Gap Year Awareness and Attitudes

Regular readers of these pages know that we at Gap Year Solutions love data. Given that there is so little data to be found on Gap Years, we’ve had to build our own dataset. We have looked at what data is out there, including from the Gap Year Research Consortium, and conducted our own surveys with colleges and high schools. Our own research has helped us understand, for example, that prior to COVID only about 2% of graduating high school seniors were electing to take a Gap Year before college.

We fielded our latest high school survey this past October. The survey went to high school counselors to learn more about awareness and perception of Gap Years. Counselors from 48 public and private high schools responded. We are still analyzing the data related to share of graduating students taking a Gap Year from the high school class of 2023. For now we have some interesting results in two areas to share.

Awareness of Gap Years

We were curious how student awareness of Gap Years has changed. Gap Year Solutions spends a great deal of our time helping to put a spotlight on the benefits of Gap Years, through our website resources, media relationships and working with high school counselors, students and families. Many of our colleagues in the industry do the same. COVID also caused many more students to take time off before and during college. What impact, we wondered, has all the additional information and experience with Gap Years had on student awareness of this post-secondary option? 

A comprehensive longitudinal study with students would be the best way to track awareness over time, but this is expensive and can take years to results. We opted instead to survey school counselors, who interact regularly with high schoolers – especially juniors and seniors. Based on their responses, nearly half of participating schools have seen an increase in Gap Year awareness among their student body (see Figure 1). This seems significant to us. We do understand that not every student will make the choice to take a Gap Year, but we are firm believers that students should at least be aware of the option. Then they can make an informed choice about going straight to college or stepping back and taking advantage of the wonderful opportunities presented by a Gap Year.

Figure 1

Perception of Gap Years

We were also interested in learning more about student attitudes towards Gap Years, especially given the low percentage of graduating seniors who ultimately opt to take a Gap Year. We admit we weren’t surprised to see that 60% of the student bodies at surveyed schools were perceived by counselors as seeing Gap Years fitting only certain types of students (see Figure 2). This remains one of the enduring misconceptions of Gap Years – that delayed the start of college for a year only makes sense for certain kids – and “that’s definitely not me!” The reality is quite different. Our experience working with teens tells us that nearly every student can benefit from Gap time. Not a single student we know of how has taken a Gap Year has ever regretted it. In fact, nearly all students talk about the profound impact it has had on their maturity, level of engagement, and areas of focus.

Overall nearly 4 out of 5 counselors told us that at their schools, students either just don’t have Gap Years much in their consciousness or they see Gap Years as only for certain kids. Those of us in the Gap Year field have much more work to do to go beyond raising awareness of Gap Years, and really help counselors and families see the many benefits of Gap Years for any student.

Figure 2

Next: Check back soon to read our take on how many students from the high school class of 2023 chose to take a Gap Year, based on our October 2023 survey results.

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