vibeffect’s third annual College Optimizer Index investigates the growing trend of gap years among students and how it affects thriving

Washington D.C. – October 26, 2017 – vibeffect™, the first company to use proven science and predictive modeling to help higher education institutions recruit and retain thriving students, today published the results of its third annual College Optimizer Index, which looks specifically into student “gaps”. The study investigates the number of students taking gaps between high school and traditional four-year colleges, whether the gap was “intended” or “unintended”, how socioeconomic factors play into the gap decision, how the student thrives following the gap, financial implications of a gap, and other important components.

One in five students in the United States indicated that they took a semester or more off between high school and starting at a traditional four-year college institution. Of these students that took a gap, 65 percent identified the gap as an intended strategy, while 35 percent said that their break was due to outside circumstances. vibeffect’s data shows that while African American students are more likely to take a gap overall, white students are more likely to take an unintended gap and Hispanic and Latino students are more likely to take an intended break.

“The stereotypical gap year student is associated with travel to exotic or new places for a year before college,” said Elena Cox, vibeffect CEO and co-founder. “But our research found that, surprisingly, the majority of students who intentionally defer enrollment are doing so because they need a break from academics. This ‘burned out’ feeling has the potential to return once they matriculate – with significant negative implications for student success and higher education retention rates.”

“Interestingly, our research found that students who were forced to take a gap year, due to circumstances out of their control, thrived in college when they returned at rates higher than students who took their gap years by choice. Apparently, the resilience these gap year students learned, in dealing with their adversity, served them well when they enrolled. And this has significant positive implications for student success and higher education retention rates.”

“Taking a gap year is a trend that is not going away anytime soon,” said Cox. “Higher education strategists need to recognize these patterns and adjust their interactions with these students accordingly, to best promote positive outcomes for students and schools alike.”

Additional findings from vibeffect’s gap year study include:

  • White students are much less likely than other races to take a gap. When they do take a gap, it is more likely to be unintended. African American students are most likely to take a gap of either kind (unintended or intended), followed by Hispanic and Latino students (more likely to take an intended gap).
  • Gap years are not common, but gap semesters are. For all gap students, a one semester break was the most common break period. Students who take a one semester break are more likely to be high thrivers.
  • Men are more likely to take a gap than women. This is the same for both intended and unintended gaps.
  • Summer melt is not an inevitable end to a student’s education. Research shows that in many cases, especially when a student is deferring enrollment because they did not get into their first choice institution, when they re-apply and enroll one semester later, they are actually better positioned to thrive.
  • High thriving intended gap students value different campus features than their unintended gap colleagues. Intended gap students value having online platforms to help them feel more connected to other students and faculty, while unintended gap students value in-depth academic guidance and closer relationships with faculty.
  • The majority of overall gap students are optimistic they’ll be able to pay off their debt in less than 10 years. While 41 percent of intentional gap takers and 50 percent of unintentional gap takers are concerned about their debt, when asked about specific debt amounts they expect to incur, 41 percent of the intended and 37 percent of the unintended gap takers believe they are going to have $10,000 or less in debt when they graduate.

vibeffect’s College Optimizer Index is published annually and focuses on different aspects of students’ personal, academic and social levels of thriving at four-year institutions. This year’s study looks at how the gap phenomenon intersects with thriving for individuals attending traditional four-year colleges across the nation. The definition of thriving at the foundation of vibeffect’s annual report is “when a student experiences the maximum from his/her specific college ecosystem, and demonstrates this through heightened academic and social integration, and a deeper sense of happiness”.

You can find the full vibeffect College Optimizer Index and methodology information here. To learn more about vibeffect, please visit