By Mohnish Soundararajan
A couple years ago, I almost died.
“Unlock the door you dick,” I said. Of course, I knew how these things went. It was the classic ‘lock-him-out-of-the-car-then-drive-off’ maneuver. It was late, there were girls in the vicinity, and the conditions were perfect: why not make a scene? So I jumped on top of the car. As I gripped the roof, I felt a jolt and then, the car started picking up speed.
He didn’t know I was on the roof.
The pace started to quicken. I yelled. No response, and the car started hitting twenty. Then thirty. Then — without thinking, I smacked the windshield. Crack. My friend slammed the breaks. I flew off and hit concrete.
Flash forward a few years.
It was me and my best friend, in high school Econ, ripping up a quiz in front of our entire class during the last semester of our senior year. The reaction we got was nothing short of hysterically beautiful.
And it was worth 10 points.
There was no denying how great it was to graduate, college acceptance and denial letters in hand. It was a time where everyone felt like they could look forward to the future without the burden of the past, while also pretending that the college they were going to was their dream school.
Yet, after a barrage of quizzes, notes, tests, study packets, folders, textbooks, and frantically shared finals study guides, high school had both given and taketh away.
It had taken a toll I couldn’t quite put my finger on. And after we left, none of us could. There are stories that we tell ourselves and then, there‘s the truth. When I was in high school, I — as well as everyone else — had our stories wrong.
I remember one of my classmates asking the teacher:
“Why is this important? When will I ever in my life need this?”
Our science teacher made jokes that were raunchy enough to get a laugh but didn’t push the envelope enough to be arrested for sexual harassment. Here, though, he looked visibly pained when she asked, like she had just told him some awful knock knock joke and he just had to sit there and take it. For a moment, I really thought he was at a loss for words.
“You just need to know this stuff to get into college. It’s good for you”
And that was that. In my four years, I realized that no one had a good answer to this question. Because after it was all over, most of the work we did in high school was pointless, unusable, and forgotten.
The truth is that we knew back then that all the work we did was simply practice for a future so far off we couldn’t even conceptualize what it would look like. No one was excited to learn and build their future. Talk to any high schooler and they’ll tell you, first hour on a Monday is like being physically assaulted by the devil.
The problem is that adults, policy makers, and nearly anyone east of the west coast believe that being uninspired for 8 hours a day was a rite of passage, a mark of tradition, not something that could be improved, changed, even solved — even though in history, especially the Renaissance, teenagers looked up to adults because they had the expertise, the wisdom, and the well-grown beards they themselves wanted to inherit. Their teachers truly inspired them.
Now, teachers don’t play that role.
Instead, it’s a “love-hate-mostly-hate” relationship with teachers. They aren’t judged by how much they taught you, a useful metric, but by how often they let shit slide. The best teachers, we thought, were always athletic coaches.
Every break we got, we took. I remember a stretch of three days with no homework and thinking: I’m so glad I don’t have to learn today.
And that was when I kind of sensed that high school was starting to lean me away from wanting to work hard, from wanting to crack open a book, and exploring what I was capable of. It wasn’t anybody’s fault, especially not the teachers. But it felt like it was mine.
We tuned in to teachers the day before the test, not because we wanted too, but because we had too. I like to say the difference between an author researching American Literature and a student studying it, is that the student is probably trying to find a window to jump out of.
When you’re in it, there is no life outside the school hallways. You seem to know everyone yet, at the same time, you don’t know everyone. As far as your 15 year old self was concerned, high school was the world and that was all there was to it.
And you care — more than you’d like to admit — what other people think. I remember walking into the school restroom and about 3 guys checking, wetting, and matting their hair. It was like walking into the early moments of some bizarre beauty pageant nightmare but with dudes.
For most people, high school is awkward and frustrating. And outside of high school, there was truly nothing to do. If you felt like your town was empty, sterile, and fake, well, that’s because it was. A precondition of being a good parent is moving to the suburbs, where ironically, giant nursing homes are erected for students and seniors alike. It was scribbling away at home work, glowing phones, hanging out in basements, discovering alcohol, and trying our best to accrue new experiences in a place where new experiences were in short supply.
