When I told people I was taking a gap year after a short stint at college, I was often told “but you’re doing well in school!” This reaction, although dramatic, never surprised me. There are two huge misconceptions about gap years – people believe you either aren’t doing well, or, they think you hold the false belief that you are some sort of start-up genius who has millions to make instead of classes to attend.
Let me take a step back. Before I dig deeper into my story, let me just say that there is no guaranteed right answer to the “should I dropout?” question, because it is inherently personal. It depends solely on what you think is the best step forward down your educational path. Second, “doing well” in school is such a relative term that it is difficult to define what it means in reference to education: Technically, I was doing well, academically, but personally, I was a mess of frustration and uncertainty, feeling unfulfilled in a way no A+ grade was going to fix.
In the words of Frank Bruni, “where you go is not who you will be,” but I think we can take it a step further: How you go is not necessarily who you will be. The question is not really whether you drop out or not, or even if you should drop out as an academically successful student. The bigger thing to be asking, especially if you are doing well in school, is what will help you do better, be better, and get closer to your personal or professional goals?
It is worth noting that 90% of students who take a gap year return to college within a year, and burnout from competitive academic pressure and a desire to learn more about yourself are the highest-ranking reasons most students drop out. Personally, I operated in a middle ground: I was exhausted with pursuing good grades when I couldn’t figure out how they fit into the bigger picture, and I didn’t feel mature enough to invest thousands in a course of study that I had no experience in.
Sound like you? We have to shake the idea that dropouts are burnouts. Good students drop out of school, too, but more so, they are rewriting the idea of a “good student” to instead be a good thinker, a good learner, and a good doer. Given that “the content our kids study to become “college ready” is largely useless in careers, or life,” being a good thinker, someone who can back up their ideas with action, is infinitely more important than being a good student.
I confess: I have overworked in pursuit of an A. I have fretted over GPAs, and worried about how my future might be altered by the classes I took, even while I knew, deep down, these things may shape college, but they do not shape my life or yours. When you drop out, that changes: Suddenly, you are learning for the sake of learning, for bettering yourself, for advancing your goals or something you believe in. It becomes astoundingly less about an outcome, and more about the process, which means you are, to some extent, more invested. It becomes less about pursuing, and more about learning, which opens you up to new things you may not have touched in school due to fear of failing.
So, yes, I think good students should drop out of school. In fact, I think all students should drop out of school, even if only temporarily, if you feel there is something missing from your education, something you feel a deep desire to pursue, or another path you are curious to take. If you feel there is something about your education that needs to be reconsidered or adjusted, dropping out isn’t a setback. In fact, it can be an opportunity to transform your learning process and mold it into something that is good for you, rather than you continuing to work to be “good” for a curriculum. If you want education that is tailored to you, dropping out could be the chance to make it happen: “These days, they [schools] are likely to be identical, designed by experts far away for a theoretical student, not the unique you.” Dropping out, taking a gap year, or whatever title you prefer to give it, enables you to step back and reassess what it means to be “good,” and what you want that “good” to get you.
To quote Thoreau, “be not simply good - be good for something.”
That’s what your education should be: Good for something.