What should I do with my life?
June 4, 2007 6:23 PM   Subscribe

About a week ago I graduated from high school—finally. I graduated with honors and have a very large scholarship to a state university here. It's all planned for me to go to university. But I am not sure if I want this.

I do see many benefits to a university education—such as networking and something on which to fall back, should I need a traditional job (and want one that is at least somewhat stimulating); but I want to start my own business. I have some ideas, but I haven't deployed any yet. I know some will fail. It will take time.

But I don't want to be tied down with school again. It feels so great to be done with high school—a great sense of freedom I have.

I think that what I want to do immediately is to travel—particularly in Europe. I speak German almost fluently and some Danish/Swedish/Norwegian. Learning languages is my hobby and I'm willing to pick up Spanish, Russian—whatever—along the way.

I have a few friends who are feeling the same way, with whom I could travel. But I'm willing to do it on my own, too.

It may seem as if I've already decided, that I amn't going to university. But what is holding me back is fear. In high school we were told so many times that it was either university or McDonalds. I guess I don't want either.

I also have some uncertainties, should I choose university: should I get a dorm or an apartment? Which is cheaper? I can cook, and I prefer too, because of my diet (vegetarian). I also am not anti-social, but I like privacy.

So I feel that I need some help, some guidance, some good advice.

This is my first question to AskMeFi, so I hope I have followed the guidelines. If not it would be helpful to know in what way, so I can improve for later posts. (Very hard to categorize, I based it on that I am asking about going to university or not..)

Thank you!
posted by fjardt to Education (44 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
The best thing I ever did was to spend a year working between high school and college.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 6:25 PM on June 4, 2007 [1 favorite]

Very difficult to tell you what to do, except to say:

(1) It's not a case of university or McDonalds...but if it's not university, then you'd better be very good at something else. The fact that you did so well at school suggests you have a talent for academic study - what proof do you have that you might also be good at starting a business?
(2) You can't make up your mind between travelling to Europe and going to university...have you considered going to university in Europe?
posted by Jimbob at 6:27 PM on June 4, 2007 [1 favorite]

...And the worst thing I ever did was not to go back to school after that year.

Traveling is less disruptive to your lifestyle than working; once you commit to an apartment and a full-time job, your expenses can easily expand to fill all the available income. So plan ahead, or live with the parents if possible for the rest of that year to avoid the "working life" taking over.
posted by wzcx at 6:30 PM on June 4, 2007

The fact that you have a scholarship makes a difference, I think. Taking a year off could mean saying goodbye to the scholarship money, and (though I don't know what your financial situation is) for many people that can make a big difference in whether they will ever be able to go back to college or not. Maybe that won't apply to you, though.
posted by litlnemo at 6:33 PM on June 4, 2007

At this point I probably wouldn't go to university without the scholarship.

I have considered going to university in Europe, but I didn't know how possible it was. Maybe my view about it was distorted in that I didn't think it was a possibility for me.
posted by fjardt at 6:35 PM on June 4, 2007

As a freshman, they won't (usually) let you live in off-campus your first two years if you are going full time and not commuting from home. So, your housing situation is decided for you! One less thing to worry about ;)
posted by Loto at 6:36 PM on June 4, 2007

Can you defer the scholarship for a year? It would be awful to throw away the scholarship because you wanted to travel, only to find later on that you did want to go to university, just not immediately.

Deferring entrance isn't so worrisome, especially if you've got the grades as you say, but considering how expensive a university education is these days and how for many people student debt is unavoidable, I would try and find any way of holding on to that scholarship if you've got even the slightest inkling that you might want to go to university, either this fall or sometime down the road.

Also, depending on a) your studies, b) your proficiency as a student and c) the nature of the businesses you want to run, it's not impossible to try some of your business ideas while in university. There are plenty of enterprising people who've found the time to start businesses while taking on coursework.
posted by chrominance at 6:36 PM on June 4, 2007

Have it all. If you'll receive assistance with living expenses, perhaps you could go to college, take up a part-time job and save money to go travelling in the summer. You could even take a couple of language and business courses. Then you could travel to the countries of your choosing. Return to school in the fall and work for two semesters. Go on an international co-op/internship for the summer or pursue overseas studies for a year (and return to work for the summer). Return for your final year of school. Some schools will even let you do two overseas years.