Those new experiences get stunted when we realize there’s only so many people in this small, small town. You’re forced to be friends with the same people regardless of whether or not they’re the types of people you love being around or if they’re even a good fit. I was lucky to have great friends in high school, but I was also painfully aware of the people that didn’t — not because they were insane or weird, but just for the fact that they were an island of one, end of discussion.
There is nothing you will miss more than having a locker, walking in the hallway, chatting with friends, giving out ridiculous handshakes like it was free candy, wondering who will say “hi” to you in the hallway (and who won’t), and of course, truly understanding the silent anxiety of picking a lunch table.
With nostalgic-tinted glasses, I tell people I enjoyed high school. But I also recognized the bullshit that was so classically emblematic of it.
When you’re older, you get to choose who you’re tight with, who you fit in with, and what you want to do. Yet high school, more than yourself, dictates the terms and conditions — for better or worse.
Like many smart adults have told me, finding out who you are is a long, arduous process that takes years. But it’s incredibly noticeable during your high school ones, a time where you’re making fake and real friends and you’re picking up good and bad social skills and you’re learning a lot more quickly about yourself than you ever have in your entire life.
Because even if you feel lost, that’s fine — the long con is that most people in high school are.
After I flew off the car, nothing really changed. I loved telling the story like it had life-changing implications and that I saw every moment of my life before I hit the ground — me at 10, me at 30, me marrying Kate Upton — not because it did, but because it should have. It was nearly the most exciting thing to ever happen to me at the time and like every high schooler attracted to the dramatic, I wore the moment with a badge of honor. It wasn’t that I was too risky or reckless or that my friend was in the wrong or anything. Nobody got hurt, we got ice cream afterwards, it was fine.
No, the thing about that is, it just happened. Sort of like how high school just happens. You start it, you do it, you’re done, and you look back, and you’re like, whoa, what just happened? What did it all mean? What did I just do?
And no one is giving answers because, like a science teacher, most of the time, all they have is an empty gesture — a nod, a wink, a smile, maybe a pat on the ass if they’re creepy, and then? You’re on your way.
During Prom, I remember the moment when the Sophomore escorts and I arrived in suits, freshly pressed. Prom was new to the us. And when we arrived we were (how do I put this delicately…) ready to get some ass. After it happened, we traded hilarious stories, somehow wrecked a hotel room, and realized we had just gone through something Lifetime movies were made of. Prom, the big deal. And at 16, it was the biggest of deals, on top of flying off a car or getting shot in a parking lot. At the time, it was nice knowing that. But afterwards, the next Monday?
We went straight to class. And just like that, it was over. And all we had left was nostalgia.
Mohnish Soundararajan works for bestselling authors and startups. If you dig this and want more, subscribe via email here and check out www.mohnish.net.
We are excited to announce the creation of a future fellow nomination process to allow parents, counselors, and those in the UnCollege community to identify motivated individuals who would be great for the Gap Year program.
Over the last few admissions cycles we have realized that some of our best and most passionate applicants have come from referrals from an UnCollege fellow, parent, mentor, or friend. That’s awesome! In an effort to support the continued referral of potential fellows by those within the community we are launching the Nominate a Future Fellow Campaign.
Think you know someone who would excel in the Gap Year Program? Nominate them! We’ll reach out to them and they could receive a tuition discount as a Nominated Fellow.
Here’s how it works:
1. Use this form to nominate as many awesome, motivated people as you would like
2. We’ll reach out to them to let them know they have been nominated
3. If they complete their application and are admitted to the program they will receive a $1,000 discount on their tuition as a Nominated Fellow.
