Latter-day Saint Life

13-year study from BYU shows effects of serving a mission on female students

Intellectual Reserve, Inc.

For many young adults, it may not seem logical to step away from their college education to serve a full-time mission. In the same breath, many young adults are also likely considering President Russell M. Nelson’s counsel from the April 2022 general conference: “Dear young friends, you are each vital to the Lord. He has held you in reserve until now to help gather Israel. Your decision to serve a mission, whether a proselyting or a service mission, will bless you and many others.”

And those blessings can take many shapes. Anecdotally, many returned missionaries believe the skills and confidence they develop on their mission can translate into skills important for life and future learning. Well now, a Brigham Young University research team has gone so far as to study the real-life, tangible effects of a full-time mission, specifically for young women.

Maggie Marchant, assistant librarian over economics, finance, social sciences data, and political science at BYU, and Dr. Jocelyn S. Wikle, assistant professor at the BYU School of Family Life, collected data from more than 17,000 female students who enrolled at BYU between fall 2007 to fall 2012 and followed their education paths through 2020.

Of the 17,000 participants, 29.1% of the female students in the study took time off to serve a full-time mission for the Church. For the women who temporarily left their university education to serve a mission, the study found that many women changed their major upon returning home, and 33% switched to a major or program with higher earning potential than women who did not take gap time.

“We don’t exactly know all the underlying causes, but it does hint that these women are more confident and comfortable in different spheres as they leave the mission field,” Marchant told The Daily Universe.

The research also showed that among women with the lowest ACT scores, women who took gap time for missionary service were 19% more likely to be accepted into a competitive or limited enrollment program.

“For students that don’t test well, there can be a fear that they won’t be competitive because they don’t look stellar on paper … missions are a great way for these women to set themselves apart in competitive situations, resumes, and applications,” Wikle told The Daily Universe.

You can read more about the study and its findings on The Daily Universe.

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