All the while, you could start up a business. Michael Dell started his business from his dorm room, as I recall. I started my business when I was in university. I know several others who started their businesses this way.
posted by acoutu at 6:38 PM on June 4, 2007

Oh, and if going to university in Europe sounds appealing: exchange programs. Many of them allow you to pay tuition at your home university while taking classes and boarding abroad—it's the best of both worlds, especially if your scholarship will cover it.
posted by chrominance at 6:38 PM on June 4, 2007

It sounds like you're anxious to being interacting in the real world. For a lot of people college is a great way to defer that particular requirement of growing up, but it doesn't have to be. Have you started looking at the course calendar at your planned university? One of the cool things about college is that you do get to choose your course of study. Sure there are general ed classes to get in, but there are also a bunch of cool niche subject classes that you can start taking immediately. Taking some interesting subjects could be a good way to engage yourself more in your education.

Also, lots of colleges have study abroad programs, if you're interested in travel, you could always look into doing one during your sophomore year (I have several friends who not only did this but stayed on and finished off their uni at foreign schools.)

Bottom line? You don't have to go to school, and you're certainly welcome to take a break between high school and college, but you might also find that if you do go to college straight away, you can find programs that really interest you (and have the added benefit of "legitimacy" in the eyes of your parents.)

Also, you don't say where you're located, but if your state has a good community college system, that option can be a very affordable way of getting your general ed requirements out of the way should you choose not to go on to your university immediately.
posted by nerdcore at 6:46 PM on June 4, 2007

Oof, don't blow off that scholarship. I had one (graduating in two weeks) and while my friends from the scholarship program are using the money they saved to travel the world, my friends who don't have scholarships are trying to figure out where they're going to get the dough to pay back their loans. From my experience with people who start businesses, getting the dough to pay off loans can be an issue there too. If the scholarship is as generous as you say, please please think very carefully before bidding it sayonara.
posted by crinklebat at 6:49 PM on June 4, 2007

yeah, travel this summer, then find a major that's likely to have lots of exchange opportunities and do that (international studies, urban development, philosophy, architecture, art, any language you want, comparative literature, business...)

about 15 years ago, you could be the internet wunderkind who had an awesome job and only a high school diploma, but not anymore. get the degree--for one thing, college is actually a pretty neat experience, and two, it opens so many more doors (even if you major in art history, just having that diploma gives you "license to compete," as another mefite put it). and it's really hard to go back later in life.
posted by thinkingwoman at 6:50 PM on June 4, 2007

As far as living situations if you do go to uni. again, I don't know where you're located or what the particulars are with your school, but most college meal programs here in California at least, have plenty of vegetarian options (and even some vegan ones!) I personally choose to forgo the 4 year college route after having been accepted at about 6 schools and moved out of my parents house to attend my local junior college. It allowed me to pursue my other interests (in my case helping start a non-profit and being an activist) while still going to school and keeping my parents happy. Living off campus is great if you want more interaction with the outside world, what I've experienced while visiting friends who lived on campus at their schools was a very insulated community of college aged kids. If you're not into that, you might have better luck off campus.
posted by nerdcore at 6:53 PM on June 4, 2007

Is it possible for you to defer a year? I know this may seem a bit late in the game, but usually they'll let you defer a year with no risk to your scholarship.

If you can't, I still say go to college. It'll be the best experience of your life, and you can focus on starting your businesses then.

You're making college a black and white proposition. There's no reason that you can't major in a foreign language, study abroad for a summer, semester, or even a full year, and start a business on the side.

You'll also meet potential business partners, professors that can lead you in the right direction, and resources and connection to make your ideas work.

Go to college, major in Business and Whatever Language, go abroad, and start a business - it's all doable - I've seen it myself.

It's especially easy when you're on someone else's dime!
posted by unexpected at 6:54 PM on June 4, 2007

if you can give up the scholarship, often schools will allow you to defer your admission for up to a year. you can take that time to travel and/or decide what to do next.

if you do decide not to go to college for sure, like Jimbob says, you better be very good at something else. a degree will almost always get you a better job–or in some cases, even just a job. i'm not sure how it is where you live (or where you may want to live) but i know from friends here in portland who work as bar managers and book stores managers, that almost everyone applying for those jobs in bars/restaurants and book stores have college degrees even.

if you do decide to go, i would advise you to live in the dorms for at least your first year. it will allow you to get to know your fellow classmates outside of the classroom and give you a great introduction to college life. living in an apartment your first year out can be very isolating because you will not be able to share the kinds of experiences others will, or bond with your fellow freshman. meal plan is usually a separate option so if you do not want to go on it, that's possible, but if you decide against it, make sure you choose a dorm whose unit has a kitchen or kitchenette—this will usually be a larger suite, with two or more roommates rather than the more typical one roommate situation.

i feel like if you have a great interest in—and aptitude for— languages, perhaps you can somehow work that to your advantage in school. language major? this would probably allow you to both study abroad as well as spend summers or a semester off in a foreign country travelling or working—something to break up the time you feel like you are tied up in school, all the while working toward your degree.

just some things to think about.
posted by violetk at 6:58 PM on June 4, 2007

If you're interested in travel as a way of life, this is a good book to read, and this is a good movie to watch.
posted by c:\awesome at 7:02 PM on June 4, 2007

I want to start my own business

So do I, which is why I'm at a business school, actually.

