Realizing you are unhappy is not fun, but admitting that you are unhappy is different. Telling someone, or even yourself, that things aren’t going so great, well, that takes a trillion pounds off of your shoulders. It puts everything into perspective and allows you to work towards finding a solution.

This is what I found out when I called my mom one spring evening and calmly explained to her that there was no way I could stay at my university because I was so unhappy there. “Borderline miserable,” is how I think I described it. At that point, it was too late for me to apply as a transfer for the upcoming school year, so I thought I would just stick it out for another semester and then start as a winter transfer. However, as I started to research schools and the transfer process, I found out that hardly any financial aid is ever available to mid-year transfers. That just wasn’t going to work, but I also couldn’t stomach the thought of spending my entire sophomore year at the same school either. So, I looked for another option and found the perfect one: a gap year.

At the time, it didn’t really feel like I had any other choice but to take a gap year. It was the perfect escape. I could get out of my university, have a whole year to apply to whatever colleges I wanted, and (hopefully) get enough financial aid to go. My parents were surprised, but trust my judgment, and so the withdrawal forms were sent it.

I don’t like my original reasons for deciding to take the gap year. It was something that I more or less wanted to do, but it also felt like my only option. It wasn’t fully a personal choice. It was circumstantial and motivated by my sadness. But now, after telling all my friends, having a summer away from school, and officially starting my gap year (in my very own apartment in a brand new city, I might add), the reasons for my choice have changed, if that makes any sense. I am now choosing to take a year off because it’s what is truly best for me, all parts of me. Happy me, sad me, academic me, adventurous me.

I don’t know what I want to study in school. All of the classes I took freshman year didn’t help me narrow anything down. Everything is so interesting. I want to major in Environmental studies, English, Film, Psychology, Studio Art, Art History, Computer Science, even French, and I’ve never spoken a lick of the language in my life. You name it, I’m fascinated by it. I’m not ready to start my sophomore year and have to declare what I want to major in. I need time away from formal academics to try and hopefully decide what I actually want to spend my time studying. I don’t want to rush into things just because the world says I have to do things on and within a certain timeline.

Speaking of timelines, there is no reason why anyone has to finish college in four consecutive years. I spent thirteen out of eighteen years in school. It is totally time for a break. This is the time to do something super cool and adventurous without having to worry about, well, pretty much anything. 365 days away from textbooks and homework sounds like breath of fresh air that I am more than ready to inhale.

Gap years are a form of education themselves. Sure, I’m not going to learn any differential equations this year, but I am going to learn how to live on my own. I’m going to have the opportunity to figure out who I am outside of the social pressures of school. I think that a lot of what contributed to my unhappiness the first time around was that I was unprepared for the social aspect of college. I had friends, I did fun stuff, but I did not have a strong enough grasp of who I was to make the choices that were most healthy for me. I’m eighteen. I was seventeen when I started university. I thought that I was going to go away to school and “find myself” or whatever, but I couldn’t do that when 1800 other kids were just as wildly confused as me. It wasn’t the right environment for me to grow in. I needed more of my own sun.

And now I’ve found that. The sun shines surprisingly bright in Detroit, my home for the next ten months, and there is more than enough for everyone here. Deciding to take a gap year is one of the best decisions I have ever made. I’m only a couple of weeks into it, but already I’m beginning to feel more comfortable with my own needs and wants. It’s kind of weird to think about being a year “behind” all the people I graduated high school with, but lord knows I don’t miss the dining hall food. I started out deciding to take a gap year because I felt stuck, but it’s turning out to be so much more than that- it’s food for my soul.

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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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