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

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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.

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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.

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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…

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

103 Comments

  1. Especially drop out if it means that your parents will be able to hold over your head that fact that they are paying for an expensive degree at a private, conservative university that you are probably going to get kicked out of anyway for having facial piercings and tattoos (which are still against school policy to this very day).

    See the world. Join the Navy. Especially now that DADT is repealed.

    And then, when you’ve gotten all that shit out of your system, pay for your own degree in something you actually want. Even if it means you’ll be 32 when you graduate.

    I may or may not be speaking from personal experience. 😉

  2. THE GIRL IN THE FIRST PICTURE IS READING LOVELY BONES WHICH IS MY FAVOURITE BOOK AND MAKES ME CRY EVERY TIME I READ IT AND WHEN I WENT TO SEE THE FILM I HAD TO LEAVE BECAUSE I WAS WEEPING SO MUCH.
    I also enjoy the rest of this post.

  3. This article came at the perfect time for me. I havent dropped out yet but I’m thinking out it and joining some form of military branch. I want to travel and make money all at the same time! My parents don’t really like that I am putting off my education. But also said they will stop paying for it so …. Thank you Autostraddle And Katrina for the wise words 🙂

    • If you do consider joining the military, I suggest you do your research 1st!!! I signed up for the navy but got out before I left because I wanted to finish college (You enter with a higher rank if you have a degree or have accumulated a # of college hours). BUT i know for a FACT (from recruiters&friends in the military) that the *Air Force pays better and treats their soldiers better. BUT my MAIN SUGGESTION for you is find a branch that is gay friendly! Good luck in whatever you end up doing 😀

    • please be aware that joining some kind of military branch might easily get you into a position where you’ll get shot at/maimed/killed. you know, with those wars still going on…

      another opportunity to travel the world and make money might be to first take a course that will qualify you to teach english as a foreign language… and then go to those foreign countries 😉

      take care and good luck

  4. I am not a drop out, just someone who: went to a prestigous overly expensive brnad-name school; Hated it; Moved to NYC for 3 years; came out; love my life; and am now transferring to a CUNY. Although the non traditional path was hard (like seeing all my friends graduate) it has me to know who I am on a very deep level. And of course, realize I was gay! lol

    great article I love it.

  5. I’m only 20, but I will say from recent experience that working full time can give you a whole new perspective on academia, and ultimately makes it easier to prioritize your time.

    Before this fall, I was HORRIBLE at procrastinating with papers, etc. Then I worked full time this summer and realized just how valuable my time is. “If I don’t do this now, then when will I?”.

    Additionally, working a job you don’t necessarily want to do your whole life (working as a line cook from 4pm to 12am every night? Grosssssss) will definitely inspire you to get that degree that’ll get you into a cushy environmental consulting job one day. Know what I mean?

    That said, I’ve never dropped out. Props to Katrina for being open and optimistic enough to write this. #4 and #5 are super important. The better your body feels, the easier it’ll be for you to do amazing things with you time.

    There is so much stigma around not only “drop-outs” but also people that don’t go to college straight out of highschool. It’s all stupid; take it from someone who excels in academia. So long as you’re doing something that makes you happy/satisfied, and you feel like you’re working towards something, it doesn’t matter if you’re in school, working, or travelling the country “Into the Wild” style (but don’t mess up and eat poisonous plants, plz).

    • Ah. so the trick is NOT to eat the poisonous plants when traveling around the country… it makes so much more sense now!

      I just graduated with my so-called fancy degree and i’m still curious as to what the hell i am going to do with it. I read this piece at a good time, a lot of this applied to me as well. This article could be directed to the “oh. i’ve got the degree NOW what do i do?” crowd as well.

      • Agreed. I graduated over 7 months ago and still can’t use it. Instead of traveling the country/world, I’m stuck at home just waiting for potential employers to call me back…cuz, you know, you must be able to interview/work almost immediately and that trip to Morocco might screw you out of a job.

        At this point, I wish I would have taken a year off or stayed in school a semester longer. Delaying the real world to figure out yourself or to do some things on your to-do list shouldn’t be as taboo like many people think it is. School isn’t always for everyone.

