Each August around 20 million people head off to their college experience. In an odd paradox college is both more accessible and more risky than it has ever been. From the founding days of our country until the end of World War II the college experience was mostly reserved for the very wealthy. The post World War II GI bill, however, began to change things. Suddenly, a university experience was available to a broader swath of the population. As this generation had children they expected their kids to go to college and the university populations swelled. These days a college education is a basic factor for most careers. So, if a college degree is so important then why would it be it risky?

The risks come in both a student’s ability to flourish in college as well as come away with a both useful degree and as little debt as possible. It shouldn’t be considered a foregone conclusion that just because a student begins college they will finish. To the contrary, even with massive increases in the levels of federal aid, less than half of the students who begin college earn a degree within six years. A report from the nonprofit group Complete College America on the subject concludes that “our system of higher education costs too much, takes too long, and graduates too few.” This account certainly doesn’t lend toward the belief that most who go to college are flourishing while there and certainly doesn’t consider other statistics which would alarm Christian parents in that studies indicate that at least 70% of college-aged students drop out of church in their college years.

Given the criticisms above of costs, time, rate of graduation, and spiritual development the picture could look bleak. We here at Impact 360 Institute feel a gap year can play a significant role in breaking some of the cycles of risks listed above and contribute toward a student not just surviving but flourishing in their college years. Let’s address these four areas one by one.

College costs too much: College is expensive. According to US News & World Report 70% of students graduate with student loan debt in average of $37,172 each. (https://www.usnews.com/education/best-colleges/paying-for-college/slideshows/10-student-loan-facts-college-grads-need-to-know) There are two ways that a gap year can help offset this. First, many gap year experiences help position a student for more available scholarship monies. Each dollar in scholarship offsets potential debt so the right gap year experience can pay for itself when it is used to garner more scholarship dollars. Additionally studies indicate gap year students on average have better grades in college, even improved over their high school GPAs, lending toward them actually keeping those scholarship dollars throughout college.

Takes too much time: Various studies place the average time for a college student to earn a degree sits between six and eight years. The idea of four years of college mostly exists in myth these days. While there are many factors in this the primary drivers are lack of focus and understanding on what they wish to do in their career. The right gap year program can bring a higher focus and energy to both a student’s individual areas of giftedness and how they want to use that in a career. Higher focus and understanding around personal giftedness mean more intention in degree selection resulting in less time lost to changes in major. The positive cascade effect here as well is that the sooner one graduates, the less debt one accumulates as well.

Too few graduate: Like the time it takes for a student to get a degree the reasons so few graduate are also complex and often inter-related. Debt can keep students from graduating as well as the inability to decide on which degree to pursue. For too many others it boils down to lack of a supporting environment or the absence of a strong enough GPA to stay. In the end much of this still goes back to a lack of purpose and mission for one’s life. The right gap year choice can help define for a student what is beyond college and help shape the disciplines and the grit it takes through the college years to get to that goal.

Too few stay faithful: The reasons student’s either take a hiatus or totally walk away from their faith range comes from a variety of factors. Independence from parent’s expectations, a more secular environment, and even lack of finding the right church “fit” all can play a role. At the root of all of these is the missing element of good discipleship practices before the student leaves for college. If the student has had little to no training in spiritual formations or basic apologetics then it shouldn’t surprise us their faith suffers when they get out on their own. The right gap year choice can also undergird these areas investing in the spiritual formation of a student and teaching them how to understand and, as needed, defend their faith for the next phase of their life. This creates the type of student who will seek out Christian community and accountability in their university years.

Many studies, both external and within our own Impact alumni, confirm the multiple benefits of the right gap year experience academically, socially, financially and spiritually. The Impact 360 Fellows experience is a Christian gap year in leadership development, vocational discernment, and spiritual development. We seek to cultivate leaders and want students to flourish in their college years and beyond. Research across the board backs up the idea that a gap year investment is a wise one for many young adults toward producing a college experience that will help them both finish sooner and with less debt then their peers who go straight on to college. In addition to those possible outcomes the Impact experience will deepen their spiritual walk and strengthen their discernment of vocational calling. We believe Impact 360 Fellows is a great option for Christian students who are looking for a way toward a successful college experience and would look forward to hosting any interested students. Contact us and allow us to show you the difference a year at Impact 360 Institute can make.

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