I know some will fail. It will take time.

Amen. As eager as I am to leap into the world of starting businesses, my current 'life plan' is to get a 'normal' job for a bit and build up enough money that I can stay afloat while dabbling in entrepreneurship.

In high school we were told so many times that it was either university or McDonalds.

As you probably know, this is a false dichotomy. You can be very successful without going to college, and you can also go to college and never get anywhere. College gives you an advantage, though, if you apply for 'normal' jobs (as opposed to starting your own).

should I get a dorm or an apartment?

I've lived in a dorm my first two years, and highly recommend it from a social perspective. (Last year, and next year, my final year, I've lived in on-campus apartments, which are kind of the best of both worlds.) Do be aware that dorms usually have super-strict fire-prevention standards that keep you from doing any sort of cooking, although at least at my school, there's a kitchen in each building. But really, I think it's worth it. I imagine you'd have a better sense of independence if you lived off-campus, but you're so much closer to the school (err, I meant that more metaphorically, although it's obviously literally true as well) if you're on campus.

Try to find out if your scholarship could be deferred a year if you took some time off. You really don't want to jeopardize it, but I also think too many people go to college without knowing why they go to college.

Disclaimer: I'm a current college student, who was always raised to believe that you went to college or you were a failure. So just realize that I have some bias in my answer.
posted by fogster at 7:06 PM on June 4, 2007

I'm going to sound like an old man here but...Go to school.

I'm sorry to say that in the case of the vast majority of humans, one is usually be a very different person at 21-22 than at 17-18. It's even shown how the human brain is still physically developing between those age ranges and it's mostly the frontal lobe: rational decision maker. You could be special and already developed/mature for your age, I hope so. However, if - for a minute - we go with the numbers, you are not.

Also, as a business owner, I know that the skill-sets required for success in business can be greatly aided by university. I happen to believe that a mature social skill-set is more important than knowledge of accounting or management and university is a perfect practice and foundation building point.

University is NOTHING like high school. Less diversity and tolerance, a lot more pigeon-holing. But university is different, you meet real people of astounding diversity; racially, physically and personality-wise. You learn to deal with them, and you learn outside the magnetic shield of your parents.

And of course university and travel do not have to be mutually exclusive - long-term wise. By the time you are 25 you could have gone to university AND traveled. But to bypass the opportunity of the school, by the time you are 25 you could have just traveled.

Part of that mature thinking I mentioned above that many 18 year olds may lack is looking at issues not just in the three dimensions of present circumstances but the fourth dimension of time.

Good luck in whatever you choose.
posted by Kensational at 7:10 PM on June 4, 2007

I am going to buck the trend. I lived abroad, went to college, and lived abroad again. I had a much richer experience after college. College is hard and not always fun, but it reinforces what you think you've learned: that delayed gratification makes things richer and more interesting. You'll also have very intense friendships, some of which last for a life time.

Please do go abroad while you are young enough to blend in and experience the culture without preconceptions. But education will make these experiences more meaningful.

I went to school in Appleton, Wisconsin, a disceptively palatable arm pit of a community. I hated it enough to study abroad and eventually move to Europe. Moving was great, but I think the experience of getting to know my own country and the history of the places I would live really made the experience great. Being in a great location isn't everything. Having a solid education makes you more comfortable and more receptive to new experiences.

P.S. Haven't lived in the U.S. since I graduated.
posted by gesamtkunstwerk at 7:22 PM on June 4, 2007

You are lucky enough to have a scholarship - take it! You'll have tons of time to travel and pick up languages in the summer and once you're out of school.
posted by k8t at 7:32 PM on June 4, 2007

One factor that you should consider: I too felt a huge burden was lifted from me when I graduated from high school. I dreaded the possibility of college being just a repeat of my caged-in years. However, college is definitely what you make it. You will be free to do many things in college, including travel and plot your business strategies. You will also meet some friends who might be able to help you along in your goals.
As for the dorm/apartment situation: request a single, hope you get it, and life should be fine. The cooking facilities might be abysmal, but there should be some vegetarian fodder available to you (I'm veg too, so that part of dorm life was annoying).
posted by nursegracer at 7:37 PM on June 4, 2007

Go to school.

You say that you don't want to be tied down with school again. If you mean "I don't want to be tied down like I was in high school," you're not going to be.