        I have a BS… I am so lost. And am stuck in between joining the workforce or finding me.

      • I had a similar experience when I graduated. As I immediately moved to Australia, it was hard to find anyone who was willing to take on a recent grad who was *also* a “provisional resident.”

        • I’m a junior, and I live down the street from a university, so everyone is constantly asking me what I’m going to study, where I’m going to go, what I’m going to do with my life — and the looks that I get when I tell people I don’t know is disconcerting.
          I’ve always excelled academically, but I feel like it would be a waste to lunge into studying something I’m not sure I want to more about. Is a gap year a good idea? Is going to college a good way to figure out what you want to do? Is travelling over the summer enough to satisfy this craving I have to escape?

          I don’t know things, I’m just a kid.

          • You know a lot of things. If you didn’t know anything, you wouldn’t be asking yourself these questions – the fact that you are shows a level of self-awareness I wish I had back then.

            I can’t attest to what would be a good idea – I jumped right into one of the most prestigious schools in the country (a military school), and six months later was kicked out cause I’m a big gaymo.

            Do what your gut tells you. It took me till starting school for my masters to figure that one out. Follow your gut, and your heart, and you can never go wrong.

            (I initially wrote “follow your guy”. Thank goodness for proofreading. That could have been bad/weird/strangely confusing).

          • I interned with someone who did a gap year. She found 2 pretty cool internships in between. I have another friend who I graduated with who took a gap year because she didn’t have a clue what she wanted to do. That year helped her figure stuff out and what she wanted to study.

            I thought if I didn’t take time off, I’d never go back to school, so went straight into college. Now that I’m out, I’m debating when I want to start going to grad school. Just because you put school on pause doesn’t mean you’ll never go back to it.

            I already knew what I wanted to do when I started school, so I can’t answer if that’s a good place to figure out what you wanna do.

          • For me, going to college was a great way to figure myself out. I majored in something I have no interest in pursuing any further, and I don’t regret it even a little bit. I learned so much about myself and what I wanted out of life.

            Of course, my experience is particular to a small, liberal arts school. I hear big universities are a little more soul-sucking. But anyway, your undergraduate degree reallyreallyreally doesn’t have to have anything to do with the rest of your life, but it should be something you like doing right now.

            After you graduate, you can get a job. Or you can go to grad school for something completely different. Or you can join the Peace Corps! (That’s what I did. It’s pretty great, but you have to have a degree to join.)

            So, like, I mean, you could take a gap year, sure, but I just think you shouldn’t think the decision about what to major in will be the REST OF YOUR LIFE. Because, seriously, it’ll be like the next four years, and even then there’s wiggle room.

          • “After you graduate, you can get a job. Or you can go to grad school for something completely different. Or you can join the Peace Corps!”

            Guys, I did/am doing all of these things. I got a job when a graduated, and then after 2 years I joined the Peace Corps, and now I’m back and in grad school. You don’t have to decide right away!

          • A gap year is an awesome idea. Trust me, I’m doing one RIGHT NOW. I guess some people hustle about it. My gap year so far has consisted of freaking out the first month, zoning out the next three, and the past three months I’ve been getting my life back. Novel experience.

            There’s also TONS of class material free from prestigous unis on iTunes U. Downloaded like 900. Listened to…10?

            I’m incredibly glad I chose last minute not to attend college. I’ve done some serious growing up. I’m working on doing an au pair thing in China starting April and I’m SOOOOO excited.

            I’d like gap year buddies. Les be friends, Cam. E-mail me, furuba.dosho@gmail.com

          • Fact: I did not do a gap year. I’m at one of those brand name super expensive schools on scholarship.
            Fact: My friend did do a gap year.
            Fact: Said friend is much more in tune with herself/who she wants to be than she was when she left high school.

            She did city year in DC and got really into the BDSM scene there and realized she also likes girls and told her parents all of this and now she’s at a tiny liberal arts school in maine and i’m dying for her to come home on break so I can see how she’s surviving the atmosphere of college after her year in the real world.

