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De-Stigmatizing The Gap Year

thatonemoroccan 1 / -  
Jun 8, 2019   #1

analyze the research behind the American stigmatization of gap years


{I am new to this forum so have some mercy on my incompetency in regards to posting on here!}

This is a research paper for an ENG102 class; the goal behind the paper is to analyze the research behind the American stigmatization of gap years. This is in the sense of addressing whether the stigmas have merits or simply have an unfair mythos behind it.

Research Paper

Imagine this: a researcher is presenting a more efficient pathway to complete a goal, along with why the pathway tends to be more successful and very rarely ends up backfiring. Now imagine that this researcher is ignored completely in favor of false beliefs which the researcher was able to prove wrong. Now simply replace pathway with taking a gap year and the goal is graduating university/college successfully and with a degree. This is how many Americans tend to act when presented the idea of a gap year, regardless of if they're a student or a parent; Americans tend to respond to a gap year as something that's better for others and not for them. In reality, gap years tend to be very beneficial for a wide variety of professional and personal reasons: seeing improvements in collegiate performance, post-collegiate performance, and overall satisfaction with the collegiate process.

The concept of a gap year tends to be stigmatized in American culture; some would even go as far as saying that they're stigmatized unfairly. The stigma itself tends to hail from few, if any, pieces of research, making it hard to trace back to the root of the mythos. What is known, are the arguments that opposers of the gap-year movement tend to reference: "There is no benefit to taking a gap year"; "Taking a year off from school isn't and can't be beneficial"; "People who take a gap year turn that gap year into muultiple gap years"; "Once you start working in the 'real world' you won't want to go back to academic life"; "Taking a gap year only puts you a year behind all your peers and affects your ability to find a job in the post-collegiate space". These stigmas for the most part assume that a student who takes a gap year does not do anything beneficial with that gap year: ignoring any valuable experience that a student might accumulate during their gap year. It's also almost a uniquely American thing to be against gap years; in Europe, the UK, New Zealand, and Australia it is not uncommon to take gap years. In the excluding the most former of the four, surveys show that on average 11% of students in the UK, New Zealand, and Australia take gap years before University (Olson). In general, the stigma behind the concept of a gap year is considered by many experts and researchers to be a collection of exaggerated and false statements in regards to the effects of a gap year. These myths generally don't correlate with any research on the topics of gap years, and as such tend not to have much research supporting the mythos. Gap years themselves, on the other hand, have recently been a subject of a good few pieces of research; generally tending to be of positive outlook on the concept. A good amount of this research has shown that, contrary to popular belief, gap years have a wide array of positive effects on collegiate/post-collegiate life.

Gap years tend to be a valuable resource to allow students to "get things together" before heading into their collegiate years. As a statement in this context, "get things together" means more than just rest and recovery but also getting prepared for their collegiate years. By fall 2018, the amount of incoming students was about 2.6 million (NCES). Of that 2.6 million, it is estimated that around 59% of those will finish their 4-year degree within 6 years (NCES). Most of the 41%, who don't graduate within 6 years comprises of dropouts; who generally cite reasons which can be addressed to an extent with the use of gap years.

The most prevalent reason that students end up dropping out of college is due to financial problems (Sagenmüller). This is one of the most viable helps a gap year can give: the ability to save up money. According to the National Alumni Survey by the American Gap Year Association in cooperation with Temple University: 24% of "gappers" who participated in the survey (or students who have taken a gap year) took up a work-for-pay job in the gap year (American Gap Year Association). Working for pay during a gap year can be extremely beneficial to cutting down on student debt; Americans collectively hold over 1.5 trillion dollars in student loan debt, with the average amount of debt per student upon leaving college (not taking into account interest) being somewhere between 37 and 38 thousand dollars (NCES). If a student were to take a year off to work a part-time job of 20 hours a week for 8 months (around the length of the school year) at the national average minimum wage of $7.25 an hour: they'd make $4060, which would take a little over 10% of the average amount of debt upon graduation (NCSL). Assuming a student takes a year off to solely focus on assuming better financial control over their schooling, a gap year would clearly help in terms of work-for-pay. Although, that's not the only financial reason that students would benefit from the year off. Retaking academic readiness assessments (such as ACT and SAT) and applying for scholarships is a common goal for students who do end up taking a gap year (American Gap Year Association). In addition, many scholarships and collegiate honors tend to be more easily achieved by those who have "experiences" something that "gappers" on average tend to have more of (Heath). In fact, there are a good amount of "gappers" who end up getting non-profit work experience or an internship, which can be more useful in getting financial aid than working-for-pay might be. As such, it's clear that taking a gap year can have certain financial benefits for those who take it, even if they're not working full-time for pay.

