This post is a part of our ask a dropout series. Find more in our college resources section!
I’ll admit it – I’m a planner. I like using detailed lists to organize my day-to-day tasks. I feel most comfortable when I have an idea of the direction I’m headed, and most of all, I love the feeling that comes with successfully meeting a goal I’ve documented and been working hard to achieve.
That said, when I dropped out of school, I didn’t have a plan. All I knew is that school didn’t feel fulfilling, and that I needed to do something else. Deciding to leave school was probably the most significant unplanned thing I’ve ever done: I did not have an internship lined up, nor did I know what industry I wanted to work in. The combination was overwhelming but necessitated action, meaning that I had to quickly assemble a plan for my learning, and subsequently, my future. The action I took was to plan a gap year.
My gap year was unique in that it was self-structured, and I organized all my own learning experiences, from internships to jobs to activities that were personally enriching and a social life that existed beyond a campus. There are fantastic programs—like UnCollege—that give you the support you need to self-structure your own learning, which allows you to have assistance in creating a plan to move forward in your learning objectives. Personally, I thought about how what I wanted to learn specifically (in terms of careers), soft skills I felt I needed, and experiences I wanted to have. So, after a few weeks of emailing-sending and soul-searching, my plan looked something like this:
Areas of interest:
Skills I wanted to develop:
Improved communication skills
Ability to pitch a story
Social media management
Hold a job related to my areas of interest
Self-structuring my time out of school meant getting creative about how I was going to execute my plan: One of the first things I learned was the art of writing a solid email, which helped me get a foot in the door on internships that eventually led to paid positions. This carried over into knowing how to pitch an article, applying for public speaking opportunities, and to the improvement of my overall communication skills, too. One of the most interesting—and worthwhile—things about learning outside the classroom is that everything is an action, and very little is a theory. While there’s certainly something to be said for studying something, when I left school, I learned that the real value was in knowing HOW to do it: Rather than letting you be a passive recipient of lessons, working on a plan for your time out of school means you can’t wait and let opportunities find you; you have to create them.
So, start by asking yourself a few simple questions: How do I learn best--one-on-one with mentors, solo, in fast paced environments, or when I have time to process? What kind of work do I envision myself doing, and what steps do people take to get there? What do I find fulfilling, and how can I segue that into a learning experience that impacts my life? Some answers are simple, and others will surprise you. When creating a plan for your time out of school, narrow down the necessities--such as knowing how you’re going to support yourself and fill your day--but allow the rest to unfold naturally. The benefit of carving your own path is being open to whatever comes next, and letting your learning feel like an extension of you.
Just like all facets of education, how you drop out is personal; thus, a different kind of plan works for everyone. If you know you’re planning to leave school, researching programs like UnCollege gives you the opportunity to structure your own learning within a plan that includes opportunities to travel as well as having mentors and internships you don’t have to hustle to find. Whether you are leaving school and entering a program or developing your own plan, the most important thing you can have is knowledge of what you hope to do. What’s your end game? Obviously, this knowledge will change and grow—as you do!—but it allows you to create a foundation to build on. Maybe your plan isn’t as specific as knowing you want to intern at XYZ, but giving yourself a sense of direction is invaluable regardless of where your educational path takes you. Technically, going to college is a plan—but the value isn’t in the plan. It is knowing what you want to get out of that plan, the ambitions, dreams, and curiosities that you organize into a life. The same is true of dropping out: The plan is just the thing that helps you get from point A to point B as you create your own education. So, do you need a plan? More than having a plan of specifics, you need an outline of what you want to see happen: It is your learning. Your plan comes into play when you determine what you need out of it.