Study: a gap year does not weaken study success

This is an interesting study, but one that can use some replication in other countries besides the Finnish and Australian data from this study imho: Finnish researchers have found that a gap year between high school and the start of university studies does not weaken young people’s enthusiasm to study or their overall performance once the studies have commenced. On the other hand, adolescents who continue to university studies directly after upper secondary school are more resilient in their studies and more committed to the study goals. However, young people who transfer directly to university are more stressed than those who start their studies after a gap year. This last bit doesn’t seem so unsurprising to me, maybe because they are a bit older/wiser? Still there is a  little sting in the end of the press release (cfr bold).

From the press release:

“For young people, the transition from upper secondary school to further studies is a demanding phase in life, and many adolescents are tired at the end of upper secondary school. The demanding university admission tests take place close to the matriculation examination in Finland and require diligent studying from students. For many, a gap year offers an opportunity to take a break and think about future choices while developing a positive view of the future,” says Professor Katariina Salmela-Aro, the principal investigator of the study.

The transition period from secondary education to further studies is a key phase for the development of young people. It is a phase in which adolescents ponder over important future choices regarding educational directions and career goals.

The impact of a gap year on young people’s motivation to study and their future educational path was studied for the first time in the Academy of Finland’s research programme The Future of Learning, Knowledge and Skills. The research was conducted in Finland with the help of the FinEdu longitudinal study, which followed young people for several years after upper secondary school. A corresponding study was conducted concurrently in cooperation with Australian researchers among local youth in Australia.

“In the light of our research findings, a gap year between secondary education and further studies is not harmful, especially if the young person only takes one year off. When these adolescents are compared with those who continue their studies directly after upper secondary school, those who take a gap year quickly catch up with the others in terms of study motivation and the effort they put into their studies,” says Salmela-Aro.

If young people take more than one gap year, however, they may have more difficulties coping with the studies and with study motivation. “In the transition phase, many young people are left quite alone, which may make the transition to a new study phase quite challenging.”

According to the research results, those young people who begin their further studies directly after upper secondary school are more resilient in their studies and more committed to their goals than those who take a gap year. In addition, adolescents who continue their studies immediately after upper secondary school believe in their ability to achieve their goals more than those who start their studies after a gap year. On the other hand, they find studying and aiming for study goals more stressful than the students who take a gap year.

The research results also suggest that students who take a gap year are slightly more susceptible to dropping out of university later on than those who transfer to university directly after upper secondary school,” says Salmela-Aro.

Abstract of the study:

Existing gap-year research indicates a number of benefits of a gap-year at the end of school and before university enrollment. Life span theory of control, however, suggests that direct goal investment, rather than delay, at developmental transitions is associated with more adaptive outcomes. Comparing these perspectives, the authors undertook 2 studies: 1 in Finland (N = 384, waves = 3) and 1 in Australia (N = 2,259, waves = 5) both with an initial time wave in the last year of high school. The authors explored the effects of a gap-year on both psychological and attainment outcomes using an extensive propensity score matching technique. The Finnish study found no difference in growth in goal commitment, effort, expectations of attainment and strain, or in actual university enrollment in those planning to enter university directly versus those who plan to take a gap-year. The Australian study found no difference in growth in outlooks for the future and career prospects, and life satisfaction between gap-year youth and direct university entrants. However, the study did find that gap-year students were more likely to drop out of a university degree. Implication for theory and practice are discussed.

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