Referring to the same article by Sagenmüller, the next most cited reasons for students to drop out of college are that students either don't feel prepared for College (feeling lost and/or not knowing what to do in University) or that they aren't prepared academically for College (Sagenmüller). Of which taking a gap year can help immensely. In a survey done by Zachariah Bouanani of a group of 25 students who gave their experience either for or against the subject of gap years: most of the 18 in support of gap years stated that they felt lost after college and that taking a gap year allowed them to find themselves and prepare mentally for University, saying that they succeeded partially because of the gap year (Bouanani). Gap years play a big part in the ability to find a motivation to go to school. An estimated 75% of University students change their major at least once before graduation, a process which can be costly (Pennsylvania State University). Along with that, an estimated 20-50% of incoming freshmen don't know what they want to do going into collegiate education (Pennsylvania State University). With a gap year, instead of spending money investing in courses one might not even need later on, a student could and generally does find the motivation to go back to school - with a goal/plan - within the 1-2 years off of school. Not only does this save the student from more financial trouble, but it allows for a more motivated and successful individual once in University.

In regards to actual academic preparation, taking the year off to study is also decently common within gappers: 35% of whom take a gap year to take courses in preparation for University (American Gap Year Association). Examining this further, taking a year off to study seems to be more effective as it will follow a student's goals on the student's own time; effectively allowing for the student to motivate himself - serving the purpose of pushing the student to become more independent and mature. Furthermore, studying can improve a students' chance of getting into a university or getting a scholarship. 7% of gappers who responded to the survey taken by the American Gap Year Association said that their reasoning behind taking a gap year was because they didn't get into University whatsoever, with some outside of that statistic citing that they didn't get into the University of their choice (American Gap Year Association). Taking this year off allows for a student to either take preporatory courses, redo courses they failed, and/or retake standardized testing to allow for achieving their collegiate goal. As Heath said in his paper examining the greater concept of gap years: "the gap year provides an opportunity for self-reflection, enhancing students' sense of perspective and facilitating better-informed decisions about their degree plans and future career options" (Heath). This is increasingly common given both, the mental and literal preparation that generally comes with taking a gap year for most students.

In general, a year off to prepare for university either mentally or literally might have some correlation with the overall better performance gappers tend to have in University. Gappers tend to have a greater average GPA than those who took a regular and/or accelarated path through University. The average GPA for a University student/graduate in the United States is ~3.15 (gradinflation). This is in stark comparison to the majority of gappers; around 62% of which had a GPA over 3.3 upon graduation, making the average somewhere around 3.3 (American Gap Year Association). Meaning that gappers on average have at least .15 higher GPA-wise than non-gappers. This is a combination of multiple factors, but two of the most present are overall preparation and motivation - something which most college students struggle with until Sophomore/Junior year (Sagenmüller).

Further analysis shows another great advantage gappers tend to see over non-gappers is that graduation rates see stark increases with those that take gap years. Research shows that the average time it takes American University students to graduate with a 4-year degree is 6 years (NCES). In contrast, the average graduation/expected graduation time for gappers is 4.01 years - the median being 3.75 (American Gap Year Association). This plays a key role in a graduates ability to find a valid role in the workspace, as it on average gives a graduate one extra year to find a career/finish their post-grad studies. This actually plays contrary to the myth that gappers take longer to finish school due to the year off, when in reality the year off - or "year on" as some gappers like to call it - gives the illusion of less work if not examining the actual statististics. It also plays into the overall satisfaction a graduate has with their collegiate experience.