If you have any questions about the program feel free to get in touch with the Director of Admissions, Zack Martin at 415-347-9715 or via email at [email protected]
By Jon Gordon
Many of us look at college as a time to play. I did. The grand plan was to meet people, take some classes, party, and make some friends. Maybe there would be a few romantic connections along the way. If all went well, I would get a degree while doing as little work as possible. I figured once I graduated, I would get hooked up (perhaps with one of the friends I made) and start working in the “real world” in some fantastic job that recognizes my potential and puts me on the fast track to wealth and happiness while also doing some good for the world.
I was shocked when it didn’t work out.
I am writing this in my 30’s, as someone who is leading a good life. My path to here has meandered, and I’ve sometimes doubled back to where I started. I wish that someone had told me a few things when I was going to college, but the truth is I probably wouldn’t have listened anyway. However, what I’m about to share would have helped me and therefore I offer them to you, just in case you decide to listen.
Each time I read the statistics around college, I shake my head. Student loan stats are staggering: over a trillion dollars owed, the average being around $30,000. The unemployment statistics are depressing: just over half of recent college graduates are underemployed or unemployed.
The bright spot is that this time in our lives there are more and more alternative forms of education and programs designed to sidestep this flaw in our system. Do a quick search on some of the programs – I dare ya – the future is out there.
Yet, the dream of a college education still remains the avenue most of us are taking. So if you’re not planning on going all Robert Frost on us then you’d better take advantage of your time in university.
Here are the essential six tips to successfully Hack your First Year of College.
1. Be proactive.
Insert your favorite cliche here about seizing opportunity. Colleges have so many resources designed to help their students and yet a small fraction of students use them. Go to things! Stop by your career center or counseling center or student life center. Whatever, go some place and poke around. Show up to events. You’d be surprised how many things there are that you may be interested in. Utilize the resources they have.
2. Don’t be stupid about being stupid.
Some could argue that doing stupid things is one of the best things about college. Hear me out. I’m all for stupidity, but in moderation. Sleep and exercise have been proven to be two of the biggest factors in learning. Throw in healthy eating and you’ve got the tripod of setting yourself up for success. Sleep is when we incorporate our short term memory, aka learning. So staying up till 4 every night is probably a bad choice. Same with eating. Late night burritos are amazing, and please enjoy them, just don’t be stupid all the time. Your college will have a workout facility. Probably. Use it. Exercise helps to improve our brain cognition, lowers stress, increases endorphins, in short it is a good thing. And it can help make up for your lack of sleep and all the burritos. Freshman 15 is a real thing. Believe it.
3.Talk to your professors.
Go to office hours. Speak up in class. Get to know them. They are here to help teach you. Plus, when it comes to internships, opportunities, recommendations or anything else cool that they know about or you will need them for it helps if they know your name. Plus if there is a subject that you are interested in and want to know more about…they are literally experts in the field. Nothing bad comes from developing a relationship with your professors.
4. Have original & creative thoughts.
Much of our education system growing up is you repeating what you have heard. While this has it’s uses in the workplace it’s far more important and fun to offer new ideas. Be aware of this as you are going through your experience. Don’t choose classes because your friends are taking them. Or you can get the notes. Don’t sit silently in your classes. Being able to articulate and then defend an idea is one of the greatest life skills there is. Don’t just listen to your professors and accept what they say. Question everything. Yourself. Those around you. Everything. Find out what you really think.
5. “Stay on target.” – Porkins, Star Wars
Once you have an idea of what you like and want to do then start doing it. Move towards that goal. Stay focused. Work towards creating experience in the field. What classes or knowledge from other disciplines would be helpful? What can I do to make this more efficient? Are there meetup groups? Online courses? In short…what can you do to get ahead while still having fun and enjoying yourself.
6. Take Breaks
Enjoy your time. Enjoy the people that you are meeting. Have less all night study sessions and more all night conversations. You actually learn more taking a break in the middle of a couple 25 min sessions then going straight through for an hour. Work hard. Work smart. Chill. Hang out. Repeat.
