Taking a year off from college
October 4, 2005 8:27 AM   Subscribe

I'm withdrawing from college. I plan to go back next semester. What kinds of things can or should I be doing in the year in between?

I'm only about a month into my freshman year at a big state school, and I'm dropping out. I know it seems early and impulsive, but I've given it a lot of thought, and anyway, I filled out all the forms yesterday.

It isn't money or grades or emotional trouble, per se -- although those all factor in to my decision. Sometimes I feel like I should be attending a smaller, more "elite" (or at least more kooky) liberal arts-type school, but after some thought I feel more like I just don't want to be in school at all right now. All my classes still feel like an extension of high school, in that I have absolutely no motivation to do work or attend classes. I like the classes, they're interesting, I just don't want to be doing schoolwork for the 13th consecutive year.

I wanted to take a year off after high school for a long time, but I suppose I got pressured out of it once the "get all our kids into college" machine at my high school started gearing up around junior year sometime. Not that there's anything wrong with that, but I've tried college, and I can already tell it's not for me -- right now.

I plan on applying to a non-state-U school for Fall 2006. I'm working on my applications now, but that still gives me a year in between. Right now my obvious plan is to find a job, but it's not absolutely necessary. I feel like I have all the time in the world. What things could or should I spend (or waste) it on?
posted by reese to Education (24 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Live abroad for a year. Find a way to make it work financially, whether by working or with loans. You'll never regret it.
posted by elquien at 8:32 AM on October 4, 2005

In the time off, find the most difficult, uncomfortable, lowest-paying menial job possible. Take it, with the worst hours available. Drink an awful lot after you finish said job each day.

Based on personal experience, when you return to college you will appreciate it far more, and it will feel like a vacation when compared to the terrible job. Your grades will undoubtedly approve. (I went from a 1.96 prior to 'dropping out' to a 3.83 since going back.)
posted by kuperman at 8:35 AM on October 4, 2005

Travel. Now, in the winter. If you fly and stay cheap, you can cover a lot of ground for little money. And you'll meet people with whom you can stay.

And a three-week vacation in Europe will grow you as a person much more than three months on X-Box.
posted by Methylviolet at 8:36 AM on October 4, 2005

I made the same decision, and I'm very happy about it. I just didn't want to be in school right away, so I took a few years off. I traveled, I worked odd jobs, I experimented, dabbled, and played with various lifestyles and eventually returned to school when I knew I was serious about it.

My reccomendation is to get a job and follow whatever non school related ambitions you might harber.

The option of going to school will always be there, so go out and do what you want to do until you want to go to school. If you're anything like me, you'll end up much happier with your decision.

So, to recap:
  1. Work
  2. Travel
  3. Experiment
  4. Dabble
  5. Play

posted by nitsuj at 8:37 AM on October 4, 2005

You know all those 'X seems like it might be quite fun', 'I've always fancied trying Y', 'I wonder what Z is like?' thoughts? This is the year to pursue them.

Always thought you'd like to be in a band? Start learning an instrument, grab some friends and do it. Always meant to improve your language/carpentry/knitting skills? Take a course or immerse yourself in an environment where you can learn. Always wanted to volunteer? Walk down to your charity of choice right this second and fill out an application form.

This is the year to take chances, say 'yes' to things where there is a high probability of failure, try things you think you might possibly be into.

Good luck - it should be an awesome year.
posted by pollystark at 8:42 AM on October 4, 2005

I can say from personal expierience that nothing is more motivating for going to school than working at an entry level job and trying to make ends meet. It was very VERY helpful for me to see that that wasn't a real-life option (for me).
Travel would be good, or take the time to explore interests outside of school-hobbies, whatever. If you plan on going back to school, it would be good to have an idea about what makes you happy, what kind of person you really are, how hard you're willing to work for something that you want. What has made college a sucess for me is have a clear life plan and going after it full-force (and it only took eight years!). I never felt like the school work was worth doing until I had a big picture to work towards.
posted by slimslowslider at 8:43 AM on October 4, 2005

No, I take it back.