University plays a significant role on a citizen/student's personal satisfaction later in life. 58% of traditional college graduates end up being satisfied to a considerable extent with the job they receive post-graduation (Collegeboard). While this may seem significant and/or impressive, there is still a great amount of people in there we could improve the personal satisfaction of, and gap years can help. 86% of gappers report being very satisfied with the job they receive post-graduation (American Gap Year Association). This difference is major and has to do a lot with the motivation many college students had going into college. It has a lot to do with the work experience gained by most during their collegiate education, and their more streamlined motivation/goals during University. Furthermore, lower job satisfaction also correlates with lower overall happiness with life; only 44% of traditional college graduates who were satisfied with their job "to some degree" said they were happy with life (Collegeboard). The difference of 30% in job satisfaction could have a significant impact on the happiness of our future citizens.

Speaking of future citizens, gappers also seem to be better for our communities both during and after college. A reported 76% of gappers participated in a service organization during their time in a gap year (American Gap Year Association). In contrast, most traditional University students end up not participating in any civic service during their time in University; only 30% of college students participate in a civil service of any kind during their education (Corporation for National and Community Service). Not only do the majority of gap year students participate in service organizations during their gap year, but the vast majority of them participate in community service post-gap year. 89% of gappers who participated in the American Gap Year Association's survey reported participating in a community service activity within the month prior to the survey being taken (American Gap Year Association). In addition to being more active in their community; gappers tend to be more active with their role in the government. 63% of gappers were reported to be active in the November 2014 midterm elections (American Gap Year Association). On the other hand, only 36.4% of US Citizens participated in the November 2014 midterms (American Gap Year Association/Bureau of Labor Statistics). Leaving a much better ratio among those who took gap years than those who took either traditional routes through college or no college at all. While these statistics don't necessarily prove the benefits of a gap year in a general collegiate sense, they do promote gap years as things that give work experience. Work experience is generally a sought after prospect in the college admissions/post collegiate world - providing better and harder working citizens is simply an added benefit of taking a gap year.

A big and important part of talking about gap years is hearing about how people feel about their experiences taking or not taking a gap year. In the National Alumni Survey that the American Gap Year Association took; only 4% of gappers would not promote taking a gap year (American Gap Year Association). This reflects the general sentiment among these gappers that taking a gap year was something which greatly improved their collegiate experience. Research done by Andrew King showed that gappers had more fullfillment with their college education and the route they took through college as it helped them develop a unique identity; one that drove them through succeeding in their collegiate/post-collegiate life (King). This is backed up by the National Alumni Survey done by the American Gap Year Associatin: where the survey-takers were asked to pick from a wide variety of different measures of fulfillment - academic, career, personal, and citizenship - and state if they felt that a gap year improved it: the top 6 resounding "yes" answers were to questions of personal fulfillment (American Gap Year Association). Furthermore, in a survey done by Zachariah Bouanani of which 25 people participated in: 18 answered with a yes to the question of "if taking/not taking a gap year had a positive impact on their personal success?", of them ~61% had answers similar to this one:

I took a gap year after high school/before college... In high school I was an average student and my parents never attended college.... During my gap year was when I started to figure out what I wanted to do.... I'll be graduating this summer. I would recommend the gap year followed by community college route to anyone.

Regardless, those who answered in support of gap years stated that a gap year - or lackthereof being detrimental - had helped them find personal fulfillment in their college journey (Bouanani). This trend continues along a few studies - such as Andrew King's on personal identity and Heath's on the "Economy of Experience"- find the same result: even if not the most successful beforehand, taking a gap year motivates students to find the success in themselves without having to waste money to do so. As with anything, there are outliers to this trend of success.

