My parents made it very clear that when I graduated from high school I would not be allowed to take a year off, even if I spent it working. Their fear was that once I got out of the school grind I would not want to get back in. It was not without merit and they may have saved my academic career by stepping in. Maybe.

On the other hand is my former roommate Karl. Karl has what is probably the strongest mind of anyone I know in my generation. I don’t always agree with him and I think his thinking has often lead him astray, but the guy is in my mind the very definition of intelligent. His ability to understand and dissect the logical flow of ideas never ceased to amaze me even when I thought he was off his rocker. His early academic career reflected this. He sailed through K-12 and by the time he was 18 had knocked out a couple years worth of college credit.

Unfortunately, by the time I knew him he was worn out. He went from being a star student at a magnet school of smart kids to flunking out of Southern Tech with a GPA closer to 0.0 than 1.0 (out of 4). We say of a lot of people that the problem is that they don’t apply themselves but it always applied particularly to him. The guy didn’t go to class, he slept through tests, and he didn’t write his papers.

He needed a break. But his parents took the same stance that mine did and denied it to him. But unlike the case with me it did his academic career immense harm. Unfortunately, the worse he did the more difficult his parents made it for him. They figured if they pulled him out of the dorms and made him live at home they could make him go to class, but instead they took a kid that couldn’t drag his butt ten minutes across campus and told him he had to commute for 60 minutes instead. It was, as you might expect, disastrous.

After getting kicked out of Sotech, he decided to go to work. It only took a couple jobs for him to realize that how much deeply he was at the mercy of employers without a college degree. He had no options and so he had to endure the unacceptable for as long as he could. After six months or so with the worst employer in all of Colosse he resolved to go back to school. He couldn’t go to Tech so he enrolled at the regional school on the other side of town. So motivated was he that he commuted 90 minutes each way every day until he finally dropped everything to move out there. He was on “B” away from a 4.0 GPA and is now in a Master’s degree astrophysics program at a school with a pretty good reputation out east.

It’s unfortunate that his parents were so insistent that he continue school long after it should have been apparent that it was doing him more harm than good. Unfortunately a lot of parents have this idea that there is nothing worse than either foregoing college temporarily or dropping out. Instead of releasing him to the real world to find out how important that piece of paper was to him they thought they could just tell him over and over again until he got the message. It didn’t work and it was never going to.

This brings up an interesting dilemma if Clancy and I choose to have kids. If my parents had given me more flexibility it’s possible that I would have become a 10-year college student forever chasing that degree rather than someone that graduated in under five years and entered the professional working world. So if our kids are anything like me I would be inclined to push them to go to college even over their reservations. But then I think of Karl and I question the wisdom in that. There are some kids that aren’t cut out for college and there are others that may be cut out for it but aren’t ready for it for one reason or another. It’s putting a lot of faith in a young man or lady to believe that they will naturally see the light and do what they need to do if they want to follow their dreams (unless what they would ultimately like to do does not include a college degree).

However, I also think that one of the problems with my generation (or at least the way my generation was raised) is that we were often deemed unready to make important life choices. Kind of odd to say that after mentioning how tyrannical I would be regarding my kid’s major and college, but for many it’s quite true. But both concerns stem from a fear on my part that a lot of parents are protecting their kids from “the real world” for far too long to the point that “adult responsibilities” don’t actually start occurring until the mid-20’s if they occur at all.

I’ll pick up this discussion tomorrow.

Category: School

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7 Responses to Taking a Year Off

  1. Spungen says:

    Most kids are eager to go to college immediately. I’m curious about why either of you guys weren’t. Did you have a group of friends from high school you wanted to hang out with or something? I’d think it would suck to be 18 and just hanging around one’s folks’ house, doing the jobs one gets without a college degree.

    Did your friend Karl get a girlfriend that took up all his time or have some other new social demand that was more attractive than studying? Or was it the opposite — he couldn’t fit in?

  2. Peter says:

    One point of view holds that if young people take a year off before starting college they’ll permanently weaken their career prospects. Employers and graduate schools don’t always like to see gaps. Half Sigma, not surprisingly, seems to hold this opinion.

  3. Webmaster says:


    Actually – regarding Karl – he started off doing very well. A lot of what hit him was pure burnout; he’d been driven so hard (through the high-school grind plus all the extras he’d been put through) that he seemed to become exhausted with the thought of continuing to do more of what he’d been doing since age 5.

    There were also some factors involving his getting screwed over by the housing area (who continually stuck him in Roommate Russian Roulette in the crappiest dorm section of the school, then he finally got into the good section and improved, then got tossed into the worst section again when they “lost” his housing check the following year) which kept him out of his dorm room (when actually able to be in his room where his books were, he would study and do his work for the most part).

    After all was said and done, I consider it half his fault and half the school’s fault. Yes, he had the responsibility to study and do his work – but the school actually tried to hinder him from doing so, including (by their Roommate Russian Roulette system) making it impossible for him to actually exist in the living quarters they shoved him into, with the thieves and the Assletes.

    On a side note, I went to college immediately. I could have gone to a college closer to where I lived, and remained in contact with my (at the time) girlfriend. I chose the long distance, tried to make it work, and it fell apart… just in time for the heartless two-timing bitch to show up at my campus.

    Regrettable for sure. Had I to do it over again? I’m not sure what I would have picked. My best choice, life and career-wise, was to go to college away from my family (they’re nice but somewhat intrusive) at Southern Tech, where I met Will and many other friends.

    I didn’t have the option of a year off from school. I really don’t know what I would have done with it, and it probably would have been a bad thing for me, letting my skills suffer. Plus, staying in my parents’ place was no longer appealing.

    Your mileage may vary, of course.

  4. trumwill says:

    I was burned out and the thought of more school was daunting. If I’d known how much better college was going to be I wouldn’t have wanted the time off, though. Looking back I was more tired of the structure of it than I was the actual coursework. I also felt less of a need to leave home than most people my age do.

    Yeah, if you’re on the HalfSigma track, or want to be, taking a year off is a bad idea. But my roots being where they are his concerns are frankly alien to me.

    I was wondering why Karl was spending so much time and My and Hubert’s dorm. The guy practically lived at our place.

  5. Abel says:

    I think the problem is that most of society views college as the only way to succeed and pushes people to attend even if college isn’t the best option for them. Kids would be better served if their parents didn’t push college but pointed out the various other options available including vocational schools. I opined about this in more detail here.

  6. trumwill says:

    Thanks for linking to your piece, Abel. I had intended to link to it myself when I was contemplating the post last week.

  7. Spungen says:

    I can buy how a bad housing situation can damage your school career. I got my worst grades by far my third semester of law school, when I was living with an obese woman my age who did not date. She was intrusive, controlling, and vaguely threatening toward the end.

    She was a Santa Cruz graduate, so I’d made certain incorrect assumptions that she’d be, um, mellow when I decided to move in with her. You know, in a Horatio Sanz kind of way. As it turns out, she was one of the few Santa Cruz graduates who intensely disapproved of mellowness, to the point she saw it as a sign of extremely poor character and criminality far beyond the small legal penalties attached.

    I don’t mean she just didn’t want it around her; she disapproved of anyone who admitted to doing it, ever. And drinking. And going to clubs. And scary movies, or violent movies, and gory outfits for Halloween. Ditto for sex, apparently. She seemed to be untouched by four-plus years of interaction with other students, perhaps due to her obesity.

    It’s easy for people without much socialization to be rigid, punitive, and authoritarian. The moral superiority costs them nothing.

    Anyway, my sympathies to anyone trying to get things accomplished while living with jerks.

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