Last year, halfway through fall semester and two tubs of Thai rolled ice cream, one of my friends mentioned the possibility that she would take spring semester off to work a job.
“Oh, so you’ll graduate a semester late?” I asked.
“No, I’ll just finish in seven semesters and graduate with you all,” she responded, biting into a Pocky stick while coincidentally opening up a realm of possibilities in my mind. In all of my years of overworking and overcompensating for my insecurities at Yale, I had never realized that instead of doing more, I could do less by graduating a semester early. It had never occurred to me that taking seven classes a semester could have a special payoff (beyond a deepened emotional attachment to calendar apps). It had never occurred to me that of all people, I — a premed with a penchant for creative writing classes and general overcommitment issues — could diverge from the sacred eight semester contract.
Of all of the uncalculated moves that I had ever made,which, considering my premedical disposition, were few, this was the biggest by far. Clearly, I needed to do some research. What were accelerated credits? Oh, thank God, I didn’t need to use them. What if I wanted to stay near campus in the spring? Nope, on-campus housing wasn’t available. What was available off campus? Did I want to work full time? Could I still walk at graduation with my classmates? What was I going to do between 11:35 and 12:50? Was I going to lose access to my yale.edu email earlier than everyone else? Who could I look to for advice? Was this my farewell to Durfee’s swipes, once and for all?
There was one more question: Assuming that I stayed in New Haven for Spring 2019 with no Yale ID or swipe access, would my life become FOMO galore? Would my life feel like self-elected exile? I couldn’t be sure. But this fear followed me throughout the months that I spent thinking about my decision, through meals and formals and the Spring 2018 shopping period, where I counted out exactly how many more credits I needed. The average Yalie has only eight semesters to meet friends and make lifelong connections. What was I thinking, depriving myself of an entire semester of that privilege?
Beneath all of this, I also feared that taking a gap semester was the “easy” way out, that I was making the decision sheerly due to laziness or burnout. Perhaps, after all this time and effort, I actually lacked the grit to stick it through all four years. Maybe I should stay, just to prove that I had the academic endurance. But then again, why was I questioning myself? What was the point in wondering whether I could do one more semester, if I had already completed seven? In that moment, I recognized a seed of doubt that had been planted within me from the moment I stepped foot onto campus. It was a seed that had sprouted as I juggled lab reports, problem sets, student group meetings and events. It had bloomed as I accepted my role as a super-effective, uber-committed student in a body of many. It had whispered a poisonous mantra to me: that nothing I did — no amount of work or effort or dedication — would ever be enough. Ever.
As a rising senior, I finally realized that it was my duty to extricate toxic influences from my life — which included seeds born from overextended metaphor.
So I reaped my harvest (I’m sorry), and I took the leap.
Two weeks ago, I submitted my senior petition. On Monday, I dropped a class for the very first time — and might even use my first Cr/D/F. I’ve become less worried about the questions, and more excited for the uncertainty, individuality and wide-open space of spring semester. Although I’ve learned an incredible amount in my Yale classes, there are plenty of things that I’ve had to rain check for years: books, movies, jobs, old friends, travel, even school events that I never had time for because of class. My gap semester is my chance to do it all. As someone on the exciting cusp of matriculating to medical school next year (fingers crossed), I find it incredibly freeing to know that I’ve made time to write my own life script and to explore myself outside of a classroom context. There are teaching jobs, instruments, volunteer positions and coding languages out there — all available for me to explore at my own pace. It’s a break, but just from classrooms — not from learning, and certainly not from growing.
While I absolutely do not suggest that anyone follow in my footsteps (or otherwise try to convince their deans to let them take seven classes), I welcome everyone to break away from the Yale script, even if it diverges from the sacred Yale contract. Take fewer classes. Use your Cr/D/F’s when you can. Say no to that club position that you’re not excited about. Don’t force yourself to work full time every single summer, especially if it makes you tired and miserable. Don’t listen to the whispers. Don’t be afraid to do “nothing.”
Because otherwise, you’ll get sick of the “somethings,” and you won’t go on fateful trips to Zero Degrees for Thai rolled ice cream with your friends. And we all deserve better than that.
Catherine Yang is a senior in Trumbull College. Her column runs on the first Thursday of each month. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org .