If there’s one thing that attending college during a global pandemic has taught me, it’s that there isn’t one “right” way to be a college student. We each have our strengths and struggles. Some processes may work great for one person, but another student may need to do things differently for their best result. There’s nothing wrong with that, and I think we need to talk about it.
As a fourth-year college student who transferred to UCF as COVID was hitting our nation, I’ve had to adapt significantly in order to succeed in my studies. I, along with every other student in this generation, have experienced many obstacles in the past few years that have taught me a lot about myself and what works best for me. One drastic thing that has changed my life is starting a business this past year while being a full-time student. This development, along with other realizations about myself and my capabilities, led me to explore the option of extending my graduation plan by a semester. Along with that decision came many conversations with my loved ones about graduating “late.”
“But why would you want to do that?” My mom asked me. “Your sister graduated on time, and so should you.” In the other ear, my father said, “I understand you have a lot on your plate, which is great, but life is all about experiencing the grind. You shouldn’t step away when you’re expecting things to get to be too much to handle. This is the time where you really need to buckle down and get it all done, just to prove to yourself that you can do it all.”
These are fair arguments, which I respectfully understand, especially coming from my parents, who support me and want to see me succeed. However, I want to challenge this way of thinking for anyone who is reading this and believes that taking things at your own pace is in any way cowardly or “taking the easy way out.” In fact, I think it’s really brave and admirable to know yourself enough to know exactly which path will work best for you, even if that means adapting your plans and having to break the news to people who were expecting differently from you.
Because the thing is, no two people have the same college experience. We’re all dealing with our own struggles. One person may be double-majoring with two part-time jobs and a side hustle and they may still be able to graduate a semester early, while another student is barely able to keep their head above water with the part-time classes they’re enrolled in. This doesn’t make any of us better or worse than the other. It just makes us human. And, as humans, we evolve and adapt and learn.
I’ve learned a lot about myself in the past few years, and I bet that you have, too. I realized that I might want to choose a different career than the one I thought I wanted a few years ago when I enrolled in UCF. And I’ve also learned that that’s okay, and it doesn’t make me a failure. If anything, it means that I’m human because I am changing and growing every day. It might be hard to see my classmates graduating in the spring and know that I was supposed to be right there with them, but I hope it serves as a reminder that I did what was best for me.
The choice to take an extra semester (or two, or three, or even taking a gap year!) doesn’t make you a failure, either. It means that you’re doing what’s best for your own individual needs, and I think that’s something worth being acknowledged and celebrated. So, if you needed someone to tell you today that it’s okay to move at your own pace, here it is. Trust your timeline and follow your instincts. You’re doing great.