One Tuesday, my suitemate and I drank chai tea in our friend’s common room and listened to his old records. The next Tuesday, he was gone.
Finding out that my friend, a fellow freshman, had decided to leave Yale initially perplexed me. Yale undergraduates are continually reminded of our coveted position in life. From renowned professors and speakers to student organizations of every variety, the great promise of Yale is something that seems hard to walk away from. But my friend’s decision isn’t one to be scorned. It should be lauded. It is okay to leave.
Few people withdraw from Yale. The Yale Fact Sheet compiled by the Office of Institutional Information touts a student body statistic attesting to this: 99% of freshmen return for their sophomore year. College ranking websites routinely rank Yale as one of the best colleges in terms of student happiness.
But these statistics are deceptive and, to some extent, oppressive. Not all freshmen are content with their experiences. You’d be hard-pressed to find someone whose “bright college years” don’t have a fair share of not-so-bright moments. On a campus where everyone seems to be doing fine, we often keep distance from instances where our experiences fail to meet our expectations. This is a dangerous approach, especially during a time of transition where emotions are likely more volatile than usual.
It is okay for us to admit that Yale is not healthy for everyone. In fact, it is our responsibility to understand that for some of our peers, with whom we share lunch tables, classes and a home, this environment feels destructive, not constructive. We don’t need clinical expertise or administrative authority to recognize that it is possible for life at Yale to endanger the personal well-being of some members of our community. It is okay for someone to want to leave — and it is okay for him or her to leave. There shouldn’t be a stigma attached to the concept of withdrawing from Yale.
Personal growth is not exclusively a by-product of an Ivy League education. We shouldn’t look at leaving Yale as giving up those renowned speakers or professors from institutions around the globe. Time off can instead be an opportunity to embrace alternative paths towards learning and success. I took a gap year between high school and college, and I can attest to the numerous and varied lessons available outside of the structure of the 13 weeks of school term. Leaving a Yale education does not necessitate missing out on education — we should remember the possibility of attending other institutions or pursuing endeavors unconstrained by a formal academic environment.
Withdrawing from Yale may seem logistically overwhelming, and its financial and personal costs should not be overlooked. We may feel obligations to the friends, parents and mentors who helped us get here. But while it is important not to preemptively abandon Yale, early withdrawal may be the wisest investment. Rather than only half-heartedly utilize the resources at Yale now, it might be more productive to take a semester off before returning in a healthier state and more ready to tackle Yale. Seeking alternative routes is a frightening prospect, but sacrificing up to four years of life — years of immense potential and dynamic growth — is a more devastating loss.
One of my suitemates often contemplates how she could abruptly leave Yale and go abroad or write a book. On one level, this is a form of daydreaming for her, a coping mechanism to temporarily escape from the problem sets and papers in front of her.
But, unlike my other friend’s decision, her contemplation is a form of frivolous procrastination. Leaving Yale is not as easy as in her daydream. Withdrawal is a difficult decision with serious implications. Although I feel the loss of those visits to my friend’s suite and the songs we listened to together, I understand his decision. For his friends, the doubts we may harbor and the personal toll of his new absence must come second to the hope that he is in a better place.
Kelsi Caywood is a freshman in Timothy Dwight College. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.