What kuperman said.
posted by Methylviolet at 8:43 AM on October 4, 2005

i spent 9 months working for a relief agency in Afghanistan the year after high school. i've never regretted it.

having done the "tourist" thing, i would recommend going abroad, but not to just "bum around." find something productive to do with your time. and while europe is great (for an american almost-20 year old) the fact of the matter is that in western europe, sure you'll be immersed in history, but your lifestyle won't probably be challenged much.

while i'd never recommend someone else go to afghanistan, what i would suggest is that you find a place to stay and work that will challenge you. a lot. see if you can work in the peace corps or some other low-paying but room/board provided agency. it will force you to encounter what honestly is "life" for the vast majority of the people in this world, and you'll come out a) educated more than college will ever provide and b) empathetic and understanding of the things going on in the world.

all this aside, i've taken the last 3 spring semesters off from my own college education to work or travel. i've always been one to make money when i need it, which has allowed me to do such things, and even though it's taken me 2 years longer to finish school than many of my friends, i wouldn't exchange that time for anything.

feel free to contact me if you have any other questions.

best of luck.

posted by quadrinary at 8:46 AM on October 4, 2005

reese, your freshmen year is going to be full of your core curriculum wherever you go. If you stick out the first semester and get those initial credits down and then transfer, you can start into the "kooky" liberal arts classes quicker once you get to the new school. Just a thought.

If you are dead set on leaving now (before you pass the deadline for getting your money back on this year), I suggest you work or travel. Try and get some of the real world under your belt, but don't get yourself too bogged down in a job, relationship, town or situation or you will find it hard to go back.
posted by Pollomacho at 8:48 AM on October 4, 2005

I third kuperman's thoughts, I did the same thing (construction in the hot sun after dropping out). At the time I said my problem was financial; I now know I was similarily disenchanted (and just needed to learn the fine points of finaid). I came back feeling like I was on vacation for the next 3 years.

I read this great report about our generation (subtitled: Life-shopping, YEPPIES, Peter-Pan Syndrome, The New Collectivism and the Quarter-life crisis), it casts no judgement per se, but explained some of my feelings and observations.

A lot of people say "travel!" but I don't know how they afford it (well, I do... they don't pay for it) at that age, if not working abroad. Personally, I would save travel for studying-abroad when you can get some cheap student loans to help =)
posted by jacobjacobs at 8:56 AM on October 4, 2005

I took a year off of school and got some things done that I wouldn't have been able to otherwise. It was great.

Definitely travel, find a new hobby, start figuring out what you want to do with your life before the guidance counselors have their way with you. Be temporary and fleeting, it's your last chance.

I just wish I would've taken a few gen eds at a cheap community college while I was tooling about.
posted by idiotfactory at 8:58 AM on October 4, 2005

Everyone feels that way their first month at college. A large state university is a very different climate from HS, or from a small liberal arts school, in that you have to make your own community. That is, you have to figure out what you are interested in, and find the group of other students and professors who are doing that. The advantage is that if it's a large school, there probably is someone doing whatever you're interested in, whereas in a smaller school you've got a built-in cohort, but not necessarily the samerange of possibilities.

You have to get a job now. If you do, you will quickly find out whether or not school is for you at this point in your life. On the other hand, if you do something like going on a vacation, or living with your parents and hanging out all day, you'll just be putting off making a tough decision about how to procede with your life.
posted by Hildago at 9:03 AM on October 4, 2005

Here's what I did: Shelter Institute
posted by slow, man at 9:06 AM on October 4, 2005

Hildago is sooooo right. Use this time to be proactive, work and make those tough decisions. A semester long vacation could be fun, but it is not what you need right now. You need to figure out what to do with yourself. Good luck :-D
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 9:06 AM on October 4, 2005 [1 favorite]

I took a year off after my sophomore year of college, moved back to my parents' house, and worked full-time as an assistant manager at a Blockbuster video store. I never regretted doing it, but I never questioned the advantages of a college education after that, and I was happy to go back to school.

