I dropped out of college. More specifically, I stayed on campus for three days before deciding I had made a big mistake. I was over a thousand miles from home and I had no car, friends, family or money. Now that I think about it, I can say I panicked. I was scared and lonely and I didn't feel like I belonged in college. So, I left. Cowardly, yes, but also necessary.
Several of my friends felt like me during their first few months of college. No one liked it very much; the dorms offered little privacy, there were obnoxious roommates, and it was a total change in lifestyle. College, as it happens, comes with an incredible learning curve which you realize because while you may be academically ready for college, it may come at the expense of your social and emotional development. To be truthful, I don't think schools are to blame. I don't think anyone is, but someone should, at least, be honest about it.
In Europe, most teenagers take a year off before attending university, which gives them time to shake off the stench of formal education and get to know themselves. In America, taking a year off is almost a guarantee to continue putting off college for "another six months." But it doesn't have to be that way.
Many college students do not graduate after four years. Some take four and half, some five, some even six. Sure, in some cases it is a case of failing classes, but others choose to stretch out their college years. If I had to guess, I'd say their college experience is much less stressful than others'.
You really shouldn't feel pressured to go to college immediately after high school. If you have strong reservations about entering college less than three months after graduating high school, then assess them. And if you know (and you will, because you will feel nauseated when anyone asks you where you're going to school) that college isn't immediately the best solution, take a year off.
Now for the lecture. Don't just say you'll go next year and forget about it. Unless you are working out a music deal, selling your paintings for thousands of dollars, being recruited for a major league sports team or are just plain never going to college, then you need to apply now for early admission for the school year you plan to attend. That's right, choose a school, apply, get everything out of the way while you're cruising through your last year of high school. And don't automatically assume that 365 days is the exact amount of time you need to stay away from academia. Go ahead and apply for the spring semester if you think a year is too long.
But what should you do with your free time? That's right, since you aren't in school, you have free time. You can get ahead on tuition by paying for your enrollment. How? Get a job. In fact, having a job is almost like being in college, except you get paid and when you finally leave, you don't get a diploma. But that's not all you can do, take your time to train as a cyclist or learn a skill like woodworking or small-engine repair. It's your life and your time off, so do whatever you want. Just make sure you go back to school, unless you've become a professional cyclist or have your own woodworking show on PBS.
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.