+ “Gap Year” Motivates Students: Research

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An article in Education Week, by Sarah D Sparks, reports that research has found that Australian students were more likely to take a gap year if they had low academic performance in high school.

But former “gappers” reported significantly higher motivation in college — in the form of “adaptive behavior,”  for example, planning, task management, and persistence, compared with students who had not taken that year off.

 University of Sidney researcher, Andrew J Martin, says

Findings from the two studies suggest that participation in a gap year may be one means of addressing the motivational difficulties that might have been present at school.

Statistics from the US Department of Education  show that, across the United States just 7.6 percent of 2003-4 graduates delayed their entry to college for a year.  Of those, 84 percent reported working; 29 percent traveled or pursued other interests. 

Unlike the Australian study, US students who delayed entry to college were less likely to complete a degree.  Aurora D’Amico, a researcher for the American study, says, however, that this report does not formally break out results for gap-year participants.

But anecdotally, there is some evidence to suggest the idea of a gap year may be catching on in the US.  Says Reid Goldstein, who organizes panel discussions on gap-year options in Arlington Virginia,

I think more parents every year are starting to come to terms with the notion that life for themselves and their kid isn’t going to end if the kid isn’t in a college freshman class two months after high school.

The schools have figured out that the number of seniors going to college is their success metric but… they don’t follow those kids to college.  They don’t see those kids binge drinking or dropping out or doing any of those things that show they are in the wrong place at that time. 

Linda H Connelly, who counsels high-schoolers at New Trier Township High School agrees.

We found we were counseling everybody to [go to] college, and we were finding a lot of these students were just not ready to go on.  The parents wanted them out of the house, and we wanted to give students another option.

 Connelly’s department started a “gap fair” five years ago.  It began with six programs and a handful of families.  This year, 30 programs are offered to more than 400 people from across Chicago. 

The programs have proved helpful to motivate both students who aren’t yet mature enough for college — and burned-out overachievers.

The president of the Princeton, NJ Center for Interim Programs, Holly Bull, feels that taking gap time can save a lot of floundering around.  “Changing majors, changing schools… it gets very pricey to be confused in college.”

Many elite colleges, including Princeton, Harvard and Yale, encourage deferments for gap years.  Princeton has 100 students annually performing a year of service work abroad.

Karl Haigler and Rae Nelson are co-authors of the 2005 book “The Gap Year Advantage.”  They conducted a study of 280 recent gap-year alumni.

Haigler says the results echo the findings from the Australian study.  They plan to release a forthcoming book titled (tentatively) “The Gap Year, American Style.” 

Haigler and Nelson found that students reported their top two reasons for taking a gap year were burnout and wanting to “find out more about themselves.”

Nine out of 10 of those students returned to college within a year.  Sixty percent reported that the time off had either inspired or confirmed their choice of career or academic major.

sole source: article by Sarah D Sparks in Education Week, September 15, 2010.  http://www.edweek.org

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