We support all forms of learning, and if you’re going to take the time and spend the money to go to college, please make the most of your experience. You’re young, and despite the feeling that you have too many choices to make, I implore you to start learning. You’ll make mistakes, and that’s part of the journey.
By Casey Rosengren
Six months ago I decided to forsake the traditional career path to spend an extended period freelancing and working on side projects while traveling around the world.
In retrospect, it was a great decision. As a result, I’ve met many interesting people and come across many great opportunities. However, at the time, it was a difficult choice to make. The uncertainty drove me crazy – I wasn’t sure what the future would bring.
I made plans to embark on my journey in July, starting in Central America, and then moving onto Southeast Asia and Japan. I was excited to be preparing to travel, but as I was laying the groundwork for my trip, something felt bittersweet. I was also sad to be leaving the thriving startup communities I’d found in Philadelphia and New York City.
Extended travel is an experience that is hard to put into words. It changes a person, leading one to challenge one’s assumptions about what is important, consider life from another cultural perspective, and learn deep and hidden truths about oneself. It can even impact one’s effectiveness down the line, as recent research seems to suggest that people who have spent three or more months abroad are more flexible, creative, and complex thinkers.
However, living in an environment like New York City or San Francisco also has a lot of value. These cities are filled with passionate, intelligent people, and are places where ideas fly back and forth and collaborations spring out of serendipitous conversations.
While living in a major tech hub, it’s easy to take the community for granted. There are always hackathons and events going on, and people are generally interested in technology. It’s not uncommon to hear that hot new app discussed over Sunday brunch in the context of business, philosophy or gender theory.
As I was mulling this over one day, I thought, “What if we could create that kind of community abroad?”
Inspired by the success of non-traditional organizations like Hacker School and Unschooling, I decided to create Hacker Paradise, a self-directed co-working & programming retreat in Costa Rica, where participants come together for twelve weeks to work on side projects, learn new frameworks, and have an amazing, international experience.
One could argue that there are advantages to locating a retreat like this in a major city. Hacker School and Hackership have picked New York and Berlin, respectively – each cities with thriving tech communities. However, we chose to hold our retreat in Costa Rica for several reasons:
- Rent is affordable.
- It allows participants to get away from the hustle and bustle of daily life and focus on building things.
- It’s relatively rare in a career to spend 3 months learning and working on side projects, so you might as well do it in paradise.
We’re not the only organization taking advantage of this trend.
For example, an organization called Phileas and Fogg flies a select team of designers and developers to remote locations for 3-month periods to build new products. They offer their employees a chance to step outside the San Francisco bubble and gain a new and exciting life experience. As a result, they have been able to attract top talent at a lower cost than they’d be able to if they were just another run-of-the-mill startup based in Silicon Valley.
Similarly, MindValley an online education company, relocated from the U.S. to Malaysia, where they are able to attract workers from all over the world who seek something different than the traditional 9-to-5. They pay their employees a comfortable wage for Malaysia, and are able to operate a modern SAAS company at a fraction of the cost.
The Digital Nomad movement is another great example of this trend. As more and more work can be done from anywhere in the world, freelancers and remote workers have set up shop in places like Thailand and Cambodia, where living is cheap and every day is an adventure.
Peoples’ values have changed over the past decade. Now, fewer people are willing to sacrifice an interesting lifestyle for stability and a good salary.
Why spend your time working on side projects in your tiny, expensive studio apartment when you could be building things in Costa Rica?
Life is short – you shouldn’t have to choose between challenging work and seeing the world.
By Connor Grooms
Connor Grooms writes about how to learn any skill in one month at his blog, One Month Master.
For the past year, I’ve dedicated myself to learning many skills across different fields. I’ve learned to rock climb, design iOS apps, DJ, write sales copy, and hip-hop dance.
Along the way, I discovered several unexpected benefits of learning lots of different skills.
Whether you are just getting started in self education or want to eventually become a specialist, there is a lot of value in spending a few months to a year to learn many different skills.
