A personalized year of learning.
Start writing a post
Student Life

My Gap Year Curriculum - Alternative Life Part I

I never had less than an A on my high school report card, my ACT and SAT scores were nearly perfect, I got into every college I applied to...and I didn't go to any of them.

My Gap Year Curriculum - Alternative Life Part I
Emerson Roberts

With a month left of senior year, I decided to withdraw from the college I was committed to and build a year for myself instead.

I wanted to maintain an active curiosity throughout my gap year and use it as an opportunity to learn with no restrictions. I'm sharing an outline of the curriculum I created for myself in the hopes that perhaps my year can inspire others. I tried to experience, and learn about, as much as possible- without having any money. My personalized curriculum played out as follows:


  • Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
  • A Primer of Freudian Psychology by Calvin S. Hall
  • The Man who Planted Trees by Jim Robbins
  • Nat Turner's Slave Rebellion by Herbert Aptheker
  • The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka
  • The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway
  • Essential Bukowski Poetry by Charles Bukowski, selected by Abel Debritto
  • What a Plant Knows by Daniel Chamovitz
  • Letters to a Young Scientist by Edward O. Wilson
  • Bee Time by Mark L. Winston


  • CodeAcademy HTML and CSS courses
  • Harvard's Justice with Michael Sandel (lectures via youtube)
  • MIT Quantum Mechanics; MIT Intro to Astronomy (lectures via youtube)
  • Duolingo- French and Spanish
  • Kahn Academy Computer Science

Volunteering on the Appalachian for two weeks

Emerson Roberts

  • Learned what constitutes a well-designed trail
    • Water drainage
    • Anti-erosion
    • Degree in elevation
    • Working with, instead of against, nature
    • Trail grade
  • Living in the woods
    • How to set up camp
    • Leave No Trace
    • Cooking in the wilderness


Time Capsule

  • Recorded an album
    • Wrote, performed, and recorded each part
    • Mixed the album
      • Learned about sound engineering through trial-and-error
  • How to be successful in your local music scene
    • Developed strong networking skills
    • Manage social media
    • Live performances


Emerson Roberts

  • Attended speeches and events of interest
    • International Socialist Organization meeting
    • Marijuana Legalization panel
    • Letter-writing parties
      • ie asking Wendy's to join the Fair Food Group
    • Writing prompt poetry workshops
  • Consistent museum visits
  • Local politics
    • Co-organized a panel for students to speak with local officials about gun violence
      • Created an online questionnaire to collect as many voices and as much data as possible
      • Compromised with politicians to find a platform that pleased both the students and the officials
      • Prompted mature dialogue amongst opposing opinions
  • Started a novel; published two poetry books

I felt compelled to write this article at this moment in time because life is a constant go, go, go, get the degree, get the job, get the house, take out the loan... it's time for us to start slowing down and actually living. Stepping off of that conveyor belt for a year was incredibly transformative. It was the first time in my entire life that I felt full autonomy.

I am writing a series called Alternative Life, throughout which I document all of my quirky life stories, decisions, and lessons. Step off the conveyor belt with me. I promise it's worth the view.

Report this Content
This article has not been reviewed by Odyssey HQ and solely reflects the ideas and opinions of the creator.
the beatles
Wikipedia Commons

For as long as I can remember, I have been listening to The Beatles. Every year, my mom would appropriately blast “Birthday” on anyone’s birthday. I knew all of the words to “Back In The U.S.S.R” by the time I was 5 (Even though I had no idea what or where the U.S.S.R was). I grew up with John, Paul, George, and Ringo instead Justin, JC, Joey, Chris and Lance (I had to google N*SYNC to remember their names). The highlight of my short life was Paul McCartney in concert twice. I’m not someone to “fangirl” but those days I fangirled hard. The music of The Beatles has gotten me through everything. Their songs have brought me more joy, peace, and comfort. I can listen to them in any situation and find what I need. Here are the best lyrics from The Beatles for every and any occasion.

Keep Reading...Show less
Being Invisible The Best Super Power

The best superpower ever? Being invisible of course. Imagine just being able to go from seen to unseen on a dime. Who wouldn't want to have the opportunity to be invisible? Superman and Batman have nothing on being invisible with their superhero abilities. Here are some things that you could do while being invisible, because being invisible can benefit your social life too.

Keep Reading...Show less

19 Lessons I'll Never Forget from Growing Up In a Small Town

There have been many lessons learned.

houses under green sky
Photo by Alev Takil on Unsplash

Small towns certainly have their pros and cons. Many people who grow up in small towns find themselves counting the days until they get to escape their roots and plant new ones in bigger, "better" places. And that's fine. I'd be lying if I said I hadn't thought those same thoughts before too. We all have, but they say it's important to remember where you came from. When I think about where I come from, I can't help having an overwhelming feeling of gratitude for my roots. Being from a small town has taught me so many important lessons that I will carry with me for the rest of my life.

Keep Reading...Show less
​a woman sitting at a table having a coffee

I can't say "thank you" enough to express how grateful I am for you coming into my life. You have made such a huge impact on my life. I would not be the person I am today without you and I know that you will keep inspiring me to become an even better version of myself.

Keep Reading...Show less
Student Life

Waitlisted for a College Class? Here's What to Do!

Dealing with the inevitable realities of college life.

college students waiting in a long line in the hallway

Course registration at college can be a big hassle and is almost never talked about. Classes you want to take fill up before you get a chance to register. You might change your mind about a class you want to take and must struggle to find another class to fit in the same time period. You also have to make sure no classes clash by time. Like I said, it's a big hassle.

This semester, I was waitlisted for two classes. Most people in this situation, especially first years, freak out because they don't know what to do. Here is what you should do when this happens.

Keep Reading...Show less

Subscribe to Our Newsletter

Facebook Comments