Why I Decided to Stay Another Year in College When I was Just About to Graduate

Just about 3 months ago, I was sooo ready to graduate and take on life after graduation.

Some of my friends know that I like to plan things out. Maybe you know that I like to plan my days.

Ever since I switched majors, I created a plan where I would still graduate in four years. Throughout college, I went back to the plan and made changes to it until it was finalized so that I would graduate college with over a year interning and experience doing research in 2 social science labs.

Yeah, it’s okay with me if you think I sound like I overplan.

I was super thankful that I was still able to graduate in four years, even though I switched majors smack dab in the middle of my college career.

But even though I started a new major after my second year of college, I carried this notion of: “I still have to graduate in four years. I just have to.”

I don’t know exactly where this notion came from. I’ve always told other fourth years who contemplate on taking an extra year school that staying a fifth year is totally cool if they think it will benefit them in the end. But for some reason, it was almost as if I was “forcing” myself to graduate in four years.

My words didn’t exactly line up with my actions (because that’s something that people never do, right?).

I also have a couple of good friends that have done a lot of cool things after they graduated. Like manage their own organization they co-created. Or teach English and live in Japan for over a year.

And though I’m set on going to grad school for a Ph.D, I planned to take a gap year before grad school. My cool friends doing cool things kind of made me want to start doing cool things in my gap year too.

Though I am very grateful with the many tremendous opportunities I’ve had at my university, I wanted to finish college and move on to the next thing.

I mentioned earlier that I like having a plan.

But recently, through an unplanned opportunity, as well as through a statistics class, I’ve relearned a very important lesson that led me to decide to stay an extra year in college.

Uncommon Outcomes

Last quarter, I took an applied statistics in psychology class. The class was for psych majors who want to be able to read the intimidating, scary numbers in academic research papers and say, “Hey, I actually understand this.”

Stats joke. I had to.

There were 15 people enrolled in the class. For a class at a large, public university, that’s a pretty small class.

Because it was a small class, it wasn’t tough to meet others. After meeting a few classmates, I learned that a lot of them were taking it through a postbaccalaureate program. Other classmates were pursuing their Bachelor’s degree, but were in their late-twenties and even early thirties.

These students weren’t the “regular” 18–22 year old college student. (One student even was a parent, I believe!)

And they all wanted to get into grad school.

Let’s keep this in mind.

No Expectations

In the midst of our class’s hey-let’s-get-to-know-each-other talks, one classmate (who was in the postbacc program) told me of a study in a lab he was a part of. He said that their project *may* be looking for more research assistants (RA’s).

Because that lab does research in a field that I’m very interested in, I’ve previously thought about applying to work with the lab.

However, I was already an RA for another lab, and thought that I would not be able to give this new lab my best effort (if I were to apply). And as we know earlier, I was on-track with my plan to graduate, and didn’t know if I could still graduate if I worked with another lab.

But I thought about it more and figured,

“It never hurts to apply and see what happens. I can apply, and in the off-chance, I won’t get the position and will never have to make the decision to join. If I do get it, I’ll make that decision then.”

So I applied. I reached out to the professor of the lab, and the grad student in charge of the project.

I’m very grateful to both Dr. Sarah Pressman, who forwarded my info to two of her grad students, and to the grad student, Marie, who was willing to make the time to meet!

A week later, I get an email from the lab manager for an interview for a different project in the lab.

I interview with them and get hired on the spot.

Being in the lab for over a quarter now, I’ve gained some really cool skills, been able to contribute cool ideas, and met very driven and cool people.

I’m going to emphasize the “very driven and cool people” part.

When I got started in the lab, I got to meet the other RA’s. Two of them have already graduated from college, and wanted to get more research experience before applying to grad school. One of them recently got accepted to a Ph.D program in Communications.

Another RA decided to go back to school in their mid-twenties, and is doing a thesis through an honors program. She just got accepted to a Ph.D program for Clinical Psychology.

I thought more about the people I’ve met in this lab, as well as my classmates in stats class.

I’ve met people who want to pursue a Ph.D and become a psychologist, after majoring in something completely different in their undergrad.

I’ve met people who want to pursue a Ph.D and went back to college, after working a job and was on a completely different path in their early twenties.

I’ve met people who reminded me that there’s no rush to pursue what you want to pursue.

And here I was, thinking that I had to graduate in four years and finish college at twenty-two.

On a related note.

The Decision

As you should know by now, I recently decided that I will be staying a fifth year in school.

I will be doing a thesis next year through the same honors program, and will be next year’s lab manager.

To some, staying a fifth year may have been the obviously better decision.

But I think people sometimes feel the need to rush through school just to start their career.

At least I felt that way before.

Regardless of one’s age and/or the dumb idea that we should have our shit figured out in our early twenties, it’s never too late to pursue what you want.

My message isn’t “Stay in school!”, nor “It’s okay to mess around in school and take five or more years to graduate!”

Yeah, I was on the path to graduate in four years. But since my goal is to get a Ph.D, and since I saw an opportunity that will tremendously help me get to that goal, I might as well take that opportunity, right?

Maybe you’re in that place too — Feeling rushed to get your life started or feeling you need to figure out now what you’re going to do in life.

It doesn’t matter how long it takes for you to get where you want to be.

Travel at your own pace.

As long as you’re taking the right steps to get there and are enjoying the journey on the way.

This article was originally posted on my blog.

Photo by Matt Wiebe.

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