"If you gotta grow up sometime, you gotta do it on your own," thank you for these words of wisdom, Belle & Sebastian. Image from Pexels.

“If you gotta grow up sometime, you gotta do it on your own,” thank you for these words of wisdom, Belle & Sebastian. Image from Pexels.

I have no grades to report. I don’t go to college.

That’s the just of the emails I’m currently sending out to all the schools I’ve applied to transfer to as an explanation for why I can’t submit the mid-term grade report form. It’s tough to get non-existent professors to fill out a form documenting your non-existent grades. All of the schools have been understanding thus far, but some have asked for a short explanation of what I’m doing with my gap year and why I decided to take a gap year in the first place. This is a question I’ve answered a lot in the past year, to curious friends, family, and the occasional stranger. I had a standard answer– “I just needed a break from school.” It’s not that that isn’t true, but being asked to put this down in writing has gotten me thinking. Now that I’m 2/3 of the way finished with this year (what would have been my sophomore year of college), I feel that I can think about it from a slightly different head-space, and I’m finding that the reason I decided not only to not return to Washington and Lee, but to not return to college period has evolved and become much clearer.

At risk of sounding melodramatic, I will admit that I was entirely miserable at Washington and Lee. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again– it was a torrentially bad fit. Completely incompatible. It sucked, but at the same time, a part of me is thankful that it was so dramatically the wrong place for me. Going into college, my head was not in a good place. I flat out wasn’t ready for the social pressures that come with going to college. I wasn’t grounded firmly in my sense of self. I was trying to define myself by externalities when the only way to really figure myself out was to look inward. I was setting myself up for failure. And because W&L was so drastically wrong for me, I crashed and burned in a major way. I wasn’t treating myself right, trying so hard to cram myself into the right boxes. I had wonderful friends who tried to take care of me, but I wasn’t in a place to return the favor. I was sad. So sad, that I had to admit that the way I was living wasn’t sustainable and wasn’t conducive to my growth or education.

I remember the day that I realized I couldn’t finish my education at W&L. It was a beautiful spring day and I had just finished a work study shift at the radio station. Walking back to my dorm, I ran into some friends lounging on the quad, and I sat with them for a while and felt absolutely disconnected. Everything was beautiful, it was a scenario that would have fit into any college movie, but I couldn’t stand it. I went up to my dorm room, sat on my bed, and calmly called my mother and told her that I could not return to this school. I had to transfer. It was as simple as that.

To say I needed a break from school isn’t not true. But it wasn’t because I was sick of the formal academic experience. It was because I had quite literally no idea what I wanted or needed. Even after I decided to take the year off, I still didn’t know– all I knew was that something was wrong, and I needed to figure out what would make it right before I dove back into the academic world. Call it a gut instinct. They always say you have to take care of yourself before you can take care of anyone else. I needed the time and space to figure out what taking care of myself meant so that I could find a place to finish my degree that would help me to meet those needs. I needed time to grow on my own terms so that I would be able to form healthy, symbiotic relationships with my peers.

Now, I’m doing a lot better. Living on my own in Detroit, far away from my family, has forced me to take care of myself. It took me a couple of months to really figure out what I need to be a real, functioning person, but I’ve gotten there. I understand my needs. I have strong, healthy friendships with people who challenge me to be better. They take care of me when I need it, and I’m able to return the favor. And perhaps most importantly, I’ve become really good friends with myself.

I don’t know exactly what I’m going to say when I reply to the emails from the colleges. I do know that this gap year has been the one of the most necessary things in my life. Maybe I’ll just tell them that.

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the author

Kathleen is a Northern California native and incoming freshman at Washington & Lee University. She spends much of her free time obsessing over the future (not in a crystal ball way) and making plans to visit as many countries as humanly possible throughout her four years of college. She loves her dog Morton, Grey's Anatomy, and money. One day she hopes to become the perfect mix of Cristina Yang, Mindy Kaling, April Kepner, and Amy Poehler. Until then you can find her crying over how exciting life is and retaking the Myer's Briggs Test to make sure she really is ENTJ.

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