How to Deal with Dropping Out of College Or Other Non-Traditional Life Courses

I’m Katrina, I’m 20 years old, and I’m a college dropout.

No, this isn’t some sort of rehab group, but sometimes it feels like that. For two years I attended a prestigious (read: expensive) private university in Washington, DC. At 19 I came home from college, came out to my parents, lost my scholarship, and realized I was paying too much for too little, and that I couldn’t afford it at all. I ran away from home and dropped out of college. I was lucky enough to have supportive friends, land some decent housing, and pick up a part-time job or two. Along with that, I picked up a number of frivolous and destructive habits, I lost hope in myself, and now – for lack of better words – I’m trying to get my shit together.

Although Autostraddle doesn’t endorse everybody dropping out of college, the fact remains that sometimes a girl has gotta drop out of college. And when you do, there aren’t a lot of people around to give you advice because you know, you dropped out of college, so they figure you’ve either got better things up ahead like a movie career or you’re hopeless. These things are not true.

How to Deal With Dropping Out in 10 Easy Steps


1. Keep Reading

by Noukka Signe

Hey, you! Keep your head up! Just because you’re not in college, doesn’t mean you’re not smart! Actually, the fact that you got into college means, at the very least, one thing: you are literate. And now, instead of reading Plato’s “Allegory of the Cave” for the fifth year in a row or spending two hours with your computer turned sideways to read a 150-page PDF in one night, you can read whatever. you. want. Wanna spend all day getting to know all 12 Autostraddle Calendar Girls? Great! That’s reading! Wanna know what Riese’s life has been like since the age of 24? You probably already do, but hey, that’s reading! Maybe you wanna tackle some heavy non-fiction (hit me for suggestions!) and keep informed about the world we live in. Maybe you want to get lost in fictional worlds. It’s all great. Reading is a way of speaking and connecting and communicating about our lives and experiences.

Just please, please remember this: just because you’re not in college, that does not mean that you have to stop learning. Every day is a learning experience, and – let’s not lie – an experience is what college means to give you anyway. Don’t think you’re not getting that just because you’re not sitting in a classroom.


2. Get a Job

The worst part of college is being broke. The best part of being out of college is having so much time to make money. It’s true, sometimes having a part-time job feels like being obligated to a full-time working life, but keep the in-between time for yourself. That way you’ll be doing something productive for yourself, and you’ll have extra bank to do what you want when you finally get that precious day off.


3. Go Out/Have Fun

Listen, it doesn’t matter what the weather is: there is only one season for a college dropout, and that’s summer. While all your friends had to cut the good times short at the beginning of September, you’re still wearin’ them denim cutoffs and partying like it’s July! Alright, maybe not. You probably have a number of priorities like sustaining yourself through nourishment and paying rent, but it’s all a balancing act (albeit a pretty difficult one), and you know what you can balance that with? Fun.

For college dropouts still living in their college town, it becomes easy to suddenly feel disconnected from everyone and everything school-related. Not being in school gives you the opportunity to re-create the identity of your school or town for yourself, and in a way, it’ll make you feel closer to where you are. It’s important to feel like where you’re living is home, and home is the kind of thing that you learn to make for yourself. Go out and own it! Discover something new.

Relax in your down time, you don’t have any homework to do! And when everyone else’s finals week rolls around, you should probably just put on a bikini.

That being said…


4. Do Not Form a Drug Habit

I know, it seems like a great idea at first. All this money from your job, rent got paid on time (maybe just a few days late), a social network made mostly of college kids your age – substance is extremely available, and sometimes, extremely affordable. No homework? Get fucked up! It’s easy – I’ve done it. A lot. Over and over again. Your money will be gone. Fast. And it will not feel worth it after long enough. Make sure you keep your priorities in order: remember to feed yourself! Do not bend your budget around substance. You’ll feel a lot better for it, and you’ll probably have to lie a lot less.


5. Exercise

Getting your body going is a huge step in keeping your mind on pace. It doesn’t have to be something expensive like joining a gym. Go for a run, watch Madonna do pilates, grab a couple of barbells and powerwalk when you’re cruisin’ chicks at the bar (hot!), ride your bike instead of taking public transportation. It’s a great way to feel like you’ve accomplished something with your day, and it’s an even better way to work yourself out of a slump.


6. Stay Organized/Keep it Cheap

Saving money is important, especially since perhaps everyone around you is telling you about how you now have no future. There are two ways to handle this: 1) calmly and carefully explain that the world is ending in 2012, and therefore none of us really has a future anyway, or 2) learn to balance a budget to make your money last longer.

