What My Semester Off Taught Me

When I envisioned my college experience back in high school, I would have never guessed that I would wander down the crazy, convoluted path that I did. But here I am today with absolutely no regrets or shame when I reflect back on the course that lead me to where I am now. I didn’t follow the traditional path that I'd always assumed that I would, but it’s lead me to becoming the happiest that I’ve been in years.

After spending two years at the College of Charleston, I felt very lost and detached from myself. I really liked the school, my major, and my friends, but I always felt like there was something missing. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed with the pressure to pick the right college and find your niche right off the bat, but for most people, it’s a truly unrealistic feat. I always felt like I was the odd one out and that nobody else was feeling as confused as I was. 

These feelings of uncertainty spurred my decision to transfer schools, only to quickly realize that this wasn’t the right decision either. The feelings of unhappiness and discontentment followed me to my new environment and I found myself at a crossroad; should I stay and stick it out, or go home and finally face my problems head on? I ended up choosing the later, and soon after, my life changed for the better.

I’ll be honest, when I first started my semester off, I felt like I had failed. All of my friends were at their respective colleges, and I felt like I was ostracized on the sidelines. I needed to do some serious self-reflection to figure out why I wasn’t happy. I realized that for years, I had fallen victim to the competitiveness and comparison that is so often found in academia. All around me, I feel the pressure to have the perfect internship, work at the best job, join the most clubs, and be the most successful.

When I was at home, I essentially had none of that. But I finally started to realize that I am enough without all of those things. I am so much more than my grade point average or the bullet points on my resume. I started to wonder if all of the activities that I threw myself into at school were even things that I wanted to do, or merely a way to convince myself that I was worth something. 

So, what did I do to finally get into a better mindset? I started thinking of and doing more of the things that I truly enjoy, every single day. I started to take care of myself and my mental health. I started to open up to my family and friends about how I was feeling and I soon discovered that I wasn’t as alone as I thought I was. It turns out that a lot of my friends were in the same boat - feeling uncertain that they chose the right school, feeling overwhelmed with academic pressure, and struggling to find their place at their college. 

Ultimately, my semester off taught me more than I could ever learn in a classroom setting, as cliché as it may sound. Instead of measuring my success in the form of a grade at the end of the semester, I learned how to be the judge of my own personal fulfillment. I pinpointed all the things that truly interest and excite me about life and I’m not sure if I would have done that, had I not removed myself from school for a semester. 

If anyone else out there feels confused, lost, or uncertain, just know that it’s common and that it does get better. I’ve learned that it takes a few years to truly find your niche in college and really grow into yourself as a person. If your time hasn’t come yet, it will definitely come soon.

With my new, positive outlook on life, I’ve decided to return to the College of Charleston. I now see the school in an entirely new perspective, and I’m so excited to pursue all of my interests and expand my knowledge. I’ve learned that, sometimes, you may need some time away to really appreciate all the benefits and opportunities that a certain place can bring to you.

So, whether you stay at the same college for the full four years, transfer twice like I did, graduate a semester early or a year late, or take some time off of school, you will always end up where you need to be. Your path may not be traditional, but it’s unique, and at least you know you’ll get a good story out of it!