You have a better idea of what you want to do with your life.
There’s an expectation built into the education system that we should know what we want to do with our lives by 18 or 19. But really, there are many 45 year olds with no idea what they want.
For those of us who haven’t stumbled across our life’s mission, the way to figure it out is by trying many different things — except most 18 and 19 year olds haven’t had the time to gain that many experiences.
This is a goal that college ostensibly fills, but fails at. The problem is, learning about a job is not the same as actually doing it. Only by trying a new skill or job can we really know if we will enjoy it or now. Because as Dan Gilbert showed in his book, Stumbling on Happiness we are terrible predictors of what will make us happy.
By trying many different things, you find out a lot about yourself. This gives you confidence once you begin to focus on one thing.
You can relate to more people.
Relationships form the bedrock of all success. To build relationships, you need to be able to relate to people — that is, have something in common with them.
The more fields you understand, the greater your chances of being able to relate to someone. Often, you’ll connect with someone over something unrelated to how you end up getting value out of that relationship. For instance, I connected with a friend of mine over DJing and a love for travel, and now we do business together.
Not only will being able to relate to more people make you more friends and connections, but it will also help you become more persuasive. Empathy is the core of copywriting and successful marketing. And whether you are in business or not, we’re all selling something, whether it’s convincing your parents that dropping out of college is a good idea, diffusing a fight with a friend, or getting a date.
You become a connector.
Upon arriving in Saigon, I met a fellow entrepreneur named Jeremy who also happened to be a local musician. He made a few valuable introductions and now I have some DJing opportunities lined up.
What just happened there? By having a foot in two different communities, Jeremy was able to make several valuable introductions for me.
The more communities you are tapped into, the more often you can provide this type of value to people. Learning new skills lets you relate to more people, which lets you have friendships in more communities.
So not only do you get to learn a cool new skill and meet other interesting people involved in that skill, you also have the chance to connect these interesting people to each other.
You become a fascinating person.
Here’s a secret about spending time with successful people: you don’t have to be successful yourself. You just have to be interesting.
After spending a few months learning in different areas, you’ll be fascinating. Not many people can switch from talking about trading Bitcoin to surfing in Indonesia to the science of smart drugs to what makes a good sales page. Your skills will be different, but that’s how you’ll be unique.
It’s a cliche for a reason: you are the average of the five people you spend the most time with. Being interesting helps ensure those five people are successful.
You become better at learning.
Learning quickly and effectively is a skill. And like any other skill, you get better at it the more you do it.
You probably already know that constant learning is key to success. But what if you could learn just 50% faster? How much of an impact would that make on your life?
There are principles about learning that you pick up when learning each skill that can be applied to other topics in the future.
For instance, I learned to row by watching hundreds of Olympic races and internalizing the technique of world-class rowers. I learned to design by diving in and through trial and error, comparing what I had designed to websites I knew were good.
When I learned to DJ, I combined these techniques, spending plenty of time ‘figuring it out’ through trial and error, but also time imitating the sets and techniques that were successful before.
Knowledge compounds. If you’ve ever tried to learn a new language, you might find yourself saying, “oh, this is just like ____ in English!”. The more your branches of knowledge you have to build off of, the more frequently you make these sorts of connections.
You can see the Matrix.
This is the biggest reason that specialists should spend time branching out.
The greatest breakthroughs of the last century have primarily happened at the cross section of several fields, where knowledge and ideas from one field were used to make a breakthrough in another. Much of Apple’s success could be attributed to their focus on design. But had Jobs not become interested in calligraphy, he may have never push design as a core value of the company.
Ken Wilber took this to the extreme, taking wisdom from dozens of fields, from Taoism to Physics to Politics, to create his Theory of Everything.
Seeing the big pictures makes you aware of the changes and shifts. This is where the opportunities are.
Read more about Connor here.
By Jean Fan
I first read William Deresiewicz’s “The Disadvantages of an Elite Education” when I was a junior in high school. It resonated so deeply with me, a 15-year-old entrenched in the race to get into college.
