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The UnCollege Blog

What I Learned By Taking a Gap Year


“Those who travel with the current will always feel they are good swimmers; those who swim against the current may never realize they are better swimmers than they imagine.”

-Shankar Vedantam.

Mercy_blog_listing.jpgI never planned to drop out of college and take a Gap Year. I had a four year graduation plan like most students. Ultimately my decision to drop out was driven by my lack of confidence and direction, leading me to abandon my comfort zone. I was in desperate need of a transition; a transition from dependency on an educational institution to dependency and belief in myself. So when I read the quote above on a billboard, it sunk in deep.

For the last four years it became increasingly apparent that I was fixed in a school system with which I didn't connect with. I was eager to learn but didn’t fit into the structure of how I was supposed to do so. I switched classes, I switched majors, I switched cities, I switched schools, sought out help both inside school and out, but with each test score lower than the one before, it was hard not to think I was the problem. Slowly, I began to feel the confidence in my ability to learn dwindle. I felt stuck, just like 32% of my peers.  

Frustrated and discouraged, I sought out alternatives. I had given up on school but I wasn't ready to give up on learning all together. I turned to books, podcasts, Ted Talks, and conferences to dig deeper into topics I was interested in. A small spark had been lit but I needed more. I was in need of guidance to help navigate this new path of self-directed learning. I had been gathering resources and information but had no idea how materialize any of what I was learning. Late one weeknight, as I procrastinated for a business law exam, I came across UnCollege. Described as a self-directed learning Gap Year program based in San Francisco, I knew this was what I had been searching for.

Currently in the midst of my Gap Year at UnCollege, I look back on that night and laugh. What I thought would be a great excuse to travel and watch Ted Talks all day, has turned out to be so much more. Taking this time to step back, has caused a drastic shift in my perspective. I no longer feel defined by an institution's perception of my intelligence. I've been given the space to take chances and to step into the world the collegiate system tirelessly attempts to prepare us for. As a result I've been able to see that, at times, jumping into real life situations is more conductive to learning, than continuously preparing for the future inside a classroom. Through talking with industry professionals first hand I've realized that my knowledge, personality, and work ethic are valued even if not accompanied by an exceptional GPA. I've been given job and internship opportunities I would have never deemed myself qualified for previously, and each time it reaffirms that this was the best thing I could have done. 

While college is a great option, it's not for everyone. If I've learned anything from this journey it's that we should celebrate our uniqueness because from it stems innovation and creativity. For too long my ability to do such was stifled as I attempted to conform to societal expectations. Having released that pressure on myself, I am beginning to understand that I'm a far better swimmer than ever imagined.