There are important things to remember, like McDonald’s breakfast ends at 10:30, not 11 (everyone loves the conspicuously boneless McRib at 10:45 in the morning), and FourLoko only costs $3 (until it inevitably enters the black market). But there are even more important things to remember, like stealing from the supermarket is easy you can do weekly groceries for only $20! Or that you don’t really need the entire Tegan and Sara discography on vinyl (you don’t even have a record player!). Keep a journal of what you’re spending. Having on record that you spent half your paycheck on a bar tab will serve as a big wake-up call. Keep track of yourself, because no one else is gonna do it for you, and it’s more satisfying anyway.



7. Harness the Power of the Internets

Now hear this: your computer is more than just a Facebook machine. Or a Tumblr machine. Obviously you know this because you are on Autostraddle (which, by the way, is a great idea), and this is 2010, the Internet is not just a place for AOL chatroom creepers! Perhaps you’ve heard of this Autostraddle meetup thing. Well guess what? It’s not just a week or a month, it’s a great way to meet people. All the time. Dropping out of school often means getting cut out of a lot of social networks and activities, and it’s easy to feel far away and alone, but fear not! There are people out there like you, I promise. The Internet is a space where faraway people can become close; it’s all the right people in all the wrong places. But sometimes they’re in the right places, and then you can meet up with them, and poof! New friend. And if you’re not into/not available for the whole meeting-up thing, it’s still a fantastic place to exchange ideas, hear feedback, be creative, and be the person that maybe you’ve been too nervous to be. It’s also a great place to get work, form networks, and just talk when you need to. Going through some rough shit? The Internet is just one big open ear, and I promise, this big ear cares.


8. Try New Things

You chose your major at 18. You went into a general education program and then got locked into a series of courses that were supposed to determine your whole life. That’s a lot of pressure. After having dropped out of college, it seems as though all your options are closed and your future is falling apart, but actually the opposite is true. Now is a time to explore your options and to see what you like and don’t like out in “the real world.” Maybe you’ll find something that you want to back to school to pursue. Maybe you’ll find something that will give you opportunities to advance without a degree. Maybe you’ll still find that you have no idea what you want. At least you gave it a shot.


9. Do What You Love

This is how we live: no fucks to give.

There’s a right amount of fucks to give (if you know what I’m sayin’): keep your money straight (not that straight), show up to work on time, continually apologize to your parents for not being in school anymore, etc. And I know (I know) that sometimes it feels like you’re drowning in priorities, but it’s important to remember your number one: you. This is your life. Maybe dropping out of school wasn’t what you wanted or what you planned or what your family expected, but this is your life, and let me tell you, your hair looks great today.

A degree is important, I can concede to this. We are part of the most highly- and popularly-educated generation that this country (or this world, probably) has ever seen, and you will – and probably have been – told time and time again that the most valuable tool in getting a job is getting a degree. But all them bitches have degrees. You know what else is important? Experience. Not everyone knows what they want, but if you’re one of the few that does, then take Nike’s advice and Just Do It.

Not getting paid for it? Cool, you weren’t getting paid to go to school anyway! At least you don’t have a 20-page term paper due tomorrow!


10. Don’t Stop Believin’

Stay focused, you’re worth it! And not just because L’Oreal said so! It’s easy to fall into the stereotype of a dropout, and it’s easy to give up on yourself when it feels like everybody else has too. But there are a lot of ways to have a life. Not everyone finishes college in four years. Not everyone finishes college. Don’t believe in the idea that the next four years of your life are going to determine the next 50. You got a long ways to go, kid, and we’re rootin’ for ya.

phoenix has written 65 articles for us.


  1. Thanks for this! I recently graduated from university, but am taking time off to “find myself”. It’s not easy though, as my closest friends are all at/making plans for grad school, while I’m waiting to have some grand epiphany regarding what to do next.

    This has given me hope. Every day is an opportunity to learn something, indeed. I have an assload of books I need to read! Languages to learn/re-learn!

    We have everything we need at our fingertips. The problems are all in our attitudes. I guess we just need to be patient, huh?

  2. I dropped out of college a couple of years ago and there’s definitely some good advice in this article :) In my case I had no idea what I wanted to do when I finished secondary school (actually, I wanted to do animation or Japanese but my parents wouldn’t let me) so I ended up wasting four years in uni, repeating years, changing subjects, never going to lectures… it was ridiculous. The reason I didn’t drop out sooner was because of pressure from my parents, but in the end I just wasted their money.