High school is sort of like having a whole bunch of parents all watching you and trying to be helpful but getting in your way and rubbing your face in the fact that you're a kid, and being stuck with a bunch of fucking idiots you can't escape, and so on.

Universities are not like that. Universities are free, or nearly-free -- especially big, anonymous state universities. You have profs, but profs don't have that sort of parental authority over you. You don't have to answer to anyone like a guidance counselor. You don't really have to answer to anyone except yourself and law enforcement. You're not going to get stuck in a course with a bunch of mouth-breathing idiots who want to beat you up. A big state university is like a medium-sized town full of opportunities, interesting people, and ways to get together with like-minded people.

There's no conflict between university and travel. There's this thing called summer, first of all. And there are also numerous opportunities for direct study abroad, as well as Your-University-in-Exotic-Place programs.

Check with your university's dining services; they almost certainly have a web page. If there are enough vegetarian options, and there almost certainly are, I'd recommend living in a dorm with a bunch of people you've never met. It's a chance to begin again in a golden land of opportunity and adventure. At the very least, it drops you straight into the deep end of university life. About the only downer is that you'd have a resident "advisor" around to hide booze from, if you like booze.

NB: all of this goes out the window if "a state university here" means Southwest Regional Campus University in Podunk. If that's where you're headed, look into transferring to the flagship state u, or taking a year off and going to the flagship next year. You can get a fine education at Regional State U if you want to, and they can sometimes offer more personalized care, but they're just not the same sort of place as big, flagship institutions.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 7:45 PM on June 4, 2007

I really appreciate all the advice. I'm going to re-read the posts so far to synthesize and collate as much as I can. I've read some really good stuff.

A note to those wondering where I am: I would/will be going to Arizona State University.
posted by fjardt at 7:51 PM on June 4, 2007

College is not high school. It's also not for everyone. I had a blast at college, and living on campus my first year helped me with that. I highly recommend doing the dorms, at least for a year.
posted by chrisamiller at 8:23 PM on June 4, 2007

I'm just going to n-th going to university, and taking a semester/year abroad. University is completely, totally, wholly different from high school (in a far, far, far better way). And going abroad (twice) was the best thing I've ever done.

Besides, you can always stop after the first year if you don't like it as much as you expect.

I lived in a dorm while abroad - I am not a big person on cooking, but I do like privacy (and am not anti-social). This usually worked out well in dorms - there is a wide range of personalities, and this seemed to be "middle" of the range. Highly recommend living in a dorm for a year or so.
posted by olya at 8:33 PM on June 4, 2007

Just to note: going abroad to study. I went to Netherlands, and to Australia. Europe gives you more option to travel, and meet people from a more diverse variety of backgrounds. Australia had more U.S./Canada/U.K./Australia people.
posted by olya at 8:34 PM on June 4, 2007

I had some of the same feelings, although not as strong. One thing to keep in mind is there's nothing to stop you from stopping out or dropping out, depending on your university's policies. I fully intend to take a year or two off at some point. There are plenty of things you can do without college, but honestly, you have such a wide range of things (academic and otherwise) open to you that you would otherwise never have known about, its completely worth it to at least try it.

Also, if you go and don't like it, don't consider the money wasted - you still were getting that education.

Re living, most campuses have vegetarian food. If there are living co-ops on campus, you might want to look into the possibility of eating there instead of dining halls. It varies campus to campus, though. Dorms are usually cheaper for housing but more expensive for food, at least in my experience. Your university also may subsidize apt housing.
posted by devilsbrigade at 8:55 PM on June 4, 2007

I would/will be going to Arizona State University.

ASU is a fine school, but it ain't Michigan or UNC. It seems to have a real mixed bag of students, and is huge with a capital hugh. But, the mixed bag of students surely includes some who are ill-prepared for college and who need more hand-holding, so you might find more highschoolish bureaucracy than you might like.

The practical upshot is that if you can place out of an introductory course, especially intro composition, do so. Avoiding the parts of ASU that are intended to assist poorly-prepared students will help you feel like you're in a university and not repeating high school.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 9:48 PM on June 4, 2007

You have choices. You don't have to do anything in particular just yet, unless you're my son, in which case, you're going to uni next year so you can get some damn qualifications to fall back on. But I assume you're not my son, so here's some of my experiences that may or may not help. The first time I went to uni, I had no idea what I wanted to do and I changed courses twice in the first semester, as well as learning a hell of a lot about how much alcohol a body can tolerate and how much fun sex is. This is not a good reason to go to uni. So I dropped out.

I took unskilled jobs until I developed skills but didn't always make the wisest choices, and dropped a public service career where I coulda been somebody. We don't need to talk about early parenthood, do we? Because that made some career choices for me too, you gotta feed those mouths.

