By: Katie Rush

As I graduated from high school in May of 2011, I listened to all my friends’ excitement about ‘the next four years.’ I attended countless college and university themed graduation parties, I went on numerous shopping excursions to find the best dorm room hamper, and I participated in dozens of conversations about what all my friends would decide to do with the rest of their lives.

As I attended parties, shopped for dorm room necessities, and encouraged my friends to live out their dreams, I knew I had already made a decision about my own life that was deemed non-conventional in the suburb I grew up in; I was taking a year off.

After my year off, I spent two years at a community college, working a full-time job. I finally transferred to Kent State University to earn a four-year degree, and instead of living on campus or near campus, I decided to commute from my parent’s home to school.

Undoubtedly, there are a few things I wish I had known about the unconventional nature of these decisions and how they would impact my college experience. As I approach graduation (32 days!), I can reflect on these choices and offer advice to other students who choose to earn their degrees in ways deemed non-traditional.

1. If you have no idea what you want to do, taking the year off is a good thing, as weird as it feels. Wasting money and time to fake an interest is never, and will never be, worth it.

2. If you know you eventually want to attend a university, save your money! Just because your friends are eating ramen noodles and dining hall food, and you can afford more than the dollar menu, doesn’t mean you should go to the mall and buy all the things you could never afford in high school. The best investment you will be making is in your education. If you have the time to save, use it!

3. Four-year universities aren’t for everyone, but the best trial to see if it’s for you, is community college. Personally, I loved it. The professors were understanding that their students weren’t typically as conventional as students at four-year universities, and the variety of other students was incredibly inspiring and motivating. If you aren’t ready to commit to a four-year school, and can take a few entry-level courses at a community college, try it. The courses are cheaper, and cover the same material.

4. If you’re commuting more than 30 minutes, invest in your ride. Commuting is no small task, and you should have a car that is up to the challenge. If what you’re currently driving is barely getting you from point A to point B, consider investing in a new vehicle, or reevaluate commuting this far at all.

5. Group projects will be tough. And that’s about the nicest way I can say it. Always inform group members that you aren’t necessarily as available to meet at the library in five, but prepare to be flexible with your time to prove you’re trying.  Offer to Skype in if you’re not able to meet for just a quick brainstorming session, and if possible, take on individual tasks you can do away from campus.

6. Don’t let the term ‘non-traditional’ bother you. Just because you didn’t approach the college experience the way most of your friends did, doesn’t mean you approached it incorrectly. When the diploma you earned is in your hands, and the job you love is in your future, the experience along the way just builds character.

What are some things you wish you knew before choosing a non-traditional route?