    So, I got more hours at my part-time job, and I thought about it. When I was a teenager, I had thought about teaching, everyone in my family thought I’d make a good teacher, but in the end it was too much pressure and I didn’t apply. After dropping out of college, I went to a local primary school and asked if I could come in and help out a couple days a week. They were delighted to have the extra pair of hands (and eyes) and I got a ton of experience plus was able to see that this really was what I wanted to do with my life.

    Some people in my family claimed when I was dropping out that no school would take me after that because it showed that I couldn’t finish anything or some bullcrap, but the work experience I had done really stood to me and I was accepted.

    So now I’m back in college, and it’s a lot of hard work but also really rewarding. I’ll be (hopefully) qualified at 27, and I’m really glad I’m doing this degree at a slightly more mature age cuz there’s no way in hell I would have been able for it at 18.

    Of course, if you drop out and never go back to school that’s okay too, you do not need a degree to be happy and your parents will get over it eventually :)

  3. Okay AS—-
    I’ve been circling this topic for a day or so because it taps into a very painful/hard/troubled time in my life–and I really wasn’t needing to go back there…. Upon further reflection, I realized that I could pass on a crucial life lesson I acquired, and here it is gaymos:

    Over margaritas, a negative checkbook balance, signed college-withdrawal paperwork and heartbreak–I decided that I should find a job that men typically do b/c obvs-men make hella more money than we…

    So the smartypants A-team and I brainstormed, we decided I should be a carpenter….or something in construction… that….
    The next day I cold-called every female general contractor in my area–had a job within 7 days. And the short story is-yes, I know how to build a house with my bare hands, and have done so many times over now.

    Don’t just find a job—find something you want to learn/be and find a job that supports that–it’s never just about the money, it’s about adding to you.

    Like layers of a pearl girlfriend, the lustre grows with time and experience–don’t just collect paychecks, collect skills and experiences which add to the magic of your life.

  4. I just wanted to point some lessons I’ve learned along the way. College is not for everyone it works for some people, for others it doesn’t. It doesn’t have to do with being smart, It has to do with being in tune with want you want to do and what you want out of life.

    That being said I have some tips for the younger crowd that reads Autostraddle:

    If you go to college go to a 2yr or 4 yr college for a degree that you like and that you think it’s cool. If you don’t want to go find a job or a trade that you like.

    For some careers it matters what school you went to, for others it doesn’t. It might help somewhat if you went to a prestigious university, but it’s networking and experience what counts. DO as many internships as possible.

    LANGUAGES people. You have no idea how important that is. Drop out or grad, humanities or science/engineering major. The more languages you learn or at least read/are conversant the better.

    If you need to take time off. TAKE IT OFF. If you are feeling burned out it’s best to rest and charge your batteries. School will always be there.

    Go to school to learn, not just like it, go because you absolutely and positively LOVE learning.
    If you want to be filthy rich you’re better off starting a business than going to college and being straddled with student loans.

    If you don’t end up in college or drop out tell your parents that a better investment for all that college tuition money would be a) helping you start a business or b)saving that money for retirement.

  5. Oh people, I was a college dropout for a year (serious shit went on, couldn’t stay in school, kids!) and because I didn’t want to become a “forever party animal” I tried to stay informed, keep reading. I found that many US colleges film their lectures and upload them online, free of charge. There’s a lot of them on youtube (besides ForaTV, TEDtalks and other “think tanks”). I know Yale and Berkeley do it, there’s probably more of them.

    Merry christmas to you all, hang in there! It’s over soon.

  6. This was good to read. I have just recently put off school, though I’m set to start again come January. I don’t think its for me though, and its good to see I’m not alone. I’ll probably not go back this semester and just work for myself, and do what I want. No one is helping me pay for college, I’m busting my own to put myself through it; maybe its time I just work and save to travel instead of spending it on school.

    • Hey, good luck with everything! Just FYI, traveling as an Au Pair can be pretty inexpensive way to travel, so you might wanna look into it, maybe. I’m working through an agency to do that in China, and all it will really cost me is the plane ticket and a small deposit to be there for a year. The family gives food, shelter, and invites you to travel with them, and give you a stipend, so it’s a pretty sweet deal.
      Good luck with making a decision, be sure to let us all know what you do in the end, mkay?

  7. This is probably the third time I’ve read this article. I only have a year left in college, so I’m going to push myself through, but it helps to sit back and think about it in the greater scheme of things–I’m not a self-starter, and don’t think I would thrive as a dropout, but man. I wish I were that kind of person.