Anyway, about 20 years later, I'm going back to uni and I"m doing it my way. I've won an award for overachieving and I'm mostly loving the courses I do. My life experience (and work experience) really help me in understanding and getting the most out of the course.

However! In the middle of those 20 years I operated a business with my husband, and the most valuable information I had did not come from books or experience but from yet another uni course that I dropped out of - I did about half a degree - in accounting. If you want to operate a business, do your learning first, and if you can do it on someone else's dollar by apprenticing yourself to them (shopkeeper's offsider), then go for it, but the formal learning can be really important.

So, sometimes people are asked, if you were not afraid, if there was no money worries, what would you choose to do? Cartoon manga? Sailing? Sell flowers on the side of the road? Any ideas? Think about it, and then work out a plan to do it. If you don't have any ideas, why not educate yourself in the meantime. Uni isn't everything, but if you've got a chance to go and the only thing holding you back is fear, I'd say go anyway.

And regarding the fear, don't pay so much attention to how you feel. It's how you feel. Do it anyway. How hard can it be? Billions of college kids ahead of you have managed it (and very few of those honour students). Try one thing (maybe a dorm) and if it doesn't work out, get an apartment.

the final thing i have to say to you, is work out a way to pay your own way. Then you make whatever decisions you like.
posted by b33j at 9:51 PM on June 4, 2007

Throw in another vote for using the scholarship, going to university, traveling in the summer and/or studying abroad. Study and/or internships abroad will open doors for you if you want to live abroad after graduation.

But let me be clear about something: Networking and access to traditional jobs are not benefits of a college education. Networking is a benefit of going to college, and access to traditional jobs is a benefit of getting a college diploma. But I've seen plenty of people do both of these things without getting a speck more educated than they had to.

This is a pity, because the actual benefit of a college education, namely being educated, is an order of magnitude more worthwhile than either of those other things. Getting an education puts you in a bigger, freer, more accessible, more wondrous world. And I'd say you have better-than-average chances of getting an education while you're going to school.

For one thing, your scholarship frees up the energy that you would otherwise spend on making ends meet. For another, if you can already cook, another source of mental and physical sucking bites the dust. For another, I'd bet you did some things in High School to get that scholarship—like take AP or IB courses—that will let you bypass some perfunctory big lecture classes. Those classes tend to be a losing proposition: Everybody takes them, so everybody teaches them, and so the course structure is the sum of all of their mediocrities, and it's a question of luck whether your particular prof will be one of the really good ones. And lots of not-quite-with-it freshmen take them, so there are a lot of annoying things (mandatory attendance, extra-frequent homework) to keep those people on their toes who don't know how to study a thing unto mastery by themselves.

Go to college, avoid insofar as you can the stuff that is being done by ten thousand grunts who are just in it for the diploma, select a wide variety of courses in both the sciences and the humanities, and find out who the geniuses on faculty are and take whatever course they offer. Sink your teeth in, and avoid guidance counselors as much as possible. This is the way to get an education.

Travel will also educate you. But the two of them together will be more effective than either alone.

Good luck, and have fun.
posted by eritain at 9:53 PM on June 4, 2007

If somebody is going to pay for your education, take it. I'm still paying mine off, but college was the best. I had fun, met lots of people, and learned Japanese. After graduation I'm living in Japan. I never had a chance to study abroad, but now I'm living abroad and making money which is even better. Travel during summer vacation but definitely go to school.
posted by m3thod4 at 10:34 PM on June 4, 2007

Much good advice above. Don't think that there is one right thing to do here and that if you make the wrong decision your life is shit. You are young, life is long and will be full of good things. I won't advise you directly but here are some things to consider:

1. You might be able to delay your admission for a year and keep your scholarship. Call and find out.

2. College can include travel. My son spent a summer in India, a summer in England, and a school year in France as part of his degree.

3. If you take time off to travel that is cool. But as someone said above, if you end up with an apartment, car payments, a wife (!), it will be harder to go back.

4. A diploma is an enormously important credential for a thousand and one things. You need a diploma, eventually. There are some very bright people here at Metafilter who have done fabulous things without a diploma and are eager to tell you as much. They are outliers. Get the diploma.

5. But don't think that college is merely a diploma. If you choose your major and classes well it is a wonderful intellectual adventure. A bright person who has been subjected to high school can become jaded and sceptical as to the value of education. Don't be. It will make you a better person and enrich the rest of your life.
posted by LarryC at 10:43 PM on June 4, 2007

I also have some uncertainties, should I choose university: should I get a dorm or an apartment? Which is cheaper? I can cook, and I prefer too, because of my diet (vegetarian). I also am not anti-social, but I like privacy.