As far as the big state universities... I went to a 26k student state university - big mistake for me. I have always wished I had chosen/transferred somewhere smaller.
posted by amro at 9:12 AM on October 4, 2005

For the record, Pollomacho is wrong; not all schools require basic intro courses. I went to Grinnell, one of those kooky liberal places, and there weren't distribution requirements at all. I'm pretty sure Bard is the same way, and Hampshire, and lots of other places.
posted by miss tea at 9:51 AM on October 4, 2005

What is a gap year? It used to be a rich-kid thing, but now it's much more common, *and* more likely to involve full-time work or volunteering. Google gap year for all kinds of resources.
posted by whatnot at 10:09 AM on October 4, 2005

Do something Meaningful. It'll never be easier than when you're unencumbered and I can't imagine how anyone could do something to make the world more the place they want it to be and feel bad about it. Be a regular volunteer with Habitat for Humanity or the local charity that really gets you riled up. Idealist.org can connect you with someplace.

The fact that it would be a nice resume item and help convince colleges that your year off was well spent is just a pleasant side effect.
posted by phearlez at 10:35 AM on October 4, 2005

I strongly advise you to experiment with psychedellic drugs during this free time. I don't know what's available in your area, but mushrooms and / or LSD might be options. Talk with your dealer.
posted by Meatbomb at 2:39 PM on October 4, 2005

If you have the option to take a leave of absence, or to defer enrollment for a year, rather than just withdraw, take it (most schools offer this, talk to the registrar). A year down the road, you may very well be attending a different college, or no college at all... but on the remote chance that you do want to be back in State-U next year, it's much easier to keep the door open now than it is to re-open it later.

I went this route as a sophmore. Like you, extended travel didn't seem like an option to me financially, so I went to work.

As for what to do with your time, I'd strongly encourage you to get out and do something that you've never done before (which might include getting a job and apartment, and paying your rent on time). Don't just slack at your parents' house.

Your liberal-arts applications will look much better when you tell them at your interview what you've been up to as you try to make the best of your bad decision to go to State-U.

Travel for cheap is certainly possible, and frequently volunteer organizations (and/or churches, if that's your persuasion) can hook you up with room & board somewhere. I almost ended up working for an orphanage in Honduras -- I still sometimes regret not doing it.

It's not the rich-kid with a backpack and a Eurorail pass trip... but do you really want to spend thousands of bucks just so you can get baked with some Swedes in an Amsterdam cafe, three days after getting drunk in Munich with some Australians?

If you have a high-school grasp on a foreign language, consider finding a way to live somewhere where the language is spoken. There is no better way to become fluent, it's much easier to do when you're young, and being bilingual is one of the most valuable things to have on a resume down the road (not to mention its value to you). Much more valuable than anything you can learn in your first year at a state school.

Learn to fix a car, if you don't know already. Your local community college will offer classes. Even if you end up paying a mechanic for everything beyond an oil change, you'll be glad that you know what's going on under there.

Consider Americorps, especially the NCCC program for young people. It's a safe bet that Americorps will be sending lots of people to the Gulf coast this year. Please don't consider the military -- nothing good comes from MeFites getting shot at.
posted by toxic at 6:13 PM on October 4, 2005

I withdrew in the spring, and then spent summer and next fall taking classes at local schools trying to get myself straightened out, and it didn't really help. In retrospect, the advice others are giving to travel seems very worthwhile. Do something challenging that will be good for your self esteem. And when you get back, you'll have a killer conversation topic usable with any female on campus.
posted by gsteff at 7:25 PM on October 4, 2005

Awsome stuff here reese. I agree with the "work for something worthwhile" school of advice.

Good luck using this oportunity to the fullest.
posted by recurve at 8:20 PM on October 4, 2005

miss tea - as a junior at Bard, I second your comment. We do have extraordinarily liberal distribution requirements, though: a student must take one class in each of eight fields. By the time I decided I wanted to be an anthro major, I had already done this without even thinking about it from an "it's required" viewpoint.
posted by thejoshu at 10:08 PM on October 4, 2005

You might get some ideas from the book Delaying the Real World.
posted by srah at 9:02 PM on October 5, 2005

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