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How does LDS missionary service impact women's college experiences?

BYU campus from the north
Jaren Wilkey

The Utah Women and Leadership Project recently released a research brief on a BYU study titled “Impact of Gap Time for Missionary Service on Utah Women’s College Outcomes.”

The study was authored by Jocelyn Wikle, an assistant professor of Family Studies at BYU, and Maggie Marchant, a librarian at the BYU Harold B. Lee library.

To conduct the research Wikle and Marchant requested academic records from BYU and did not have access to any names.

They sifted through the records of women who had enrolled between fall 2007 and fall 2012 looking at the patterns of the college experiences for those who served full-time missions and comparing that to those who didn’t.

Wikle said that one major benefit seen was for women who had struggled academically.

“Women who did serve missions were more competitive in these limited enrollment programs and these programs that were competitive to get into, and it seemed like a mission was serving a special role for these women," Wikle said. "It was signaling to others, that they had valuable skills, and that they could make a contribution, even when they looked less than perfect on paper."

One drawback, Marchant said, was that these women who took time off to serve missions were 10% less likely to graduate within an eight-year timeframe.

“The important thing is that there are ways that we can also support these women to help them make sure that they feel like they can finish and have the flexibility that they need," Marchant said.

The study found that women who took missionary gap time were 33% more likely to switch to a major with higher earning potential, and 96% of the women who served missions returned to school.

Wikle said this study is important and helpful not just for those considering taking time off from school for missionary service, but for those considering taking a gap year for any reason.

“I think it's really important for people when making big life-altering decisions like this, to have the best information possible," Wikle explained. "And so we really hope that this study will empower women thinking about taking a break from school, to really be able to dive in and evaluate the costs and benefits of that decision.”

Caitlin Keith is a general news reporter at UPR. She is from Lindon, Utah and is currently an undergrad student studying print journalism at USU. Caitlin loves to write and tell people’s stories. She is also a writer at the Utah Statesman. She loves to read, ski, play the cello and watch various TV shows.