No degree is created equally, and neither are college experiences. For this Potosi graduate, it was not the path she planned for. 

Dakota Traver, known as Amy when she attended Potosi High School, graduated in 2018. She was ready for her path at Madison Area Technical College, along with ROTC training. “My ideal path when I exited high school was that I had a road laid out through the military. I had a full ride through the ROTC where they would pay for years of college and I would give them four years of service.” Dakota was going for a degree in chemical engineering. “I would have a chemistry degree and practically no debt; it seemed like a great deal.” 

After her first semester with this scholarship, Dakota fell short of her 2.5 GPA requirement by getting a 2.43 at the end of her semester. “I was lucky to have gotten the grades I did. I was freaking out over a C in my Calc 2 class I was taking as a freshman. I did feel like I failed at that time, but at that point, I was overloading myself and stretching myself too thin.” With being in the military, Dakota’s daily day would be waking up at 4 am to do basic training and marching. She would go to college classes straight after for several hours, with her ending the night working her waitressing job until 11 pm or midnight. “I ended up not taking college as seriously as I needed to. My perception of college was that it was going to be very similar to high school, but with more opportunities. For me, high school was structured where It was easy for me and I didn’t need to try hard.

“I think failure hit a little bit harder because I was trying so hard to do everything right, not realizing by doing too much, you can also fail. One thing that I think they don't teach us enough about adulthood is people tell us to keep trying to succeed, but not what to do when you do fail.”

After the loss of her military scholarship, Dakota was lost in what to do. She ended up taking a break because she didn't feel like she could continue college again without the military paying for college. “I didn't have any loans, and I didn’t know where to start with that,” Dakota says, explaining how she took a semester break that ended up becoming a year, before Covid hit. “Honestly that gave me the excuse of being happy about not being in college while working a full-time job.”

A Big Move

Due to unforeseen circumstances, Dakota moved to Pennsylvania, where she was persuaded to enroll in a nearby university. “The application process is the same as if you were a high school senior. They accepted me and I told them all the credits I’d already taken and the college I’d already attended. Those credits don't go away. If I wanted to pick up my degree 40 years down the road, I could with the same credits.” 

After her transcript was transferred to her new college, she sat down with an adviser to discuss. “What is really interesting when transferring to a different college is that you are technically a new student there. Even though you’ve been to college, you have to take a freshman introduction class.” 

Dakota decided during the pandemic to start taking college classes again online while working full time. “I decided to take about one or two classes at a time. One of those classes was a chemistry lab and that's one that you can't take on the side.” She also mentions that she failed that semester class and had to take it again. “I stretched myself thin again, and it's something I'm still learning; things that were easy for me in high school aren’t going to be easy for me in college.” 

Throughout Dakota’s college experiences, she has been working full-time jobs. “I feel like this is a stereotype that needs to be brought down. We all know about the broke college student, and people always say to my age range is that we need to hustle and hussle. This ends up piling too much on us ‘til we break. I ended up taking naps on one of my two 30-minute breaks at work during a 10-hour shift, then going home for a 2-hour sleep.” Dakota mentions also how she would go to labs sleep deprived because of these hours and lack of sleep. “Doing a full-time job in a field that is very scientific, I don't recommend.” Dakota commented, “Maybe in another degree where that would be a bit easier, because not all degrees are created equal.”

Late Diagnosis

According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, it is estimated that 26% of Americans ages 18 and older get a mental disorder every year. Dakota was also diagnosed in her 20s with ADD/ADHD. “I have really been struggling with finding myself internally and how my mind works.” Dakota explains how she had never been to any therapy, behavioral help, or seen any psychiatrists until she left her childhood house. “It's been really interesting learning about these struggles I have been having with my classes, or how high school was easy and now it’s not, is not me thinking I'm failing or worse. It’s learning that high school catered to my disability and college does not.” 

The biggest thing Dakota has been learning that she mentions is being her own advocate in college. “Deadlines do not work the same in college; they are either months ahead or a semester ahead. It's been several years now and I'm still trying to figure out when deadlines are and how to stay on top of them.” 

“Learning about this disability has been interesting because I thought my mental health has been getting worse, but it was my ADHD/ADD getting more intense. Not only learning how to deal with that in college, but also in living on my own.” At Dakota’s college, they have an OARS (Office of Accessibility Resources and Services) to help people who need extra help with their diagnosis type. 

 Next steps 

Dakota is now going to become a full-time student at her college to finish her degree in chemistry and teaching. “I’m terrified, yet excited at the same time. I've spent all this time worrying about how to pay for college and trying to work full time, and I've not been enjoying my full college experience.” Dakota also mentioned that she missed doing music and participating in clubs as she did in high school. 

As our time ended, I asked Dakota for any last advice. “My biggest advice is, if you are on the fence, you don't have to go now. I know that our society pushes us a lot; once high school is done, you have to immediately go to college, and by the time you're 22, you have graduated. I'll let you know that people go to college at every age, and if you are unsure, that's fine. Take your time, college will still be there. College is not for everyone; there are ways to test out the waters before hopping in.”