While most of the time gap years generally have a positive rate of growth, there are times in which there is a stagnant rate of growth. In a survey done by the American Gap Year Association: there was a negative personal association with how one experienced their productivity during the gap year if their main focus was either "Working (for pay)" or "Partying" (American Gap Year Association). Examining this, it is generally assumed that people who go on a gap year get a job and don't want to go back to school afterwards; this is clearly false, as it was shown that people were on a gap year solely working to save up money for University ended up wanting to go to school more than they wanted to stay in the workplace. For those who had their goal as "Partying" or just overall being lazy, they simply didn't take into account the true purpose of a gap year. In general, experts do believe that gap years should be less stigmatized and targeted towards those who don't have a goal going into university - there are always going to be outliers in this sense. Those who had been "Partying" will generally see the same dissatisfaction with their actions during college as well - except with more devastating circumstances. Otherwise, in almost all other circumstances, research shows in favor of destigmatizing the gap year.

In summary, taking gap years has become unfairly stigmatized: growing a dangerous mythos behind the stigma. Looking at the research, one learns that gappers in general tend to: be active during their gap "year on"; graduate earlier than - or at the same time as - their peers; be more active in their community than their peers; and tend to do better in their collegiate/post-collegiate life. All this is very much contrary to the popular belief about gap years. In conclusion, the stigmatization of gap years is based around little-to-no valid research, and generally tends to ignore the research in favor of gap years. While there is no way to change what has already happened, accepting it into the society as a whole will allow more people to participate in the generally successful trends that correlate with those who take gap years.

Works Cited
Bouanani, Zachariah. "Examining Personal Experiences with Gap Years"
Brainerd, Jackson. State Minimum Wages | 2019 Minimum Wage by State
Freedman, Liz. "The Developmental Disconnect in Choosing a Major" The Mentor/PennState Division of Undergraduate Studies
Heath, Sue. "Widening the Gap: Pre-University Gap Years and the 'Economy of Experience'."
British Journal of Sociology of Education, vol. 28, no. 1, 2007, pp. 89-103. JSTOR
Hoe, Nina. "American Gap Association National Alumni Survey ."
"Job Satisfaction by Education Level, 2008." Job Satisfaction by Education Level, 2008 - Trends in Higher Education - The College Board
King, Andrew. "Minding the Gap? Young People's Accounts of Taking a Gap Year as a Form of Identity Work in Higher Education." Journal of Youth Studies

"The NCES Fast Facts Tool Provides Quick Answers to Many Education Questions (National Center for Education Statistics)."
Sagenmüller, Isabel. "Student Retention: 8 Reasons People Drop out of Higher Education."

Maria [Contributor] - / 1,054 374  
Jun 8, 2019   #2
Hello there!

Welcome to the forum. Don't be afraid to approach us the next time you have queries in relation to your essay (or to any writing).

First and foremost, I find that a great chunk of your essay is well-written. This is taking into account it has blocks of content that are in-depth and properly substantiated. However, the drawback of this, from a reader's perspective, is that it can often appear to be dragging and exhausting. To resolve this, you have three techniques that I propose are relatively easy to integrate in your writing: omitting sentences that are vague/inessential, cutting down lengths of paragraphs by simplification of text, and separating your paragraphs into two different ones by merging and compressing. If you can use these three, you'll be able to structure and prioritize your essay in a better light.

In addition, the sentence about your personal experience with taking a gap year appears to be out of place. I suggest either merging this with a similar form/substance of a paragraph - or removing it altogether.

The second to the last paragraph (the one preceding your summary) also appears to have informal tone/language ingrained in it. There's no need for you to capitalize particular terms (ie. the word university, for instance) - and you can also tone down your usage of language here.

To demonstrate what this means, consider the following revision:

... and don't want refuse to go back ... gap year solely working to save up money for University university ended up ... more than they ... the workplace remaining in work. ... as "Partying" or just overall being lazy, they simply ... purpose of a gap year it. In general, experts do believe that ... university. - there are always ... sense.

Notice how repetitive you were becoming with mentioning the term gap year. While this explicit mention was necessary in the beginning, you can omit it and replace it with signifying words in the latter portions to ensure that your essay is dynamic. Furthermore, evade making assumptions out of the research (ie. mentioning that partying is indicative of "just being lazy" because these create an informal and truly opinionated tone in your essay that will not be beneficial for you.

Keep these in mind as you are writing. Best of luck as always!

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