I don’t have relationships with the other undergrads, but because of this, I’ve developed relationships with my professors, who I’ve found to be more receptive to me because of how engaged I am. As a freelance writer, I often exchange published work or research with my instructors. I always come to class prepared. I’m not preoccupied by social experiences and meeting people in class — this university is not my primary social experience.

I’ve already been through the mess of my 20s: multiple jobs, living with roommates, mastering the art of being hungover (well, sort of). I understand how important it is to make the most of my education, especially on borrowed money. Had I entered school earlier in my life, I don’t think I’d be able to make such confident decisions or carry the intense course load without the emotional maturity I’ve gained from spinning my wheels and making mistakes — from crashing my bicycle and knocking out my front teeth, to falling in love with the wrong person multiple times, to having the power turned off in shared apartments, to being fired (more than once).

My “gap years” were an investment in my own curiosity and a chance to fail spectacularly. I allowed myself to flounder before I resolutely decided what I wanted to pursue. I wasted time I would’ve wasted anyway at a four-year school — but without a crushing pile of debt and with professional work experience instead. Even though I sometimes feel as though my educational history and résumé are held together with duct tape and spit, jury-rigged from years of experimenting and sheer determination, I know that my path, while untraditional, is mine.