Six Reasons I Didn’t Choose College First

As late August rolls along, new and returning college students worldwide will be packing their bags and heading to their second homes to prepare for another semester at college. Just because I like to against the current, I’ll be doing something a little different: come late August, I will be 2 months into a flip-flop thru hike of the Appalachian Trail. Here are some of my reasons:

1) “College will always be there for me, but some things won’t be” 

This was said to me by a good friend of mine about a month ago, and has resonated since. College isn’t going anywhere, but many of life’s opportunities will fly right on by. Right now I’m young, debt free, fit, adventurous, and willing to put myself through the twists and turns of an incredible journey, so what’s stopping me?

2) I don’t know what I want to be yet

While many new college students are unsure of what they want to major in, I cannot accept the thought of walking into school blind. Embarking on any trail for extended periods of time leaves hikers lots more time to think than the average person, and often they leave the trail with a better sense of self. I hope be able to learn a lot about myself while on the trail, and what my true aspirations in life are. Hiking “The People’s Trail” will introduce me to a wide variety of people of all ages, ethnicities, and orientations; and I will be able to use their life experiences, opinions, and advice to help guide me in my future.

3) It’s a whole lot cheaper than actual college

While I consider myself a good student who values a great education, traditional college just simply costs too much, and hiking the AT would only add to my future money problems if I decided to continue down the traditional college path. Therefore, I decided to embark on this adventure and willingly go to community college afterwards. This way, I’ll actually be doing my wallet a favor by hiking the trail and receiving an associates degree at a two-year school. According to the facts, the average cost of one year at community college is $3,300, an in-state public institution about $9,100, and out-of-state public institutions a whopping $23,000 (https://bigfuture.collegeboard.org/pay-for-college/college-costs/college-costs-faqs). That’s a lot of money! While college debt is something many students are willing to accept, I simply cannot find a way justify the cost of going to a 4-year college for my 101’s, when community college offers the same courses at a much lower price (luckily, the community college in my area is one of the best in the country). In fact, it will actually cost me less to travel across 14 states for 4-6 months, and receive an associate’s degree, than to spend 3 semesters at traditional college. After receiving an associate’s, I will be able to work for higher wages at better jobs, and commit to attending the final 2 years of a traditional 4-year college to receive my bachelor’s. While I may not get the praised traditional “college experience” of dorm life, I will be given the opportunity of meeting many great people on the trail  and forming a supportive community with them; and I won’t be in debt.

4) It’s a great resume builder/conversation starter

Very self explanatory. Want a fantastic activity on your resume? Never want to be caught in a boring conversation again? Then hike the AT. It’s an impressive feat, and people will want to know about it (as long as you can sum it up in a few sentences, that is).

5) Technology detox.

Yes, being born in 1998 still makes me part of the digital age, but I am not the biggest fan of technology. I strongly support the use of electronics to pursue knowledge, and as a sort of entertainment; yet I feel my interactions with many others my age has been lacking due to technology such as cell phones.  It’s so hard to talk to others my age for more than two minutes without them losing eye contact to check their screens. I get very aggravated when class is disrupted by a phone ringing, or someone watching a video without headphones (it happens more often than you’d think in school). Now that many school worksheets have answers posted online, the majority of students don’t even try to find information for themselves anymore, and are unable to think independently and creatively. Some people are even so dependent on their phones that they can even go through withdrawal symptoms when they don’t have it. I even find myself at times huddled over my phone, ignoring the world. When I go to college, I will only spend more time hunched over my laptop writing papers; hardly something a fit and able-bodied young adult should do. Last summer, I volunteered for the National Park Service, lived in a campsite, and had very minimal electronic access: it was wonderful. Being without a phone had helped me build friendships faster, develop a longer attention span, and think more clearly. It was a truly liberating experience, and I hope to relive that lifestyle again on a much larger scale.

6) It’s basically a multi-month camping trip with a bunch of smelly strangers, what could be better?

This isn’t college related, but who doesn’t want to go on a glorified camping trip? Think of all the advantages to backpacking: showers and laundry are optional, the ability to eat a whole box of donuts or pizza (with no shame), no need to have extra changes of clothing, and being able to tromp around the woods like a complete hooligan, for weeks on end, while being accompanied by other hooligans. I see no reason why any able-bodied person wouldn’t want to hike the trail.

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Comments 6

  • Gear : Jan 22nd

    You are totally right. After college life will get in your way and any dreams you may have about hiking the AT will be constantly bumped to the end of the queue. I had the draft and the money problem to deal with, but if you have the resources, go for it. Maybe I will see you out there, I’m flip flopping too, but start in March.

    Reply
    • Leah Rubin : Jan 22nd

      Thanks for the encouragement. I’ll be hiking nobo from NY then sobo once I summit Katahdin. I hope to bump into you!

      Reply
  • Ronen Schatsky : Jan 22nd

    I also just graduated high school, though in 2015, and decided to take a gap year with the aim of thru-hiking this spring. I totally relate to everything you said. Good luck, and maybe we’ll run into each other on the trail!

    Reply
    • Leah Rubin : Jan 22nd

      I hope to see you on the trail too. It’s great to hear about other hikers my age!

      Reply
  • Jackie Grannis-Phoenix : Jan 23rd

    Good luck, Leah! Our son graduated from high school a semester early in 2015 to start his AT thru hike in the spring. He completed it and loved it. We are so proud of him and his decision to take charge of his life and his education in a non-traditional way. We really value college education too, and we trust that someone with the gumption to hike the AT will continue to be a life-long learner who will figure out if/when/how college fits in. I hope you have supportive people in your life. The AT is a very worthwhile challenge!

    Reply
  • Naomi : Apr 7th

    Leah, sounds great and makes a lot of sense!
    I love what you are doing and your reasons for taking this “path”.
    Have a great time, take care of yourself#

    Reply

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