Cooking in a dorm kitchen sucks if you like privacy for cooking/eating/cleaning. It'll probably be in the same area as the lounge, so there are people coming and going fairly frequently (and, of course, possibly also wanting to use the kitchen). If you want to eat alone, you have to carry your hot food back to your room. (Of course, I don't know if this is something that's important to you. It's just that if I'm trying to cook, I like to do it in peace and be able to sing under my breath and stuff.)

And you might have problems if you don't get your own fridge.

Dorms aren't too bad with regards to privacy if you can get a single room. The noise level can be either decently low, or horrendously bad. I'm working from a small data set (two different dorms) but I submit that an all-women building or wing is much quieter than a coed one, and one with the room entrances on the inside is similarly quieter.

So, whether a dorm or appartment is better will depend on the specific choices available.
posted by Many bubbles at 11:00 PM on June 4, 2007

Go to school on the scholarship if you can stand it. If you're sick enough of school that you'll use your new freedom to blow off the classes or the work or just so that it will be overwhelming to you--it was to me, but because of other life experiences and illness in the family followed by illness in myself rather than a dislike of school, and it's taken me ten years to go back--on my dime, not theirs.

Overall, I'd recommend going to school while someone else will pay your way if you're going to really do it and if you have a good general idea what it is you want to learn (or what it is you want to do in the long term).
posted by Cricket at 11:01 PM on June 4, 2007

The most valuable asset you possess right now is youth. Don't waste it. You can always go back to uni.
posted by happyturtle at 11:27 PM on June 4, 2007

Hi there - welcome to AskMe!

I don't want to be tied down with school again. It feels so great to be done with high school—a great sense of freedom I have.

If you'll permit me, I'm going to quote my answer to a previous question kind of like yours here:

I just finished four years at UC Santa Cruz last year and it's a bit of challenge to summarize my whole experience into an AskMe post, but let me say this: the image of college I had in high school was radically, radically different from the reality, and even though I've got federal student loans to pay off at [a relative pittance] a month for the rest of my life, I'm glad I went.

Here are some things I did in college where the presence of the college's resources/assistance (note: not the same as "classes") was invaluable:

- came out of the closet
- wrote for an awesome satirical newspaper
- sea kayaked in Monterey Bay, hiked in Big Sur, went clubbing in San Francisco, etc.
- taught high-school geography and social studies in Ghana for a summer and got the school to pay for the whole experience by writing a grant asking for them to fund it as an "independent study" for my politics major/education minor
- experimented with not shaving for a month, vegetarianism, fasting, assorted controlled substances
- took advantage of the very generous vacation time to visit Istanbul for Spring Break, see Yosemite over Christmas and New Year's, and take summer classes at other UCs in subjects I couldn't take at UC Santa Cruz for a much-reduced fee
- organized a class taught entirely by other students about international affairs and created a giant simulated United Nations committee to debate what we'd learned about
- got free copies of the New York Times, which fed my crossword addiction and gave me a reason to enjoy a civilized, leisurely breakfast every day for the first time since starting middle school, which made me a much more mellow, reasoned, and relaxed person during those early classes


I think the key thing for you to remember is that college isn't about the degree, but about you having the freedom to feel out what you want to experience/learn/do.

So then: if you're "meh" about college now, go anyway and build a niche for yourself - there's a whole architecture of personal freedom built into most universities if you're willing to find it, and if there's one thing the university-powers-that-be like, it's independent, mature, motivated, and ambitious students who are looking for help for their next project. You'll have a great time.

So to me, college didn't tie me down - it liberated me. It was the single best experience of my entire life (and I've kind of done a lot of cool stuff for a 24-year-old!). :)

Some other things to consider:

1. As stated above, college is not all about classes and academia; that said, I had some awesome, awesome classes, even in my first year, because I took the time to read the class catalog and see where they were held. I only chose classes that were in smaller classrooms. I also chose less obvious, more esoteric subjects to fill my requirements; if I could take Politics 1 (300 students) or Politics 97 (18 students!) and get the same credit, why would I suffer the annoyance of being in a class the size of a small town? Same price, better experience. Things only got better when I advanced through my major (politics) and was able to specialize more.

2. It's cheaper to go now than it would be otherwise. Not going to college would probably be more expensive, even if you were just paying rent and food alone, forget about anything else. Your family will be more tolerant of an occasional request for money; you'll be living in a student-budget-friendly place (I imagine); society's demand on everyone else to earn, earn, and then earn some more is a little easier on students.

