The topic of going to college can be an uncomfortable one for students. We live in a world that pressures young people to make life-altering decisions without giving them time or autonomy to see the best option. Once they enter high school, the world is already forcing them to think about what the next four years of their life will be once they graduate. As soon as sophomore year starts, they face tests, AP classes, extracurriculars and stressful schedules. This is all in hopes of setting them up for going to another institution. There are only three months between finishing high school and starting your first year at college.

Then, you have the stigmas surrounding particular colleges you may want to attend. Young people feel pressured and ultimately discouraged if they don’t get into Ivy League or lesser-known schools. And let’s not forget the most significant issue of them all, cost! Considering possibly living the rest of your life in debt from just four years of schooling is a looming thought for prospective students. Too many unpredictable variables also come into play once you graduate college. Finding a job in your field and leaving with connections that can be sustained, it’s all stressful. There are many reasons for students to feel that college was or wasn’t a good decision for them.

I hear stories often from both sides of the coin. Some stress that going to college and the factors that come with it ultimately weren’t worth it. Then, you hear from people who wished they would’ve just gone through those four years and stuck it out. I think it’s up to the individual and the environment around them. It can ultimately alter their college experience. Most people don’t have the luxury to take a gap year or have access to a community college which would ensure a cheaper college experience. We also live in a world that can force people to choose majors they may not be interested in. It’s a trade-off, they’re told, because “it’ll be easier to find a job once they graduate.” It’s a dreadful experience to go to school for four years, sitting in classes you can’t stand, only to potentially graduate with a degree you’re not excited about. This is all compounded by the fact that you are likely leaving with debt. You’ll graduate college wondering if your field of choice would support you enough to live comfortably and pay off this debt.

Our current society does not make attending college an easy task. I started my college journey on my terms, which has genuinely changed my thoughts about what I initially felt about it. I graduated in the year 2019, right before our lives changed forever. I took a gap year because I thought honoring my mental health after a challenging senior year was necessary. That, paired with the cost of school, was the best decision for me then. I had the support from my family to take that gap year, which is rare. So many families frown upon their kids taking time off from school, which scares young people from taking necessary breaks.

The pandemic wholly altered how the college experience worked. Everyone went to online classes, and more students began taking school breaks. It opened many eyes to how some institutions can treat their students. By this time, I was entering my second year of not being enrolled in school. I took time to save money and figure out exactly what I wanted to go to school for.

I initially started out wanting to be a performing arts major. I’m grateful for the time that I took because my career goals have entirely shifted. Four years later, in the year that I would’ve graduated, I started college. I was 22 years old. I don’t regret my decision at all. I think I made the right choice. As I stated earlier, many factors can go into whether or not someone may dislike their experience with school. I took my break from academic institutions, so now, I’m genuinely engaged in what I’m learning when I’m in school. I’m no longer burned out from previous years. During my years off, I saved money and had enough time to look over the most cost-effective plan for when I went to college. Most importantly, I’m going to school for what I love. Taking the time, I did solidify what I wanted to major in.

I wish we lived in a world where that wasn’t so untraditional. We didn’t force young people to make such hefty decisions or put so much pressure on them if they didn’t follow a particular path. This new generation of young people and the problems living within academic institutions exposed throughout this pandemic will shift the narrative of what a standard college experience will look like. Ultimately, college is for you. It’s for you to further your knowledge on subjects, build connections and find a career path. You should be the one who’s in control of that experience; no one else should make that decision for you.