Last summer, I dropped my son at the airport for a flight to Anchorage, Alaska to embark upon a journey thousands of miles away. With a job lined up at a hotel in Denali National Park that included room and board, he began a year seeking an “alternative form of education.”
That is, he quit school.
If you paused your formal education this semester, you could be on a valuable odyssey. Spending time in the “real world” will teach you some lessons—and my son certainly had his highs and lows. Still, if you asked him if this experience was worth it, the answer would be an emphatic, “Yes!”
If you’re taking some time off now or thinking about doing so in the future, consider doing the following to gain some perspective on your experience.
Meet People With Different Backgrounds
During his time off, my son met all kinds of people. Some were in their mid-40s, stuck in “is this all there is?”-type jobs, due to their lack of a college degree. Others were permanent seasonal workers, trading low wages for a certain lifestyle. Then there was the guy who sat on his front porch, shotgun ready, in case some unfortunate soul accidently stepped on his property.
Ultimately, the world outside a college campus is full of people who didn’t finish college or even get the chance to go—try to talk to them about their experiences. Some people were very quick to tell my son that going back to school was a good idea. (This made a stronger impression coming from them than me, even if they weren’t holding a shotgun at the time.)
Consider Online Classes
When my son came back down to the “lower 48” last fall (to continue his education in knee-deep Colorado powder), I offered to help with his rent, if he agreed to take a few inexpensive online classes. Ultimately, the lack of face-to-face contact with his professor and fellow students made it hard for him to stay engaged. This motivated him to get back to an actual campus.
Still, taking a few classes during your time off offers a number of benefits. You can not only chip away at your degree, but you’re also able to learn on your own timetable, while possibly keeping the one-time, 6-month grace period for your student loans intact.
Deal With Adversity
While snowboarding in Colorado, my son broke his elbow riding a rail. (He was very glad this happened at the end of the season.) Since he was budgeting on his own, he was already painfully aware of the need for gainful employment. This injury showed him just how hard earning money can be when the unexpected trip to the ER happens.
With one arm in a sling, his job delivering sandwiches proved to be challenging; he could barely drive with one hand, let alone manage a GPS, ring a doorbell, and juggle change—especially with an armful of turkey subs and Diet Coke. Fortunately, necessity being the mother of invention, he found short-term employment videotaping his friends, riding the same rail that put him into a cast. (Go figure.)
Obviously, you can’t make the “unexpected” happen. But if you get a chance to face it during your time off, you’ll be better for whatever life throws at you—during school and after.
Have A Plan
If you are thinking about quitting school for a while, come up with a plan. Start with finding out how your school will handle your leave of absence. Then, talk to your parents. You don’t have to map out every minute of your time off, but if you leave everything to chance, your odyssey will not be all it could be.
Be sure to prepare for your return to the classroom, too. My son returned to school with a 4-week intensive program. Going from a part-time, online school to a fast-paced program was a total shock to his system. He managed to memorize 100 Latin plant names and everything else they tested him on, but it was clearly not easy to reintegrate as a full-time student.
With a little planning, this experience could be a life changing, alternative education. And it just may really stand out on your résumé someday.
Did you take a year off from college? What were some key things you learned that you couldn’t have been taught in a classroom?
(Photo: Nic McPhee)