3. College, like it or not, is the gateway to success in almost every other field, if only because it proves that you can deal with the stresses and joys of the place and come out the better for it. Society has set the bar for credibility as college for better or for worse, and it's more difficult to get in the door in whatever subject you're considering without it. If you try to secure start-up capital for a business, you'll look a lot more credible, I think, if you have something tangible, like a college education, to make investors comfortable (I'm guessing here).

4. It's really, really fun. I lived on campus for all four years (which was marginally more expensive but totally worth the piece of mind of being able to trust your landlord - the university! - and the convenience of getting to class/events), and it was like living in a really funky, really cool medium-sized town, where everyone from the chancellor to the people who clean the dorms are happy to take a little extra time to help you out, ask you what's going on, and really reach out and connect with you. The relationships I developed with the people I lived and went to class with - students, faculty, staff - made life, on balance, truly joyful.

You've earned an amazing gift in the form of your scholarship. That, my friend, is the universe telling you that it's your time to go. Your friends you want to travel with? They'll be there. Europe? It'll be there. You don't know what you want to do? College will help you decide.

Go! (And feel free to e-mail - it's in my profile!)
posted by mdonley at 2:08 AM on June 5, 2007

Take a year off. I did, after secondary school, and it was one of the best decisions I've ever made.

I was totally burnt out after high school (and dealing with anxiety & depression) and I knew going back in immediately would have killed me. I took the year off and did all sorts of random stuff - travelled, did workshops, learnt dancing, all sorts.

I only really got into university because my parents were adamant that I get a degree (I didn't really care either way). Oddly enough, almost all the opportunities presented to me at the time took place outside of uni. I actually had to pass up on a very good job offer (with a human rights organization) because I was still in uni: they wanted someone full-time, but they couldn't care less what sort of degree you had. How did I get the job offer? by speaking up at a conference. How did I hear about the conference? Through a youth program I joined during my year off.

One and a half years of uni later, I travelled for a semester on a study abroad program. BEST TIME OF MY LIFE. I learnt so much about myself and others, and realized that the degree I was doing was not the best fit. I didn't go back to uni. Instead, I worked for a few months in an industry I used to like (and which my original degree was for) - and knew for sure that this wasn't what I wanted to do anymore.

Currently I'm back at uni - a different one, in a different country, doing a different course. I'm mainly here because my other option (to get my dream job at said study abroad program) didn't work out, and honestly I wouldn't have chosen uni as my first option. Time and time again, all my opportunities have come about OUTSIDE school: school didn't really give me much in that regard. It was good to get out of the country though, as there are more opportunities here anyway, and the uni is pretty good (not like my first one!!).

Re: scholarships - there are always scholarships available. You're lucky you're in the US because there's a bazillion for all sorts of people. I was at wits end trying to find some I qualified for - hardly any in Malaysia (where I'm from) or Australia (where I'm in). It took me until THIS semester, my SECOND year of university overall, to be on a scholarship.

If you have the option to defer and retain scholarships, TAKE IT. You don't have to rush to university. It's not going to run away. I've seen too many people rush into university thinking they have to do this or follow this course - and then be totally unhappy because it's not what they wanted at all. What would likely happen is that the year (or so) you take off gives you a chance to know more about yourself - and you may end up changing your mind about which uni you go to. A better chance may pop up. But you'll never know unless you try.

Good luck!
posted by divabat at 2:23 AM on June 5, 2007

Also: to just go against the grain here, you don't always need a college degree to succeed. When I was working, I was earning more than a typical college GRADUATE in a similar position - and I haven't even finished first year yet. My dream job didn't care for degrees either - they valued determination and experience more.

It's not a question of whether you have a degree or not. Ultimately what matters is what you do with your life.
posted by divabat at 2:26 AM on June 5, 2007

Teaching English in Asia is a viable option. One can acquire certain long-term visas without a college diploma in some countries. Contact details are in my profile if you're interested in China.
posted by trinarian at 2:59 AM on June 5, 2007

Just to echo the majority opinion here:

I don't know anybody who regretted taking a year off before going to college.

I don't know anybody who regretted NOT taking a year off, and going straight to college from high school.

I don't know anybody who regretted going to college and studying abroad for a semester or two.

I don't know anybody who regretted going to college and NOT studying abroad.

I DO know people who never went to college at all, and now regret it.

I don't want to paint college as some kind of magical Happy Land where nothing goes wrong. In college (as everywhere else in life) there will be times where you will be lonely or stressed or otherwise miserable. But, on the balance, for most people, it turns out to be a hell of a fun and worthwhile 4 years.

So I encourage you to choose to go to college (now or, if your scholarship permits, next year). But always remember that it was your choice; that knowledge will give you a lot of power. Once your there, screw what your parents or anybody else expects of you. Choose the courses you think will be most interesting or useful, and be relentless about dropping them if the professors turn out to be boring or dumb. Do the extracurriculars that you want to do. Hang on to that sense of freedom you now have, and use it to exploit all the resources that a college campus offers you.

