Why I Walked Away From College... And Why I Went Back

Wyatt DaltonAug 25th, 2020


You know that feeling you get when you’re about to do something that terrifies you?

Your heart is in your throat. You hope nobody tries to shake your hand because your palms are sweating. You can’t decide if you’re hot or cold. And why can you hear your heartbeat? Is it really that loud? Can everyone else hear it too?

That was me, waiting for my first coaching call.

You see, when you’re an Accelerated Pathways student, your coach is the go-to person for guidance, advice, support, and accountability as you work your way through college. And back in my day, taking your first coaching call was about as close to “orientation day” as Accelerated Pathways students got.

I was about to start college as a senior in high school, and that terrified me.

I didn’t want to be here. College was never a part of my plan. I didn’t want to be sitting at my desk, staring at my phone, terrified it would ring any second, knowing the moment I picked it up, my life would change.

So far, my life had been a series of familiar routines. It had been comfortable. Safe. Change wasn’t something I had much practice with, and I wasn’t very good at it. Yet here I was, about to enter a new stage of life.

I didn’t know exactly how my life was about to change or how much I would need to grow as a result. I just knew that I had no idea how to navigate what was coming.

That unknown terrified me more than anything else.

Surprise! College wasn’t as bad as I feared.

When the phone finally rang, I wanted nothing more than to throw it across the room.

You know why I didn’t? Mostly because I love my mom.

Cheesy, I know—but for as long as I can remember, she wanted her sons to go to college. It was part of the reason she chose to homeschool us. Even if I didn’t want to be here, even if it wasn’t part of my plan, college was important to my mother. I couldn’t let her down.

So I answered the call.

That first call lead to another and then another, and before I knew it I was taking my first college classes. Admittedly, I wasn’t the most coachable of students—I have this insatiable drive to do things my own way. But with my coach’s guidance, slowly, college didn’t seem quite as scary as it did just before that first call.

I learned what it was like to study for a college-level exam, to enroll in a class, and to earn my first credits. I learned how to write academic papers and cite sources I found somewhere other than Wikipedia. Unsurprisingly, I didn’t know how to do any of this before I started college. But my coach did.

Whenever I came up against something new and outside my comfort zone, my coach helped me learn the best way to handle it. And the more I learned to do, the more capable I felt, the less scary college became.

I tried, I quit, I (almost) failed.

That being said, the reality of the self-paced, self-directed, self-motivated college experience that is Accelerated Pathways was much more challenging for me than I had expected.

Despite being a great student in high school, I was struggling in college. I was barely passing most tests. I was having trouble thinking and sleeping. Worst of all, the anxiety I felt before taking that first coaching call never really went away.

I didn’t know at the time that I had an undiagnosed autoimmune disease which was the primary source of these challenges. Severe anxiety, brain fog, and insomnia were just some of my symptoms; none of which I had any real control over. Despite this, as my academic progress slowed to a crawl, and my symptoms became more severe, I blamed myself for these challenges. I didn’t know any better.

I assumed if I was this distressed by a college program as flexible as Accelerated Pathways, I simply wasn’t cut out for college.

So after fighting through two years of school, having earned three quarters of my degree and with a half-hearted promise to come back, I told my coach I was “taking a break.”

It surprised me at the time. Even though I never really wanted to be a college student, the fact that I quit felt wrong. I felt like I had let my coach down, let myself down. I felt like a failure. And that feeling haunted me as I did my best to move forward in life.

Over the next year, I spent my time living, traveling, making mistakes and learning to deal with the consequences. Finding ways to grow, becoming stronger, and discovering who I am became my top priorities. I intentionally put myself in uncomfortable situations that forced me to expand my comfort zone. I developed philosophies and rules and structures for my life. I found that the more I focused on developing myself, the easier it was for me to make progress in life.

And even though my autoimmune disease was still undiagnosed, I was learning to live fully, despite the symptoms.

Life definitely wasn’t perfect, but it was as close to perfect as it had ever been. I was happy. Life was relatively great. Despite the promise I made to my coach, I seriously considered not returning to finish my degree.

But could I break my word? Could I let my coach down?

I had come to firmly believe the only time we actually fail in life is when we choose to. Was I okay with choosing failure in this part of my life?

