Student Spotlight: Unconventional College Decisions

July 1, 2019
10 min read

Student Spotlight: Unconventional College Decisions

Although it may seem like it from social media, not everyone’s college experience follows the exact same path. We spoke to three students — Jasmine Berger, Jillian, and Sara Sturek — whose college experiences stray somewhat from the norm that we usually expect our university experiences to go. Their choices prove that everyone’s experience is unique to them, and there is no one way to live our your university years.

Follow this article as we explore some alternative ways to participate in the University experience. Think outside the box, follow your passion, and explore new ways to live your life!

Jasmine Berger and taking a gap year

One expectation that we often have for college is that as soon as you finish your senior year in the spring, you’ll start your college experience next fall. However, most universities offer the option to delay your admission for a year, allowing you the opportunity to take a gap year before beginning your freshman year.

Jasmine Berger, a recent graduate of Roslyn High School’s Class of 2019, would be an incoming freshman to Princeton University’s Class of 2023 this fall to study public policy through the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs. However, Jasmine is choosing to take a gap year in Indonesia with seven other Princeton students and will begin at Princeton in the fall of 2020.

Jasmine is participating in a program called Bridge Year, “a tuition-free program that allows a select number of incoming first-year students to begin their Princeton experience by engaging in nine months of University-sponsored service at one of five international locations.”

  • Where will you be going & what will you be doing on your gap year?

Next year, I will be going on a gap year in Indonesia. I will be doing community service at a non-profit. The program partners with a lot of different organizations so I’m not sure which I will be placed at. They mainly center around attaining equality for marginalized groups and providing educational and work opportunities.

  • What are you hoping to get out of the experience?

The program describes this gap year as a “learning service” trip – with an emphasis on learning first and service second. It’s really important to learn about the customs and cultural norms before trying to fix issues there. So I’m really hoping to learn a lot through the language and exposure to the culture. I will also be living in a home-stay for 9 months so I think it will be a really great access point for immersing myself in the Indonesian lifestyle.

  • Why did you choose to take a gap year before starting freshman year? 

I chose to do a gap year because when else in my life am I going to have essentially no responsibilities and the ability to take off 9 months to live abroad? Learning in a classroom or through a textbook only goes so far…being constantly surrounded by a new language and culture and learning through real-life experiences is going to be really different. Also, it’s fully funded by the university!

  • Do you have any concerns about starting with the year younger than you?

I think everyone’s fear about a gap year is that they’ll forget how to study or something like that. Most people I’ve spoken to who have done this program said it just feels like a really long summer – you always get back into it! I’ll be taking language classes and I want to keep a journal or blog so hopefully, my writing and other school skills don’t completely deteriorate! Again, this is an unparalleled opportunity so I think it’s worth the slight anxiety of starting college a year later.

Follow Jasmine Berger on Instasgram: @jasmineberger
Find out more about Princeton’s Bridge Year Program here

Jillian and off-campus housing

Another expectation we often have of our university years is that you’ll live in university-owned housing for at least one of your four years. However, this expectation fails to shed light on those students who choose not to live in university housing (if there isn’t a requirement to do so) and decide to commute to their school instead.

Jillian Weinberg is a rising senior at Hofstra University majoring in psychology and minoring in educational studies. She is also a member of Hofstra’s Honor’s College. After graduation, she plans on receiving a PsyD in school psychology. Jillian chose to commute to her school instead of living in the dorms.

  • Why did you choose to commute to school instead of living on campus?

I chose to go to a private college close to my house and commute to class because I am most comfortable with my family and prefer the privacy of my own space. I have a lot of anxiety, especially when it comes to unfamiliar places, so commuting to a local school was the best option for me. I predicted that doing so would allow me to thrive the most academically and professionally, and it certainly has.

Image result for Hofstra Honors College

WRHU Radio Hofstra University via Twitter

  • Has commuting to school impacted your experience in any particular way? 

Commuting to school made it significantly harder for me to make friends. I didn’t have roommates to hang out with or neighbors to befriend, so it required a lot more effort to meet people. Commuting also impacts the way I schedule my classes.

Because I don’t have a dorm to hang out in for hours between classes, I prefer to schedule my classes back-to-back. Though there is always the library, I typically prefer doing my work away from possible distraction. Because commuting leads me to cluster my classes, it limits what is offered at the times I want to be on campus.

  • What did you wish you knew about being a commuter before starting school?

I wish I knew that it would be much harder to make friends. I have a year left of school and I don’t have a solid group of college friends. For the most part, I made friends in my classes. And, usually, once the semester ended, I never really spoke to them again. This did not ruin the last (almost) four years of my life as I have friends and a social life outside of college. However, it is definitely something I wish I knew the extent of.

  • Do you have any advice for someone wanting to make friends, but is afraid that not living in the dorms will impact that?  

Join a club! Rush a sorority/fraternity! Get involved. When I first started college, people were always urging me to get involved on campus, but I always pushed back. Now, I’m almost done, and I wish I got involved sooner– now, I’m in the “it’s too late” stage. So, my advice would definitely be to hang out on campus outside of class, join some extra-curricular activities, and be social!

Sara Sturek and opting out of Greek life

A final expectation that students often have is that they’ll need to participate in Greek life to have an enjoyable experience and meet new people. But this is far from the only way to make friends and have a great time at school!

Sara Sturek is a rising sophomore at USC who is double majoring in Creative Writing and Communications originally from Syosset, New York. Sara is not a member of the Greek community at her school, so we decided to ask her about her decision and experiences of not being involved.

  • Why did you decide not to join a sorority?

I decided to go through the rush process as a personal social experiment of mine because all my home friends were in Greek life, and I thought it would be interesting to rush see what it was like. After about four days of that experience, I personally only liked one house because they didn’t really take themselves too seriously and it didn’t feel forced out.

However, there were two main reasons why I decided to drop rush. One was due to the money financial commitment which was about $3000 a semester and as well as I realized the Greek life process was a lot about how much money you have, the color of your skin, and for that, it was a system I did not want to be a part of. However, I did make a few great friends from my rush group!

  • Have there been any challenges of not being involved in Greek Life?

I think the main challenge of not being in Greek life is just watching what many others are doing on Instagram or Snapchat. It definitely seems cool to have all the events formals or invites, and I think a challenge would be of having FOMO with that. But after rush, I was glad that I went [through] the process, but I knew that it wasn’t for me so I’m able to now look on at those events and not feel unhappy with my decision.

  • Are you still able to go out despite not being involved in Greek Life? 

I am definitely able to go out without Greek life. I have a great group of girlfriends and every weekend we’ll either go to a few frat parties or take road trips or adventures just exploring LA which I absolutely love to do.

I also sometimes think I’m better off not in Greek life because I have the freedom and availability on the weekends to go out on those road trips or adventures which is great.

  • Do you have any advice for someone who is on the fence about rushing or not?  

I would tell anyone is on the fence about rushing life is to really talk to people that are in it. I spoke to a few of my friends who are older who are in [Greek life], and they [gave] me a lot of great insight to see if it was for me, and I also think if you still can’t make a decision to just try out the rush experience because you will learn a lot from it. You never know, you might end up loving it or realizing there is something else that suits you better. Even though it’s cliché just stay true to yourself and try not to lose that among rush or Greek life.

Follow Sara on Instagram: @Sassyy_ass

Are you an student pursuing an unconventional college path? Let us know what you did and how it contributed to your school year. For more articles on college life, expert advice, and dorm decor, browse our articles and get inspired.

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Warby Parker