If, after a year, you find that it's just not where you want to be, you can drop out. But if you skip college and, 10 years later realize it was mistake, you can never again have the experience of being 19 years old and in college.
posted by yankeefog at 4:32 AM on June 5, 2007


When I was 18-19 I quit college to, ahem, dry out. My father kept telling me to go back, and when I moved to another part of the country and started working, to at least take a part-time, night-school load. Which I did.

It was one of the few pieces of good advice he had given me to that point.

The next year I went to back full time, to a different, better college though I was pretty lukewarm on the whole idea, I was making good money with better money on the horizon. Going back was the smartest thing I could have done.

I met people I did not think I would meet and who helped me in ways I did not know I needed help.

Worth it's weight in gold.
posted by From Bklyn at 4:37 AM on June 5, 2007

I went to college right out of high school and dropped out because of money (I blew my scholarship while still in high school by getting a C in AP Macroeconomics, for anyone who cares). I was among the few with a 4.0 there and I loved it. Many were miserable and only stayed because someone else was paying, or because they had no interest in actually getting jobs. I would suggest giving it a try, you don't have to go back the second semester. Heck, you don't even have to stay past the first week, but I feel like even flunking the whole semester is a more honest try than bailing early.

I don't agree that college is right or best for every single high school graduate with good grades. But it does teach you different ways to think - if you are open to learning. A lot of kids continue the modus operandi of high school, which was figure out what the teacher wants and scribble it out. A lot of colleges have more leeway for experimental thinking. Also, nearly everyone has access to the world of jobs, but still so few in America have access to college. I won't dig out the exact numbers, but somewhere around 30% of Americans - these numbers vary hugely within each demographic - hold a BA or BS.

If you don't go now, please, defer and travel in Europe. You may be able apply for scholarships to Europe while on your deferment year (some deferments are more like contracts and you don't want to get in trouble, check with admissions). If you win a scholarship across the pond you can then politely apologize to the state school.
posted by bilabial at 5:18 AM on June 5, 2007

You are in an enviable position: you have nearly total freedom to enjoy your university degree. With a scholarship on one hand and your language skills and confidence on the other you have the freedom to really explore what university has to offer. There is a lot more to learn about than what high school had to offer, and some of it can be really fun and exciting.

You have the confidence that you can make a business work without university. So, take university as a place to become really well rounded, to give you the background that will help you interact with lots of different people and get a perspective that extends into history and around the world. Don't focus on business and economics: take anthropology, world history, political science, some weird English course on the origins of race in literature. Take a German lit course and some other languages. Take social geography. If you business ideas are more tech/science oriented, explore some maths, physics, biology, computer science.

Take university as a time to become broadly familiar with all kinds of perspectives. Many of us don't do this because we are concerned with preparing for a career. However, in my experience sometimes seemingly obscure or uninteresting subjects provide a wealth of useful and exciting information. And anything that has to do with people has the potential to help you in business; giving you a general topic of interest that you can engage people with and/or providing information/perspective on potential or changing markets.

People often claim that university is not the "real" world. But its unreal-ness has an advantage: classes are like windows into the world. You can use university to explore what parts of the world you are most interested in experiencing first hand. If you go now, you'll be in your early 20s (21?) when you finish. That's still a lot of time to travel, to start several businesses, to learn 25 languages as a hobby. If you can get at all excited about what university has to offer, then you should definitely go, and have fun.
posted by carmen at 8:14 AM on June 5, 2007

I won't repeat what's been said before. However two things that I'd recommend you consider:

1) Talk to the school that's offering you the scholarship to see if you can defer enrollment for a year and hold on to it. Given the cost of student loan interest, this can make a major difference in terms of how much freedom you have to travel/do what you like with your life post graduation. I went to grad school on almost a full scholarship and I can't begin to tell you how much freedom it's given me in the time since then - not having to put a huge % of my monthly income into paying back loans means that my priority

2) Travel is a great educator, but have you considered other regions? The Euro is incredibly strong right now against the dollar. There are other regions like Latin America or Asia, where your dollar is going to last a lot longer in terms of being able to travel. Plus if you have a knack for languages, you can pick up a new skill that would do you well in school and the job market. And in all honesty (I'm a former Peace Corps volunteer), I think you'd learn a lot more travelling a little off the beaten path and not just being in the standard hostel/tourist route. Again with picking up some new language skills, this could mean experiences that would help you get perspective on what you want to do with your life and your long-term educational goals.

Good luck to you!
posted by gov_moonbeam at 9:20 AM on June 5, 2007

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