I took an untraditional path to college. I started Brown University during the fall of 2017 and left after the end of my Junior Year (Fall of 2020). Fall 2020 was the first full COVID semester with the previous semester cut short by covid. My rationale then for doing a gap semester was rooted in two reasons: 1) financial aid reasons as my brother was already taking a gap semester 2) I believed I could get 80% of what Brown offered just by being around campus but not paying expensive tuition. Long story short, I ended up living in Providence that Fall with friends and ended up leaving the following Spring to do startup stuff.

Having dropped out of college and attending my first college graduation this past weekend, I had a set of reflections and observations that I wanted to write about here.

First, I’ve come to appreciate how different the path I took was. It’s not normal to just leave college and never return all on your own volition. I still don’t know a single person who’s done this at Brown at a personal level. Not that this difference is good or bad or anything - I just hadn’t realized how different the path I had taken was, until my friends and I’ve had a few years to diverge away from each other in career paths.

Now I have groups of friends who are going into their 3rd year in Medical School. They are doing rotations and cutting cadavers and taking Step exams. They are all on a set path of becoming doctors with some more certain than others in the specialties they want to enter.

I also have groups of friends who are engineers at bigger tech companies. The majority of them are doing well but I have yet to find someone who feels totally fulfilled by the work that they do in their tech job. Some care more getting promoted than others. This group does talk more about finances, perhaps because they are able to afford better lifestyles and have more work life balance than the med students.

I recognize that these are very general observations about a small group of individuals. However, I’ve come to appreciate the differences in paths that we’ve all taken. For me, right after dropping out of Brown, I was really intent and passionate on building a startup. I knew that was my passion. However, I didn’t have a startup idea that I thought could grow to be big, so I spent 4-6 months looking for a startup idea. That search, in and of itself, felt like I was determining the rest of my 20s, as a good startup can take more than 10 years to build. Once I had gone through that search, I no longer felt anxious about my long term future or finding something I was passionate about - it was more so about executing on that vision I had for myself. This search, which felt really open-ended (am I going to build an insurance company? a fintech company? a healthcare company?) also felt really lonely as I had virtually no one who I knew that was in the same situation. Rather than having this anxiety of figuring out my long term future while working a job and it overtime gradually pressing on me, I more or less had a quarter-life crisis that I confronted full time for a few months.

Second, I would have done a lot of things differently in college. It’s not that I have deep regrets about anything, but this reflection gives me a better grasp of what today might look like peering through the lens from the distant future.

There are several things here:

  1. I should have taken course selection more seriously. I ended up taking a lot of dumb classes that I was not passionate about just to fulfill requirements.
    • I took Econometrics, which was a terrible class, just so that I could get an economics degree. My mindset was that I was going to get the terrible requirements out of the way first, but that was a dumb plan. Instead, I should’ve taken a class that intrigued me and broadened my perspectives. I think the right course of action would have been to defer the requirements that I didn’t enjoy to be last, because you want to take as few as them possible. b. I wish I had taken classes like City Politics or Healthcare in the U.S. - just any class that would’ve broadened my horizons. I remember taking an art class where I was clearly the worst student in the class, but it gave me an appreciation for the craft.
    • I took an upper-level graduate seminar called Statistical Mechanics my freshman spring. I guess it was valuable in that I learned that I wouldn’t be the best fit for academia, but I felt as though I missed a lot of foundations that would have enriched my understanding of the topic had I had taken more foundational courses like thermo, inorganic, differential eq., etc.
  2. Learning; I wish I pruned what to learn and not to learn
    • For most classes I took, the utility of the information that I learned diminished over time. The foundational topics were taught first, and then topics became more and more obscure and less useful.
    • I wish I had cared more about really learning about important stuff (ie. statistics and linalg) but completely disregarded the non-important stuff
    • I also recognize that it’s hard to know this for all topics without looking back with hindsight.
  3. Joined more clubs
    • Clubs are the most effective way for you to meet new people on campus. This is because 1) they are inherently more social than classes 2) there is a common objective that you’re working towards 3) you meet the same group of people over and over again 4) you go on fun trips
    • I didn’t join many clubs my freshman year, and it became harder to join one over time. This is one obvious regret that I have!
    • I feel like I would have been more exposed to different types of people and experiences outside of the culture that I grew up in/am familiar with. It only gets harder for this to take place after college.
  4. Graduation / Dropping Out
    • I don’t regret dropping out, as it was one of the best decisions I’ve made in my life. However, part of me does feel that college is a chapter that’s unclosed. It’s an odd feeling that’s hard to describe, but I don’t think it means anything beyond that.
  5. Being unafraid to reach out to people
    • Throughout college, I got to know Tom Perez, former chair of the DNC, and Sylvester Gates, who was my academic advisor, pretty well. This experience was one of the highlights of my time in college. It reaffirmed what was important to me and made me more excited about my future.
    • I remember I was afraid to talk to these people initially, but I would take the leap to go to their office hours or email them. It’s always really helpful to be able to have the conversation of those who have the long view of things. It’s one thing that I’m very appreciative about from my college experience.
  6. Kinder to people
    • One regret I have is that I wish I had been kinder, less judgmental, and understanding of people. None of us, especially in college, are perfectly mature and we are all works in progress :)

It’s unlikely at this point that I will ever go back to college, but truly, some part of me misses it. A time period about just learning things that interest you is such a special one. For me, Brown was the place where I became more excited about the future, made my closest friends, and became a better person. It will always have a special place in my heart.