Ball State, like a lot of universities, encourages students to get their degree in four years. The university will even give you a $500 scholarship if you are set up to graduate in four years.
But four years just doesn’t work for everyone.
Last fall, I was looking at graduating in July 2014. I would walk with my friends in May at graduation and just take my courses online while working my first job or a paid internship.
I decided to not return to Ball State for the Spring Semester around midnight about a week before Christmas. By noon the next day, I had the support of my family, and it was done.
There were a lot of immediate repercussions. I had to find a subleaser and move out of the house I had already lived in for a year and a half in Muncie and shared with four of my closest friends.
My boyfriend of two and a half years, who had already graduated, broke up with me, largely because I was adding an extra year to my college career and I was never one to take academia seriously anyway.
I had to move back into my mom’s house. Even though it was temporary, I had told myself I would never do that again once I moved into the residence halls my freshman year.
It was so hard. And I’m not one to be an optimist. But I quickly learned that being in college is all about learning. This was just part of the learning process for me.
I accepted a full-time job in social work. It was a field I had always wanted to explore, and I could do it without a degree.
I was worried about tempting myself away from college with it, even though I knew my passion for journalism was still very intact. Turns out, making $8.75 for incredibly inconvenient hours made me want to be in a classroom more than ever.
I worked with budgeting for the first time in my life. I had ruined my credit with a single credit card. A large part of why I decided to not return to school is because I knew even private loan lenders wouldn’t give me a loan.
Luckily, shortly into my stint of social work, I was offered an internship. It was the only internship I applied for before deciding to not return to school.
The internship was the only way I had promised my long-term boyfriend I would move to his city after school. It didn’t matter at this point, but I took it. It paid a lot more than my social work job, and I was dying to get back into journalism.
My time off was weird and stressful. After working at my internship, I didn’t have the same drive to be in a classroom as I did when I was working in social work. I loved my internship so much that I wanted to go back and get my degree nonetheless.
The change that happened for me was mostly psychological, and it was huge.
Before leaving Ball State, I worked a lot on the Daily News staff, but I didn’t go to class. Or study. Or do homework. I didn’t understand why I needed to go to class if I was getting the experience I needed through student media outlets.
But, during my time off, something clicked. Being out of school and facing the prospect of never going back was scary. I am here to learn. Before, I let everything else get in the way. But at the very least, I am here to get that degree. That’s what matters.
Since returning to Ball State, I found out that I will be able to graduate in May, which I wasn’t sure would still be possible. It’s a lot of pressure.
Even though I’ve been working full time for the past eight months, school has exhausted me. I wasn’t a good student before, so trying to be a good student now has proved challenging but achievable.
The amount of pressure is incredible. I have had a couple of professors pull me aside and privately tell me that I look great and that they are really happy I made it back.
Every part of this process has been truly difficult, but I am so thankful. I can truly say it is the best decision I’ve ever made. My entire outlook is different, and it wasn’t something I could just do over Summer Break. It took a bigger gesture.
It will take me five years total to graduate from Ball State. And you know what? That’s OK. It is actually better in my case than graduating in four.
If that’s a path you need to take, don’t let Ball State tell you that it’s not OK because you don’t fit into their meticulous plan. At the end of your college career, it is about what fits your plan.