💬What made Karan drop his NYU dream?

A homeschooled IB-student talks to us about mental health, digital learning tools, and how taking a break from school actually helped him.

💬What made Karan drop his NYU dream?

Written by Swasti Acharya

For students who haven’t yet witnessed the perils and praises of work-life, the desire to take a break manifests itself in what is called a Gap Year. Whether right after high school, college, or sometimes in-between, this phenomenon is that time taken to “figure out” what you’d want to do.

Even though a ‘gap’ signifies a rupture of some kind, we spoke to a young student in the capital who shares how taking a year off before college contributed to building a stronger application packet.

Karan’s profile:

  • 18 years old
  • Male
  • New Delhi
  • Living with family

Home-schooled despite good grades and extracurriculars at top IB schools

“I was in boarding school, and it was a very difficult situation for me, like being away from my parents. It was not something I was very comfortable with... I mean my grades were up, my relationships and friendships with the teachers and friends were good but mentally, like I still needed my parents. I didn't think that I was ready to be that far from them for that long,” says Karan, a 17-year-old home-schooled International Baccalaureate (IB) student.

Parents often decide to home-school their children for a variety of reasons.

In Karan’s case, it primarily had to do with changing multiple schools in a short period of time. “From one school to the other, it's been quite hectic. From the British International School, Australia International School, to Billabong High and then Pathways World School and Kodaikanal International School,” he rattled off.

The fact is that despite a seemingly stable and well-balanced life, there was an internal struggle that Karan was dealing with. His experience is not unique. Poor mental health and desire for emotional support isn’t always written on a billboard.

“I came back home and they thought that it's better that I stay home for a while. Trying to get back down to earth, get my mental state down, trying to calm myself down. So I started looking at ways I can do homeschooling. I did IGSCE. [...] But when I turned 18, I was very confused as to what I wanted to do with my life in terms of my career.”

Suddenly, NYU was not the dream anymore

“I took a year off from studying, and I did a lot of internships to figure out what exactly I wanted to do,” Karan shared with me. According to him, “working in internships kind of gives you a more clear idea of what exactly you want your life to be like, beyond the books.”

In doing so, Karan realised that what he thought was his ideal goal was not quite the match.

“I always knew what I wanted to do. I wanted to be a writer. But then I realised that my writing is more of a hobby than a career choice because I write my feelings and not on-demand, and that wasn't a career opportunity.”

It’s almost as though taking that time off from studying actually helped Karan better identify his strengths and play to them. Who would have thought?

“My dream college, New York University (NYU), that I wanted to go to was not exactly my dream college anymore, because of this breakthrough. I came to the conclusion that I wanted to do international relations and communications because I learned from PR (public relations) and I found that I'm really good at communicating with people.”

Interested in uncovering all the insights from this study? You can access the full data packet with 9 interviews here.

Karan’s decision to change his intended major pre-college means retaking IB exams with Global Politics – this is required for anyone who wants to do Political Science in college - even if this takes more time. “I think it's fine as even if it takes me a few more extra years, at least I'll be doing what I want to be doing, something that I'm interested in,” he rationalized.

The goal is to take the time to pause and identify what degree titles he wanted to chase before it gets locked on paper.

This practice is not new. Youngsters in the West have followed a tradition of taking a gap year specially before college to engage in activities that help build their portfolios while also helping them narrow down their field of interest. This could involve volunteering in low-income communities, doing internships and exchange-programmes or taking advanced skill development courses. While taking a gap year runs the risk of reflecting negatively on your resume, it is encouraged by college prep organisations like the Princeton Review (US) and UCAS (UK) for those who wish to go abroad.

Taking time off from institutional education doesn’t mean the learning has to stop. Karan echoed: “When I started doing internships, I realised I learnt more doing the job than learning about it in school.”

The shift to online learning benefited learners across age-groups, including high school students. Coursera and EdX have introduced specific programs to prep teenagers to get ‘college ready’.

“I've done a lot of courses on Coursera, and it's more self-paced, that's good. It's like a combination of a lot of videos that you can see, and a lot of quick quizzes that you can do, so that's interesting. EdX is more technical, so if you're more of a visual learner then Coursera is more for you. But if you’re more of an information-after-information kind of learner, who likes to do research and who can handle a lot of information then EdX is more for you,” advises Karan.

While some of them are free, students like Karan choose to pay for them hoping to get that extra edge.

“I paid for everything, so I have a legitimate certificate after I completed the course. And you have to pay a certain amount to be able to have a legitimate certificate, or you can just do it for the sake of learning.”

Ultimately, productivity and happiness go hand in hand and sometimes, it takes a bit of rest to make it count.