Unlike so many others, I didn’t do what I considered normal. I did what worked best for me. Before graduating from high school in 2010, I knew I wanted a gap year. Many adults fear it because they think the person will never go back to school to get an education—and maybe they won’t—but that’s not anyone’s decision besides that person. The gap year is a personal choice, and you can find ways to make a living without getting a degree. Though rare, it happens; it’s another path of life.
I didn’t apply to any colleges in my junior or senior year and I took the SAT once. I never felt good enough for any of these colleges, even though in reality I was. I can’t tell you why I didn’t feel good enough, maybe it was just me, I don’t know.
After graduating, my mom forced me into bartending school. I thought it sounded fun, and at first it was. Eventually, memorizing all those drinks became a total chore. Not how I wanted to be spending my first summer out of school; I just wanted to breathe.
The summer passed and I was still without a college. You better believe my mom was freaking out. I was having fun and smiling, but she didn’t care about that. She cared about me getting an education, in what though? At only 18, how was I supposed to know who I’m supposed to be for the rest of my life when I was still figuring out who I was in that moment?
My parents forced me into Community College of Philadelphia. My dad’s the more lenient type, letting me explore and have my space. “Just try it,” he said. “You never know.”
I did. I tried it for a semester. The people in the office all seem the same; they don’t care about what you want. They only want to put you on the path towards an education. I just wanted to wade my feet in the water, try an eclectic taste of classes. I even took a night class. Needless to say, I didn’t really enjoy all of them. I went from a full-time first year to part-time in the spring. I partied more than I studied. By the time spring semester ended, I knew I wouldn’t return in the fall.
My gap year lasted a little long, considering I’m 24 now and went back to school almost year ago. Not to the same school—I’m at Penn State Abington now and I love it. In general, I love Penn State University.
During that time in between I met people, I worked, I traveled to Japan and I had fun. Out in the real world, your grades don’t matter. Putting yourself out there, proving your knowledge, that matters. People make a big deal out of everything, but if you relax and stop worrying, everything will work out for the best.
Readmitting myself into school never came easily. Getting back into the schedule was tough. I have a mentor though, my old manager. Learning about the struggles he faced coming up from a blue-collar family, seeing his salary, his work, his love for what he does, his whole journey—that’s success. His confidence is admirable, and his interview questions are unique. Plus, they gave me awesome stories to tell. His words got me through tough times, and yet he still denies it’s thanks to him. He told me, “You can do whatever you want to, I firmly believe that, but there are things that are not going to come naturally to you… If you really wanted to hone that, you have to really study something and eventually you’re going to be competent in that…So you can be whatever you want to be, but you have to break through those walls.”
I know who I am now and what I want. I just finished two years of college within a year and feel more than determined. My journey was never easy, and it never will be. I have a summer semester coming up next week, a packed fall and more job offers when I’m actually looking for something else, though I don’t know what it is yet.