The Tale of the Gap Year
Recently I talked with someone considering a gap year after graduating from high school this spring. A gap year is a generic term used mainly for people wanting to take time off from school between high school and college. In my time working in the field of psychology, it has also become an industry. Gap years are good in theory, but I do not have a lot of experience with gap years being advantageous to individuals. I suspect the prospect of a gap year would be especially enticing to an autistic person because high school seems especially stressful for many of them, and such a break can feel well-deserved and even necessary.
I can think of several pitfalls that make gap years problematic, so if you're considering one for yourself or someone else, perhaps you can use these warnings to plan or even decide if it's a viable option.
Loss of Momentum
I was warned of this when I worked between undergrad and grad school for two years. My boss then said that the longer you're out of school, the less likely you are to return. To counter the effects of entropy on my education, he helped me develop a two-year plan where I would work and develop a resume that would help me get into grad school. He gave me time off to apply to and visit schools and attend interviews. My two-year contract was set to expire when grad school started. Without that foresight and planning, I think he was correct that I was unlikely to continue my education.
No high schooler can appreciate the loss of a giant peer group that all shows up at the same place every day and does mostly the same thing as each other. Some people that take a gap year look forward to a little "alone time," but instead they find the sneaky effects of isolation, including loneliness, depression, loss of sense of time, and other insidious effects. Last month I posted an article on the neurological effects of isolation because I work with many people who graduate high school and become chronically isolated. People discover that assembling and managing a social life outside of high school is actually quite difficult and laborious. Worse, some people think they are enjoying and benefitting from isolation, but humans are fundamentally social, and all eventually succumb.
People need to work to be healthy. But, after about a week or two, rest can become idleness. It is likely true that some people need a break after high school, but how long of a break? A year seems too long to me. Perhaps you plan to get a job, volunteer, or research your interests. Most people underestimate how difficult it is to find useful, productive things to fill their schedule and maintain the motivation to do them daily. But this is the standard: we must be productive about 40 hours weekly. I have watched parents try to cobble together a 40-hour-a-week productivity schedule for their 18-year-old and then try to force the teen to do it for 50 weeks, and it is truly a monumental task. I have not known anyone to do this successfully.
There are, of course, other downsides to the gap year. For instance, check the price of these companies that advertise gap years for new grads. Above are the traps I have encountered most often, so please beware.