    Right now I’m reading this next to a couple stacks of books and papers, and mug of coffee, and a large bottle of ibuprofen. Writing a research proposal. That’s right, doing work to apply to get more work to do. I hate college SO much sometimes.

  8. It is so amazing to see someone question the traditional college path. I’m just finishing my second year at prestigious college and the last week continuing to the present has been a personal crucible. I first kind of figured out that I”m probably gay and then that lead to a whole stream of questioning myself, my identity, my dreams, etc. Add a death near the family and suddenly you’ve got a big mess.
    Thanks for the inspiration while I work through the doubt, guilt, fear, and whatnot. It’s great to see people living their dreams or whatever the hell you call a badass life.

  9. I’m glad I found this article. I dropped out of college solely for financial reasons. If I was rich, I would have kept going, but I’m not. I’ve decided to join to the Army instead :D I’m excited and I’m nervous. But I think I’m making the perfect decision. I’ll go back to college later. And next time, I won’t be stressed out about how to pay for it. For all you other college dropouts, good luck. Don’t become a stereotype!! Make sure your decision for dropping out makes more sense than staying in.

  10. I dropped out of college because my dad died unexpectedly on thanksgiving my senior year which I spent repeating my junior I failed the year before. I failed because I ended up with an I curable disease and spent a lot of time in the hospital. Before my dad died I had plan on switching campus and instead of being 20mins away from home I was moving 2hours away. I moved on because it was the right thing to do. But not only did my school Backstab me, the professors refused me to make up my missed work and said me going to my dad’s funeral wasn’t a legitimate excuse for missing their class and failed. I failed that spring semester as well and I decided going to a school closer to home. But little did I realize I was academic probation so not only did I get kicked out my major. I lost my financial aid indefinitely. No appeal or argument could be won in my favor.

    I then tried online school, didn’t like it and left. I went to a trade school but die to transportation issues I left. I job searched and job searched and got nothing. I needed a degree.

    I went back to the trade school I left and tried my best to make it work. Unfortunately I got put out for not having enough money and being ineligible for student aid. I couldn’t even take out a loan because by this time I had defaulted and getting a private loan would be next to impossible.

    My credit score got chopped and screwed. I made some really bad choices. And fell in love with two people who didn’t care. I spend my time taking care of my sick disabled mother and my family’s disowned me.

    At the beginning of the year I thought I finally got it together and knew for sure I wanted to be a mom. But never had a boyfriend nor any offers for dates because I was consumed in to school and wasn’t popular and so I was told by my high school classmates I was hideously UGLY. I guess that still applies since no guys seem to be interested in me.

    So now I’ve been job searching since January, I’ve gotten more No’s, I’m sorry’s and your not the candidate we’re looking for/we’re not hiring “your kind” to the point I’m tired of trying to make this work.

    My birthday is this upcoming Sunday and I’ll be 25. I have nothing to look forward to and I want to disappear if not die. Talking it over isn’t helping and everyone has shun me. My friends are all too consumed with their families and significant others. I got pushed out of groups and activities because I had to drop out. And all ingot is my mom. I have limited transportation. No money and no future job hopes. I’ve lost hope completely and I really don’t know what to do. Plus I’m very unhappy and I’m lonely. I love my mom but our large age gap (my parents had me in their mid 40s) makes it difficult to talk to her. This is the first time in her life she’s been single. Yea my dad was her childhood sweetheart.

    I’m lost and tired of waking up and doing the same routine. Getting up and going to get a food for some meal and sitting here staring at the walls.

    I’ve tried everything possible, especially on that list but I don’t like them any more. I would go to the movies alone but that got old and made me feel even lonelier.

    No friends, no future, no loving mate to be with, and no hope to having a family of my own. That’s beyond sad and depress doesn’t even cover an inch of how I feel.

    I’m just here taking up space until its my time to die :( and that sucks.

  11. AS Archive-digging is how I spend my free time at work.
    I am also a college drop-out.
    A year shy of graduation.
    A fool to follow the bandwagon of Student-Nurses-who-wants-to-go-abroad-since-it-pays-more.
    The only regret I have about college is my major. To think of it, aside from the fact that I got tired of me paying for my tuition (BSN is expensive guys, and my school is a private one. It’s 1 of the best in the country and I had to relocate just for that, meaning, additional money to spend), my heart wasn’t really in it ya know. I love learning, but I just got tired of the same shit all on my own.

    I should’ve gotten mass communications (my heart’s desire) or Business Management (my current job-description-ish).
    Other than that, I’ve no regrets because hey, look at how this kid turned out!

