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The UnCollege Blog

Gap Year Fellow Dawn S: Blazing Her Own Trail

Dawn at the house

Unsure of what she wanted to study in college, Dawn decided to take a break to participate in UnCollege Gap Year and navigate the plethora of opportunities the buzzing business community of San Francisco have to offer. Following a journey of trial and error,  she has become the type of confident young adult, secured full-time employment at an exciting company, and gained the clarity she so desperately sought just a few short years ago.

UnCollege: Can you tell me a bit about yourself and what you’ve been up to since graduating from UnCollege?

Dawn: I grew up in a rural town called Kane in the woods of Pennsylvania. I really enjoy being active, trying different things, seeing new places, and meeting new people. Currently, I'm living in San Francisco and working for an education tech company, Galvanize. I work under the Director of Operations for a coding program. I wear many hats within the company. Alongside the Director of Ops, I work closely in different departments: Admissions, Career Services, Course Production, Business Development and Company Partnerships. 

Over the last year you have hit a lot of your goals both personally and professionally. How did you get to where you are now? What are/were the building blocks that helped you find that success?

I find that success is different in everyone's eyes and the approach to achieve it will be different in some way, shape or form for everyone. I never see success as an end result, but an everyday affair. Last summer, I interned for a semi-pro soccer team, volunteered my time as community staff at Galvanize and worked part time. Although it was tricky juggling my time between them all, I loved the opportunities. By being amiable, flexible and indispensable to whoever needed me, I was able to create an internship for myself at Galvanize. Today, I'm proud to say that my hard work as a volunteer turned into a full-time employment! 

The building blocks to my everyday successes are:

  • Prioritizing my time because I cherish alone time!  
  • Setting and executing goals and habits - writing them down anywhere helps me
  • Never giving my energy towards arguing or negative people
  • Accountability buddy - I let friends know what I'm doing
  • Sleep
  • Physical activity in some way - recently parkour!
  • Enjoying time with friends
  • Smiling - most everyone enjoys being around someone who smiles :)
  • A good book
  • Networking - I learn something new with every interaction!

What led you down the path of alternative education and taking a gap year?

My dad guided me in the direction of alternative education. I was in the summer going into my sophomore year of college and switching my major to General Studies (Undecided Major) when he showed me an article on UnCollege. I was immediately sold on the idea of volunteering abroad, coaches and workshops in San Francisco and internships. I needed a change from the classroom setting because I felt that I didn't have enough time to choose a major, which ends with a career that I'd be having for the rest of my life! I was too nervous to even think about taking a gap year on my own (fear of being judged and being a failure). So, this structured gap year was a perfect chance for a new experience and adventure.

How did you learn during the UnCollege program and how has it influenced you since?

My learning style was simple and easy: Pretend everyone I meet is a teacher in some way. Everyone I meet I learn something new. Whether it be about them, myself, a certain activity, career related or anything I gain some knowledge and awareness from each individual. I have formed a great network this past year because of my general interest with others and their knowledge within their life. 

What recommendations do you have for people who are considering a gap year or are unsure if they want to pursue higher education?

"Where do I see myself in 5 years?"Is the first question I asked myself. I had no idea so I knew it was time for a change. I'd recommend reading a few books on alternative education, making a pros and cons list to why you should/should not attend college and really taking a look at if rushing into college is necessary at the moment. 

Here are a few books I read that were great brainfood:

– Better Than College: How to Build a Successful Life Without a Four-Year Degree by Blake Boles

– 40 Alternatives to College by James AltucherChoose Yourself! by James Altucher

– How We Learn: The Surprising Truth About When, Where, and Why It Happens  by Benedict Carey

– Hacking Your Education: Ditch the Lectures, Save Tens of Thousands, and Learn More Than Your Peers Ever Will by Dale J. Stephens 

Any last thoughts you'd like to add?

I've always had a competitive mindset and a nasty habit of comparing myself to others. With this gap year under my belt, I learned to realize that we all are on different paths in life and to compare myself to others robs me of my true identity as an individual. 

"Life's a marathon, not a sprint." - With America's social norm; the norm of spending kids straight to college, it's unheard of for people to take a year off. It made me feel uncomfortable to think about taking a gap year, but compared to having to go straight into dealing with tens and thousands of dollars of student loan debt for the next 10+ years did not sound appealing to me. I'm continuously working on knowing what career is best for me, but meanwhile have learned so much about myself and the careers fields I do and do not want to pursue this past year. A gap year showed me that finding what you enjoy in life should feel or be not rushed.

Did you like this interview? Check out: Motorcycling out of the 4 year comfort zone. Tatem's story.

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