How Entering The Workforce Before College Makes Us Better Students

by Danni Renee

This year's graduating class has done it. Congratulations to all of you; your future endeavors await.

However, other members of Generation-Y await a graduation date of their own.

I am referring to the career changers, those who did not follow the traditional path of college after high school and those taking longer than the standard four to six years in an undergraduate program.

While it is absolutely okay to go to school right out of high school or drop out of school to pursue a trade, it's also absolutely okay to drop a trade and start school, no matter who or where you are in life.

Until recently, I was dedicated to exploring the working world: retail, hospitality and banking among other things.

Married to the money, as some may call it, I wasn't mentally invested or passionate about going to school.

Fast-forward to now: I'm on campus with other degree-pursuing undergrads.

Yes, I'm among fresh-faced 18 and 19-year-old freshmen, and yes, they do at times mistake me for the TA or ask what I've been doing for the last few years.

Explanation for this situation lies in the result of my earlier 20-something choices.

This season, I am not celebrating my own graduation or promotion like my friends are, but rather, in a sense, I am "starting from the bottom."

And that's okay.

In the past few years, I've attained invaluable knowledge, like how to work under pressure or with others whom I don't particularly mesh.

I've gained a level of professionalism by jumping into employment early (the networking tricks I picked up from conference calls or work events come in handy these days).

I've learned about the survival of the fittest through workplace competition, which was was probably the rudest (and best) awakening.

I discovered many things by starting my life after high school in the workforce, and they all make me a better student.

I even learned more about myself by diving into the "real world" before embarking on college. On the surface level, I know I don't like working on commission or in the corporate world.

I made the decision to return to school on my own, not as an automated step toward the "next thing" or to make my parents happy.

That type of decision-making only leads to choosing any kind of major, getting stuck and not knowing what to do with your degree after all is said and done.

Granted, getting practice in the real world before starting school may seem like the backward way to do it. The reactions I receive pretty much spell it out.

People are confused when I tell them I am in my mid-20s, in no master's program or any kind of career and am an undergraduate freshman. In truth, the route doesn't matter.

College prepared 2015 graduates for the real world; the real world prepared students to return to college.

Both journeys instill lasting traits of a good work ethic, like discipline, sacrifice and grit.

These traits are learned when you're trying to meet a homework deadline or trying to get to a shift on time.

The point is, contrary to traditional belief, there is no single correct path for any goal, dream or reality.

Personally, the best part about leaving work to pursue school is that I appreciate my education more now than I probably would have then.

Indeed, college is a time to experiment with who we are, but studying is a lot easier when certain curiosities have already been satisfied.

After we've been there and done that, the drive behind going to class revolves solely around just wanting to learn. "Starting from the bottom" seems sweeter after already having tasted what others perceive as post-grad life.

Besides, being in school is the time when your sole responsibility is to develop yourself. It's the only time it's comfortable to be financially poor but knowledge rich.

Why not enjoy it and embark upon it whenever you feel the time is right? F*ck a timeline.

Someone is never too old or too late to set another goal or to dream a new dream. It takes a good amount of courage to do so.

The reward behind the discomfort of this "backward" route is that more ammunition and drive is added to our pursuit.

We have the opportunity to merge our knowledge into one (or many) strong future endeavors.

So, again: Congratulations to the class of 2015, and congratulations to those moving forward with different academic trails of their own.

It doesn't matter the path or amount of time we take. We will all get there eventually.