Because of this essay (and the raw emotions it provoked), I spent my last two years in high school questioning everything around me. Because of this essay (and the line of questioning it led me to), I started working at UnCollege. Because of this essay (and the person it prompted me to become), I got into Stanford.
Now, six years after that essay was published, Deresiewicz has written a similar piece, “Don’t Send Your Kid to the Ivy League,” to precede the launch of his book later this summer. This essay about elite education is just as controversial as his last.
Time, in that sense, is unchanged. But I’ve changed, and it’s disconcerting to me how much of Deresiewicz’s thinking I now disagree with.
In his latest essay, Deresiewicz makes a number of arguments to back up his claim that we should stop sending our kids to Ivy League universities and their equivalent. His main concern: “Our system of elite education manufactures young people who are smart and talented and driven, yes, but also anxious, timid, and lost, with little intellectual curiosity and a stunted sense of purpose: trapped in a bubble of privilege, heading meekly in the same direction, great at what they’re doing but with no idea why they’re doing it.”
There are three basic problems here. The first is the notion that young people being “lost” and having “a stunted sense of purpose” is a result of their attendance at an elite university.
Last weekend I was at a party in Silicon Valley. From the Ivy Leaguers who were spending their summer doing internships to the hackademics who had left to pursue their own education, there was one thing everyone there had in common: we don’t know what’s ahead.
Of course undergraduates attending elite universities are on the whole “anxious” and “timid.” They are in the early stages of their adult lives, and they are still trying to figure things out — like all of the other young people out there. The kinds of people that Deresiewicz describes with disdain are not unique to Ivy League universities. They are everywhere, and they are the result of being young and being human.
The second problem is the idea that elite universities are not selecting for young people who are genuinely intellectually curious.
When I reflect on my high school experience, I’ve found this to not be the case at all. The five people from my graduating class who got into Stanford, Harvard, and MIT all stood out from the rest of the student body because of their extraordinary desire to learn. The people at school who were clearly overachieving only to get into college were also the people who failed to get into their top choices.
In particular, my own admission into an Ivy League equivalent is proof that they’re not selecting for the people who are “content to only color within the lines.” I mean, I put UnCollege on my college applications.
The third and most important problem, however, is the idea that making such generalized pronouncements — especially about the deeply personal decision of how to learn — is actually helpful.
This entire debate leads me to believe that people are completely missing the point.
The right question is not: Should I or should I not go to an Ivy League university?
Instead, students everyone should ask: What do I value, and what path will most effectively get me there?
What William Deresiewicz values is that young people learn how to think and how to “build a self.” This certainly sounds like something worth striving for.
So let’s assume for a moment that Deresiewicz is correct when he claims that an Ivy League education will not get you this. But what if you’re okay with that? What if this isn’t what you wanted to get from college, anyways?
If you take Deresiewicz’s advice, you are also implicitly taking into account what he values, possibly abandoning the things that you want in the process.
The thing is: if you value prestige, if you value guaranteed success, if you value having four years to learn whatever you want… then attending an Ivy League University might be right for you. On the other hand, if you value getting a first-class education as cheaply as possible, if you value learning how to learn, if you value mastering a skill… then not going to college might be right for you.
It’s true that lots of young people are like sheep, blindly following the herd. It’s ridiculous, however, to think that telling students what not to do will help them become any more independent minded.
We can’t be prescriptive about decision making without understanding what the individual values, and we can’t know what every individual values. Therefore, broadcasting our own opinions about what young people should do doesn’t actually help them. On the contrary, it can lead them astray, just in a different direction.
Certainly there are systematic problems in education that need to be solved. But they aren’t going to be solved by convincing students to go to public schools rather than Ivy League universities (as if thousands of other kids won’t immediately replace them?).
It’s going to be solved by helping students understand what their educational options are and what those options mean… and then encouraging them to (based on what they value) decide for themselves.
