The time when I took a break from college

I once took a semester long break from college. It seemed like a nutty thing to do back then but in hindsight I feel pretty good about it.


Here’s the story.

Image of a man holding a caricature of a well dressed monke on his way to work. The monkey hold's a suitcase that says, 'No more routine'

Break the routine. From Flickr.


I dropped a semester after my seventh semester and I had three more left to graduate. The decision was very hard to make because there was nobody else I knew how had dropped a semester for non-medical reasons yet I strongly felt that if I didn’t drop a semester I would ruin my career.

The reasons were multiple:

  1. To buy more time: My goals and aspirations weren’t clear, so I wanted to try out new sectors and roles. I had already gotten some experiences in non-profits(CEL projects), web programming(via part time projects), microcredit(helped an alumni launch a startup in Bangalore), business consulting(summer internship at Intellecap), bio labs(PS2 at Cancer Research Institute), etc. Yet none of these really excited me.
  2. Academic Counselling Board(ACB): Since I was doing the above, not attending classes, even skipping exams, bumming around and other random BITSian timepass, I was in ACB that particular semester and was pretty sure that I would be facing Dr. RK Mittal, the dreaded ARCD dean, next semester as well. Being in ACB a second time also meant, being forced to attend all classes which I dreaded more than the wrath of the ‘counseling’ board.
  3. I was unhappy: Being in ACB was tough, not something I enjoy thinking about. I was ashamed of being in ACB again because most of my friends were the geeks and would often coast through exams without trying. And there I was, nearly failing and trying to hide that. I’ve always been a pretty confident, optimistic and secure person by nature but Dr. Mittal had the most sadistic way of using words to convince me of my worthlessness instead of counseling me. He was a close minded, short sighted and a cruel man, I today genuinely pity. I know a friend who’s been seeing a therapist for years since graduating from Pilani, that’s the effect this man had on some people.
    I desperately needed time and freedom to think, to figure out the strategy for my remaining semesters because I was on the expressway to career ruin.
  4. To find a job: My CGPA was not stellar, to put it mildly. My disciplines were biological sciences and pharmacy, you can’t have picked worse disciplines to sit for campus placements in any economic situation and we were in placement hell that was 2009/2010. I wanted a job, a well paying job that I actually liked.
  5. To travel and network: A year earlier I had ended up at an elite conference(my first one ever) with Fortune 500 CEOs(edit: Link to the speaker page: FORTUNE Global Forum) and got a chance to see up close how business deals are closed. It is a lot about who you know and how. If I socialized with the right person, I had a better chance at scoring a job at his company. One of my goals was simply to party, travel and meet as many people as possible.

Once I had made up my mind about dropping a semester I had about thirty days to find a company ready to take an intern for six months and hopefully pay enough so that I could travel to the magical continent of Europe. I informed my parents of this decision, since I had a snow flake’s chance in hell of convincing them so I didn’t try too hard. They were annoyed for a little while. My father just had a mini panic attack when I told him I was writing this answer on a public forum, he doesn’t recommend dropping a semester. Its not for everybody.

Finding an internship was simpler than I thought because I got replies to most of my cold emails begging for an internship. I wasn’t aiming high because I had very little time and I scored an internship at my top choice, New Energy Finance(now owned by Bloomberg). During the internship I wanted to understand the renewable energy sector and gain skills to possibly apply for jobs in investment banks. They had just opened an office in Hyderabad with an American lady leading the team.

My role was that of a financial analyst and entailed poring through financials of renewable energy companies in Indo-China, churn out reports, interview experts, etc. It was tremendously interesting in the first three months and I got a chance to work with a lot of people in their SA, UK offices. Hyderabad was incredible and people A few months before the end of my internship I also went to the St. Gallen Symposium in Switzerland which gave me a new perspective to work and life. More here Abhishek Nayak’s answer to When have you most successfully hacked some (non-computer) system to your advantage?.

I coasted through the last months, mostly bored and unchallenged. The salaries of my colleagues bewildered me, perhaps it was an apology for the unsatisfying work the company gave them. During this time my first serious relationship also bloomed with a lovely girl. By the end of my internship I was convinced I never wanted to work on spreadsheets or routine finance. This wasn’t for me. At the end of the internship I had a job offer which was going to pay me about 70K a month in India and required frequent stays in London(by some magic the CTC was 13.5LPA). I was ecstatic.

When I went back to Pilani, I attended classes with new vengeance and with real interest. My main goal was now to be Happy, with a capital H. Life looked amazing, I was certain that I wanted to start a company perhaps in the energy sector and didn’t have the pressure to go through campus placements.

So a B1-A5 five pointer ended up with one of the highest paying jobs in my batch, not something I would have bet on. Life is funny.

I of course ended up starting Gharpay, got funded by a bunch of top investors, having a fun job(though still trying to reach that CTC) and I wake up everyday hoping that I’ll get to do what I’m doing right now, for the rest of my life. I know this is happiness. Full points to the 20 year old me.

This was originally posted on Quora.

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"I rarely end up where I was intending to go, but often I end up somewhere that I needed to be." - Douglas Adams

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