Even after so much time had passed, the fact that I had chosen to quit still bothered me. The fact that I had considered breaking my word to my coach bothered me even more. And as time went by, the uneasy feeling persisted. I realized my life was great only as long as I avoided thinking about what I had left unfinished and the promise I was breaking.

I decided that I wasn’t okay with that.

So, after a year and a half of significant growth, I found myself once again waiting for a phone call. Only this time I was too eager to get started (and too determined to finish) to be distracted by fear.

I chose to finish what I started despite the challenges.

I wish I could say I didn’t struggle with school from here on out. Yet even though I didn’t struggle as much or in the same ways as before, I faced a barrage of new challenges.

During my time off, the school I was set to graduate from had changed their graduation requirements, which meant that I would need to take some extra classes to finish. Somehow, taking such a long break had cost me 30 credits and had set me back a whole academic year.

On top of that, I desperately wanted to change my major from English to marketing. My interests had shifted during my time away from school, and I wanted to earn a degree that reflected those interests. I had already lost a whole year’s worth of credits anyway, what more harm could changing my degree do?

Plenty. I quickly learned that changing my degree would have been more expensive and taken even more time to complete than just making up the lost credits I was already dealing with.

Unless I wanted to fall further behind, I was stuck pursuing a major I didn’t want anymore. Of course I was frustrated, but sometime during my year off, I had learned to see frustration as opportunity.

These new challenges became the fuel that drove me to create a better situation for myself. I needed to overcome them in order to create the life I wanted. After all, I knew I wouldn’t be satisfied until I had completed my studies. So that’s what I was going to do.

How did I end up finally graduating from college? Here’s the answer.

With the encouragement and guidance of my Accelerated Pathways coach, I surged forward in my classes, earning between 24 and 36 credits every semester.

While college took a more prominent role in my life, the life lessons I had learned during my time off helped me maintain my health, balance school with my personal life, and build multiple businesses while I was at it. And because of the flexibility of Accelerated Pathways, I didn’t even have to sacrifice my new-found interest in marketing. I was able to replace all of my lost credits with business- and marketing-oriented classes. Those 30 missing credits became an opportunity to create my very own marketing degree.

When before I would have broken under the pressure of balancing college and life, now I had grown enough to thrive. When a traditional college would have limited my academic opportunities, Accelerated Pathways gave me the tools to get what I wanted out of my studies.

It wasn’t long before the kid who never planned on college ended up graduating with top marks, a bachelor’s degree, and plans to go back for a few more.

Looking back at that first coaching call, I can’t help but laugh at how terrified I was.

I could have ignored that call out of fear—the choice was there for me to make. At any point I could have chosen to quit and never come back. So why didn’t I?

Because people who loved and believed in me held me accountable. Even though I was terrified at the start, even though I wanted something else, I persevered because I knew that I couldn’t let my team down.

My team gave me the motivation to persevere through college; and Accelerated Pathways gave me the ability to learn and to grow in the way that best fit me.

With my health, I don’t know if I would have lasted a full year at a traditional college. I’m positive that I wouldn’t have gone back after a break. Even if I had, I wouldn’t have had the flexibility I needed to pursue my evolving academic interests. I wouldn’t have fit into a traditional college program.

Accelerated Pathways was a program that fit me, not a program I had to fit into.

But if you were to ask me what the true power behind Accelerated Pathways is, I’d say it’s the coaches.

I am grateful to my coach every day for his investment in me. He was a key member of my team and my guide through the unknowns of college. We never met in person, and he didn’t know this until our very last call, but from the start of my journey to the end, I stepped into the unknown, pushed against my fears, and grew because of—and for—him. I would never have done that for myself.

If I hadn’t been a part of this program, if I hadn’t had a coach who believed in me, if I hadn’t taken that first call, I wouldn’t have grown into the person I am today. I would still be afraid. I would still be horrible with change. I’m sure I would have grown; but I’m positive I wouldn’t have grown in such a meaningful way.

Going to college was never a part of my plan. But if I’m being honest, that was a stupid plan.

Wyatt Dalton

Wyatt is an Accelerated Pathways graduate and a driven entrepreneur. He’s passionate about building businesses and gets annoyed when someone says the only way to be successful is to get a “real” job. When not working on a new business idea or general self-development, Wyatt spends his time pursuing the life moments that make him feel alive.