    I am living in my own place, on my own terms, earn my own money (# 2), pay the bills, pay my rent on time (only twice or thrice late, ever in history), travel within the country and soon overseas (#3), eat wherever I want (but keeping it cheap like #6), and even give a little something to my family when I go home.

    # 1 — very true, read! I still read the “actual” newspapers even if there’s teevee and Yahoo! News. FACT: “Just because you’re not in college, doesn’t mean you’re not smart! ”

    There are very good paying companies that does not discriminate undergrads. Where I am currently employed is one good example. My salary rate is the same as my colleagues who are college graduates, one is actually graduated Cum Laude! It’s your skill they are paying for. A skill is learnt over time. This is to validate what Katrina said: “A degree is important, I can concede to this. We are part of the most highly- and popularly-educated generation that this country (or this world, probably) has ever seen, and you will – and probably have been – told time and time again that the most valuable tool in getting a job is getting a degree. But all them bitches have degrees. You know what else is important? Experience.”

    I am not embarassed to be a college drop-out.
    I am an independent lesbian who is employed and is living her life the way she wants to. I have no fucks to give!

  12. Oh my God. Thank you so much for this. I’m a Junior at a state university right now and I recently realized that I have to drop out. I literally can’t afford to pay for college anymore. And now I’m spending the rest of the semester struggling through difficult classes that I hate. I spend the whole time focusing on how pointless it is now that I won’t be able to finish. And the worst is yet to come-I’m dreading the day that I tell my family that I’m quitting school and plan on living in a house full of strange men and working at a burrito shop for the next few years. I know they’re going to be disappointed….. But reading this gave me some hope. And now I’m determined to make the most of my time off and stop thinking of my life as a failure. Thanks. :)

  13. This is so relevant. I read this over the summer for the first time, but now that I’m dropping out of college, I’m rereading it for the reassurance that there are other people out there who won’t think I’m a loser.

    The choice of dropping out is so difficult to accept because knowing that your status change of “college student” to “drop out” will create all sorts of negative assumptions..

  14. I agree with every one of these, especially about finding a job. I’d been at college two and half years, when I was purposefully “kicked off” my course because I wasn’t able to attend for a week (even though I’d rang them and told them repeatedly) due to a family emergency. I was absolutely outraged, as you can imagine, no warning or anything. I walked in, as I would normally and they told me to leave straight away. Luckily, I’ve got friends who are there for me but suddenly finding myself without anything to do was difficult.

    I can’t stand not doing anything, week after week, month after month. So I’m now volunteering at a local charity shop and I’d advice all drop-outs to do the same, or at least find a way to keep occupied. Planning on going back to college in April, I may have been kicked off my previous course but they can’t keep me out! I’d eventually like to go to University and I don’t see why I should let this “bad experience” ruin my chances, college drop out or not :) stay hopeful.

  15. I dropped out of college three years in; tried going back to finish my outstanding courses several times but it just didn’t happen. Almost five years later (I’m 26 now) I still feel stuck and like my life did end back when I was 20. I’m trying to get back up now. Refuse to believe that it’s too late. My biggest hurdle is that before college I was great at everything I did- honour roll at school my entire life and top of my class. I started failing stuff at college and just couldn’t handle it. It’s an uphill journey to not being so hard on myself but I really want to learn and get out of this rut that I’ve created for myself. Thanks for your post Katrina.

  16. For all college dropouts like myself out there, I highly recommend putting your own skills to the test, for starters people will lie to you in saying how important college is, we all know that lie, but if you’re thinking of going back to college, keep in mind it won’t last forever. As soon as you get out of college, and have no job, start working retail or whatever floats your boat, I left college in 2012 and worked at Walmart, did a mission’s trip in India, worked for McDonalds, didn’t like it, landed a contract with a Warehouse and now I’m making more at Goodwill being a shoe and luggage pricer. Just because you have little start up jobs as a college reject does not mean you won’t be successful. I even started to volunteer at the age of 13. I’m now 22 going on with life figuring out if I should start a band or travel some more, I feel like my life is in limbo at times, but at the same time God’s in control.

  17. God, you have no idea how much I needed this article. After struggling with increasingly worse depression since entering college in 2011, and ending this semester by failing every one of my classes (unsurprisingly, if you sleep through every class for 2 or 3 months, you will not pass – no matter how well you do on the tests), I’ve more or less decided that I have to drop out, at least until I reach a point where I don’t think about killing myself every day. I was so glad to see autostraddle in the search results when I started googling dropping out. This article is so encouraging and is honestly the first thing to give me some hope about my future in a long time. Thank you.

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