a medic and hence was able to make the vital decision through her own free will.

I have also come to concur with the point that work experience gained during the gap year is most essential while it comes to entering the job market and especially during these hard economic times when formal employment has become a complete reserve of very few. 25% of the final-year college students I identified were hoping to join the various firms they had volunteered under during their gap year.

More than 50% of the students and parents I encountered were also in total agreement that the gap year was essential since it allowed for prospective students to find some income which would enable them to save some money for their tuition fees and other college expenses. Though most of the positive respondents to this particular query were clearly from those who had come from humble backgrounds, I was nevertheless surprised to find out also that even those from the affluent echelons of society were pretty much in support of the gap year. This they felt enabled the students to appreciate the value of hard work and the principle of giving back to the society.

One very interesting discovery I made was actually raised by a respondent. She suggested that the gap year was quite essential especially during these hard economic times. Her argument which I totally support was that although it is difficult to access a job straight from college due to the effects of the recent credit crunch, one need not worry much since one can take a year gap between college and employment to volunteer to work in/for less developed societies. This she argued that it would bring forth benefits threefold. First it will enhance the young professional to immediately start dispensing off the skills they have learned in college, then it would assist the underprivileged communities they opt to volunteer in and thirdly it will assist their original country by acting as goodwill ambassadors from whenever their volunteer work sends them to.

Other benefits availed by the gap year include the ability to be independent and able to make own decisions. A student who volunteers or works before joining college ought to be more at an advantage of gaining essential interpersonal skills as well as picking up on vital methods and strategies of resolving tentative issues. Self-discipline and the ability to participate in teamwork are other notable advantages. Leadership skills are also inculcated in most of the programs that the students undertake during the gap year not forgetting that one is also able to learn the skills of handling and managing personal finances.

However, though there is enough evidence in support of the gap year, there are nevertheless some issues that the proponents against it have put forward and it is worthy to note them. First it has been argued that disruption from the normal academic life will result in a student losing focus. This however cannot be generalized but indeed can happen for those students that do not align themselves with positive activities. It has also been argued that a sudden absence from academic activities can bring about a sense of apathy and disillusionment to many students (Heath S, 2007). However, this is more likely to happen to those who are completely idle. Hence, as much as, arguments for and against the gap year have been advanced, it is my personal feeling that this study is far from arriving at irrefutable claims by both sides. Thus it is paramount that more studies be carried on the same.


Goldrick-Rab, S., & Won Han, S. (2011). Accounting for socioeconomic differences in delaying the transition to college. The Review of Higher Education, 34(3), 423-445.

Hannah Punnel (2008). Weighing the pro and con of taking a break before college, 34 (3): 423-445.

Heath S, (2007). Widening the gap: Pre-university gap years and the ‘economy of experience’. British Journal of Sociology of Education, 28(1): 89-103.

Hills and Jacob (2010).Journal of Educational Psychology, Vol 102(3), 561-576.

Hulstrand, J. (2010). Time out: The gap year abroad. International Educator, 19, 50-53.

Martin & Andrew,( 2010). Concept Mapping the Needs of Foster Parents. Child Welfare, 79(6), 729.

Sara Sutton, (2009). The Gap. 56(2): 38-93.

Trochim, W., Donelly, J. (2008). The Research Methods Knowledge Base. Mason, OH: Cengage Learning. 3rd edition.

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