Opinion: Why I chose to be a college dropout

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by Rachel Peterson, Perspectives editor

I will be graduating from Simpson College in a short 30 days. My journey to get that diploma in my hand has been less than perfect.

I graduated first in my class in high school. I had excellent ACT scores, was involved in every club and sport possible and volunteered every spare hour I had. I started looking at colleges when I was a freshman in high school.

When I graduated in May 2010, I had to stand up in front of all my peers, parents and teachers and say I didn’t know where I was going to school. In fact, I didn’t know if I even wanted to continue my education.

Simpson red and gold runs in my family. I am a third generation legacy student and my dad is even a Methodist minister. In a last ditch attempt to get me to go to school, he pulled some strings and I was offered a spot at Simpson, no questions asked, along with a generous financial aid package.

I turned it down without hesitation.

When my friends went off to school, I was working. It wasn’t difficult; I was a receptionist. But I was also saving. I had dreams of travelling and visions of going beyond the landlocked lines of Iowa or even the continental United States.

In February 2011, I moved to Sydney, Australia. I was 19, eager and naïve. I knew I was ready to go explore a different corner of the world when, saying goodbye to my family at the airport, I didn’t shed tears.

I didn’t move to Australia to merely be a beach bum and enjoy the legal drinking age of 18. I moved there to study and had been accepted to a full degree program at Macquarie University.

My year and a half in Australia was spent traveling, embracing culture and identifying what I wanted in life.  I know none of this would have happened if I would have gone to school right away, if I would not have pushed through barriers and people thinking I was absolutely crazy for moving halfway across the world at such a young age.

I am even more certain that if I had gone to Simpson, I would have dropped out after my first year.

I took more time off after I came home from Australia, moved to Boulder, Colo. and completed a year at University of Colorado before finally making the choice to finish my journalism degree at Simpson.

It took me quite a while to come to grips with the reality that I am not a failure because I went to three schools to complete my undergraduate degree. I am no longer embarrassed that I didn’t go to school right after high school and took a hiatus during the middle of my degree.

Why? Because I have more life experience than most 22-year-olds. I have traveled, lived, learned, loved. I’ve worked, failed, succeeded.

When I interviewed for the job I start after graduation, it was not my schooling or classes that mattered to my employer. It was the experiences I had during my times of hiatus that I talked about and she cared about.

I am not saying my degree is worthless; I value that piece of paper and know it will play a large part in where I go in my career, but I understand the importance of my real world experiences as well.

Simpson was a great finish line on my journey of higher education. Australia was a great starting point. Colorado was…a fork in the road. I don’t regret my decision to go to any of these places. I don’t regret the student loans I’ve racked up. I also do not regret leaving any of those places.

College should be a time of discovery. In order to have the experience I had, you have to want to go to school. You have to want to leave the nest. You have to want to redefine everything you’ve thought about life.

If you’re not ready for that, don’t go. Travel. Work. Be a nomad. Go live in a bungalow in the forest. Buy a one-way ticket to a faraway place. Go teach English in a foreign country. Volunteer. Get life experience.

And then someday, get your degree. You will know when you’re ready. You will know when it is important. You will value it far more than your 18-year-old self.