By Jean Fan
People who criticize the mass education system often point to the apprenticeship model as an ideal. In many ways, it’s in fact a lot better. In some ways, it’s worse.
Historically, apprenticeships have been a way for young people to gain skills from a master craftsman, by working under them for five to ten years. The modern day apprenticeship, however, may span different jobs and internships. We see apprenticeships gaining popularity with programs like Enstitute and the University of Waterloo’s co-op education.
As someone who is considering pursuing an apprenticeship instead of staying in school, I’ve been thinking a lot about its attributes. An apprenticeship offers a number of desirable things, depending on what you value and prefer:
1. One-to-one mentorship.
Benefit: One-to-one mentorship allows you to form an emotional bond with your teacher, who will then give you emotional support and encouragement. This will likely motivate you to try harder in your work.
Drawback: This is only effective if you like and are liked by your teacher. If this is not the case, you will have a highly uncomfortable experience, and the apprenticeship will probably be ineffective.
2. An individualized curriculum.
Benefit: An apprenticeship allows you to learn at a pace and progression that makes sense for you.
Drawback: The quality of the curriculum depends heavily on your mentor. Unfortunately, it can be very difficult for you to evaluate the merits of someone older and wiser than you.
3. A curriculum that is highly relevant to your future work.
Benefit: By gaining knowledge that you know is useful, you will be more motivated to learn, and spend less time having an existential crisis because you know that you’re wasting your time.
Drawback: You have less time to learn about things just because they interest you, because you’ll be focused on learning about things that relate to your work.
4. A greater chance of mastering a specific skill.
Benefit: By mastering a specific skill, you’re able to add significantly more value to the world. You also gain an advantage over your peers in terms of job security and work experience.
Drawback: Because you are choosing a skill to master earlier on in life, perhaps before you’ve explored the range of all the possible skills, you may not pick the right one for you.
5. The chance to spend time with people in many stages of their life.
Benefit: You’ll become more emotionally mature and more socially flexible. This will become apparent when you spend time with your peers.
Drawback: Dating can be difficult. Making close friends can be difficult. Neither is undoable.
What’s clear is this: there are subtle drawbacks to not going to college and choosing an apprenticeship that you have to compensate for (e.g. meeting people your own age, dating, etc.). Fortunately, it’s also clear that if you do the right apprenticeship, it can potentially offer you much more value than going to school.
Gap Year Fellows come from all walks of life. They each have unique goals, and have had different experiences and outcomes in the Program. This is Tim:
Gap Year Fellow Testimonial – Tim
Tim is a 22-year-old with a diverse background. His mother helped him develop a keen eye for design and a touch of creativity, while his father provided him with problem solving skills through careful analysis. He built his first computer at age of 13 and had hiked and canoed over 500 miles by 15. After achieving the rank of Eagle Scout and graduating high school, he enrolled in a large state university. After two semesters he found himself disgruntled with the institutional aspects of such a large school that had little regard for individual guidance. He dropped out and began to search for a passion, pursuing many different fields in the process, from physical fitness to internet marketing. He enrolled in the Gap Year program as an exploratory phase to collaborate with other bright minds and learn about himself in the process.
During the Program Tim interned for 3 months at H-Farm – an Italian startup Incubator in Venice. There he worked on marketing and community engagement, with H-farm’s host of early stage companies. Now Tim is off to Palo Alto to work as a marketing intern for a venture-backed stealth company building photography hardware.
By Jean Fan
I’ve been perplexed for a while about the concept of taking risks. The source of my confusion: I identify as risk averse, but many people perceive me as risk taking. Perhaps this is because I made the choice to take a year off from school, which is still an unusual thing to do — at least among “high achievers.”
What this means is that there aren’t two distinct camps of people when it comes to taking risks. It’s not as if you’re either someone who sees risk and runs towards it, or sees risk and runs away.
Instead, people perceive riskiness differently. An action that seems extraordinarily risky to you might seem like the safest option to me, depending on what I value and what I know.
