Do Gen Zers Need a Gap Year?


Students in their senior year of high school (and sometimes junior year as well) often cast an eye toward the future. We ask students, “What do you want to major in next year?” and “Where are you going to college?”

But would Gen Zers be better off by delaying college for one year?

Rob Ribbe reports at The Exchange blog of Christianity Today that a gap year could be beneficial, and Wheaton College’s Outdoor Center for Leadership Development is one program offering students to spend a year outside the traditional campus environment and instead take part in Christian community, outdoor adventure, and an intentional season of asking and seeking answers to the big questions of life, the universe, and everything.

Ribbe found that Gen Zers are having difficulty committing to Christianity as a “worldview” for fear of being judgmental and from the belief that knowledge can only be obtained from the hard sciences. In response, programs like those coordinated by Wheaton and other organizations attempt to create experiential settings where Christian convictions can be embodied and tested, deep conversations can occur outside the classroom, and emerging generations can gain critical self-knowledge through adventure and time in nature.

Ribbe lists five reasons a “gap year” in a program like this could benefit Gen Zers:

  1. Students can explore questions of faith away from family and their home churches in a space where it’s safe to wrestle.

  2. Gap years help students to take the time and space they need to connect with God and build healthy rhythms before college starts.

  3. During a gap year program, students get to meet people from different generations with different beliefs.

  4. In gap year programs, students experience the power of Christian community, doing life together through thick and thin.

  5. Gap years provide students with an intentional time to build a holistic vision for the future.

Each of the reasons appear compelling, and all of them could occur during a gap year program. There is perhaps added significance in that these points of emphasis would occur when a young person was about eighteen years of age. Societally they are now considered an “adult,” though they are still in the process of maturing. A gap year could help students mature, providing needed preparation prior to the college experience.

Wrestling with faith questions in solitude, connecting with God personally and establishing spiritual disciplines, encountering people of different generations and beliefs, participating in Christian community, and developing a personal vision are all valuable. But these actions should be taking place within the life of a local fellowship anyway. A gap year isn’t necessary, even if it would be helpful for some.

So while a gap year might be a great idea for some Gen Zers, it isn’t the way forward for everyone. If anything, the criteria above should be applied to local churches. They should be set before youth leaders. They should help us ask if we are equipping students to live faithfully during their college years and beyond.