Starting College at 21 and Why It Is Okay

Every year for the last three years, I have dreaded receiving one question, “What year are you in?” After graduating from high school, I started college at the local community college but ended up leaving shortly after the start of the semester. There were so many things going on at that time and I found myself being a college dropout after about a month. This left me with feelings of shame and embarrassment. The very next semester I decided to apply to a college in California, and as soon as I was accepted, I started to pack my bags. September came and a few days before I was supposed to leave my home, my grandma’s illness became worse and she passed away. I went all the way to California only to realize the transition was too much for me. I spent the next year and a half being afraid to make any final decisions regarding my college education. One day, I decided to revisit the idea of attending a university in-state and started the process of getting accepted and enrolled.

At this time, most of the people I graduated with were already well into their junior year of college. I started to feel ashamed and embarrassed again. The happiness of being able to start my new life and start pursuing my education quickly faded behind the negative feelings. It wasn’t until I had a conversation with one of the teachers at the preschool I work with that my feelings improved. She told me that I should never compare my life to others, because we all have our own paths. I knew she was right, and I started to have a new outlook on this chapter in my life. The truth is that there are so many advantages to starting college at 21 or even older.

1. Everyone has a different path

As cliché as it may sound, life is not a race. If it was, it would be a terrible race considering we would basically be running different ones. We all have our own goals, our own prizes, and our own obstacles. There is no reason to compare your path to others. You may be comparing your season of waiting to a season of success in someone else’s life. It is hard to remember when you are in those seasons but it is imperative to remember this is just a small bump on this long road of your life.

2. You have become wiser over the recent years

College is certainly a time for making mistakes, your entire young adulthood is. Thankfully, starting college later has allowed me to make mistakes and learn from them without affecting my college education. You are given the chance to do things right which is great because college is such a critical time. There is far less risk to your education, because you’ve gotten a lot of mistakes out of the way and have grown from them. Adding to that, odds are that if you ever did go through a “party” phase, you have gotten past it. Not to say you don’t like going out with your friends occasionally; however, at this point, drinking and partying have probably become far less desirable to you.

3. You are more prepared

This ties into my last point but you truly are more prepared. Whether it be mentally, emotionally, spiritually, and maybe even financially. I have had friends who struggled throughout their college career because their mental health wasn’t a priority. They had to put everything behind their education and threw themselves right into college the second they graduated from high school. I have had the chance to take a step back and prioritize my life while preparing for college.

4. You are more sure of yourself and what you want 

I have been told time and time again by my friends and acquaintances that they were not sure if what they were majoring in was what they wanted to do in life. They had to go straight from the graduation stage to the lecture hall so they felt pressured into choosing something. Starting college later has allowed me to think through what it is that I want so I can avoid any regrets. Being sure of myself academically is only one of the benefits. You give yourself the time it takes to become more sure of who you are as a person and that can help all parts of your life prosper.

After reading this article you may get the impression that I am encouraging everyone to wait on college. This isn’t true as I know many people have thrived in their education after starting right away. This article is not for those people. This is for the people who have felt the negative emotions I mentioned above. This is for the people who may feel like they are too far behind to ever catch up. This is not some race; this is your personal path and you are right on time.

“For what it’s worth: it’s never too late or, in my case, too early to be whoever you want to be. There’s no time limit, stop whenever you want. You can change or stay the same, there are no rules to this thing. We can make the best or the worst of it. I hope you make the best of it. And I hope you see things that startle you. I hope you feel things you never felt before. I hope you meet people with a different point of view. I hope you live a life you’re proud of. If you find that you’re not, I hope you have the courage to start all over again.” ― Francis Scott Fitzgerald