I’ve found that people who consider skipping college risky are often people who value different things than me. So when other people make decisions, they’re taking entirely different things into account than I am, and obviously will end up with a different set of actions to take than I do.
This is why you should be wary when you take advice. If you follow the path others suggest without making sure they value the same things as you do, you’ll end up achieving what they think is important, instead of what you think is important.
Often, people who disagree with me about the importance of going to college also come to their conclusion using a different set of information than me. Not going to college sounds risky if the statistic you’ve heard and remember is that college graduates make on average $1 million more than high school graduates. Going to college sounds risky if what you know and remember is that tons of people graduate with crippling debt and no job offers.
Another thing to remember when you’re making decisions that others might consider risky: you have a lot more information about yourself than others do. You know what opportunities you have, and what they could mean. You know how much you can accomplish and what your abilities are. You know what you care about and what you don’t. All of these things should be taken into account.
I made a trip to Peru last month, and remember wondering to myself on the plane: “Why does spending 18 days in a foreign country feel more risky to me than the idea of not going school?” Then I wrote down what I valued (learning), and it all made sense.
Going to Peru felt risky to me because I’ve learned many of the lessons that travel offers. The opportunity cost was huge: I could’ve spent those 18 days learning something that I didn’t know. Not going to school, on the other hand, doesn’t feel risky to me, because I’m in a fortunate position where I have greater or equal learning opportunities available to me.
It was all just a question of whether I felt I could effectively achieve what I valued. Once you’ve evaluated your options and have chosen the path that will most effectively help you get what you value, you should no longer feel as though you’re taking a risk.
I don’t believe in “taking risks,” especially if the implication is that I’m purposely doing something that could screw up my future. Instead, I believe in making good decisions. Luckily, making good decisions is quite simple: we just need to figure out what we value and what the best path is for us to get there.
Starting in 2015, Fellows will start off their Gap Year on a Voyage and then enter the residential Launch phase. The reason for the change is best explained by one of our own Fellows:
“I found that – after having spent the launch phase in SF and having built great networks and relationships there – you want to leverage those, e.g for an internship or job in the next phase.” – Ferry, Fall 2013 Fellow
We’ve also developed partnerships so that we can place Fellows directly with organizations during the Voyage phase and offer our Fellows visa support, planning, and structure to ensure a safe and smooth time abroad. Note that these partnerships now replace the travel stipend (this will not impact Fall 2014 Fellows).
We made these changes for a number of reasons:
1. After spending three months in San Francisco building a network of mentors and friends, some Fellows had to turn down job offers because they were leaving on their Voyage.We think the maturity you gain while living abroad is invaluable, but we don’t want to slow down the success of our Fellows.
2. Fellows told us that after being abroad they felt more mature and confident. We’ve decided it is valuable for Fellows to start the year off that experience and carry that new confidence into the Launch phase.
3. The Fellows that went abroad in groups told us that they had a transformational experience and built lasting connections. Because we’ve developed these partnerships, Fellows have the opportunity to travel together and build lifelong friendships even before entering the Launch phase.
We are incredibly excited to be able to offer direct placements on the Voyage for our Fellows! We will work with you to help you choose a Voyage that fits your path. We will provide visa support, planning, and structure to ensure a safe and smooth time abroad. Included in the Voyage are accommodations while abroad, airport transfers, and 24-hour emergency support as well as other perks depending on your travel choice.
You can choose from nine options for your Voyage:
- Teaching in Thailand
- Volunteering in a Wildlife Sanctuary in Thailand
- Volunteering in a Tanzania Orphanage
- Teaching in Tanzania
- Community Volunteering in Nepal
- Coaching Sports in Ghana
- Teaching in Ghana
- Working in Australia
- Working in New Zealand
Of course, because this is a self-directed program your coach will be happy to work with you to construct a different Voyage if you have a concrete plan. These nine options will provide structure, support, and opportunities for those that don’t have a concrete travel plan in mind.