            All things considered, if you are feeling a calling to do a gap year or a post grad year, do it. Don’t let anyone tell you different. Additionally, I know a lot of people who did a PG year for sports and ended up going to a completely different school than they intended. One is currently playing pro hockey instead of sitting in class all day. Her life is awesome. but I digress. mostly just follow your gut. My friend was really unsure of what to do and her parents didn’t want her to go to City year and she finally decided that it was her decision, she was doing it, and they were going to have to get behind it. Now that this post is as long as the article itself, I’m going to stop talking and wish you luck.

          • Another option would be to go study abroad! In some countries, education is much cheaper than in the US, and depending on the field you pick, if you did a first year somewhere else, maybe the credits could be recognized to move on directly to a second year when moving back to the States? Just a thought.

          • Word. So many job applications that said “are you a citizen or permanent resident?” instead of “are you entitled to work in Australia?”

  6. I told my Mom I wasn’t going back today. Now I am freaking out. I’m just scared I won’t get my shit together and use my time well. All my friends are revising for their exams right now. I am watching ‘how to lose a guy in ten days’ on teevee. Thank you for this.

  7. I always feel so alone in this so thanks! I just couldn’t decide what to be and school didn’t seem to be working for me.

    I still don’t know what I want to be but at least I am working and enjoying life!

    • Indeed you are correct. Only about 40% of people in the US have an AA or more. If you look at just BAs it drops to just under 30%.

      So even if you have completed some college you may be ahead of the curve when applying to jobs. So those years may not be totally wasted!

  8. Yay I’m a dropout! And I wish
    I read this years ago, I can
    really relate.
    #6- the self check-out line is
    a great way to save $! For
    example, ring all produce as
    cabbage, its cheap!
    #8- try Brazilian Jiu Jitsu! I
    did and it changed my life! Now 4 years after I dropped
    out, I’m a world champion, I’ve
    been to Brazil, Portugal, all
    over the US. It’s an awesome
    upcoming and growing sport, plus
    it’s great self-defense for
    women! Lol ok end of my plug

  9. ok, are you ready? I’m 25. I have dropped out of college twice! Hooray! Right now I work in a warehouse, in the shipping department (yeah, super gay) and i’m happier than i’ve ever been, (although paying off loans for a degree i don’t have sucks). I plan on going back to school soon, but i’m going to be getting a degree i will enjoy and actually use. In dropping out, i’ve proven to my parents and everyone else around me that I can take care of myself. oh yeah.

    • I have a hideously short attention span, so have never actually managed to finish reading a fiction book in my life. Non fiction all the way! May I suggest:

      Quirkology – The Curious Science of Everyday Lives.

      Or if you want to reassure yourself that you are a worthwhile human being and fancy something a little more light-hearted, try reading any of the Darwin Awards books. I WIN for just still being alive.

    • Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers by Roach is AWESOME. So so funny and interesting. It made me pee my pants laughing.

      Also, if you’re interested in music, Please Kill Me: The Uncensored Oral History of Punk Rock is a fantastic read.

  10. I think it’s a cruelty that people are expected to go to college. I don’t think everyone’s cut out for it (and I don’t mean that in a YOU’RE NOT SMART/RICH ENOUGH way but in a we’re all different people with different goals and priorities way). A good friend of mine has been kicked out of college twice – and now that she’s moved on with her life, she’s the happiest I’ve ever seen her.

    There’s no shame in learning a trade or working your way up if that’s where your desires lie!

  11. I was having a conversation with my dad on a similar topic the other day. When I graduate at the end of 2012, I’m going to apply for 2 journalist cadetships, a media job and a ‘graduate’ job. My dad was a journalist (a very good one at that) and (45 yrs ago) he was a cadet journalist at 17 and was on a BBC report at that age, too. I’ve always had a hungry passion for news and current affairs – I like to know what’s going on in the world. I hope to one day be a journalist but I don’t care if it’s in 2012 or 2020. I can hopefully work in media jobs before it if it’s later. I read an article by an Australian journalism undergrad complaining about how with traineeships at Fairfax (they own The Age, a New York Times standard quality newspaper) –
    they offer high school graduates and university graduates the same traineeships. He ranted about the waste of money etc. But dad said, with journalism, truly being interested in news and current affairs is more appealing to an employer than a kid waltzing in with a Journalism degree expecting a job. Fairfax and SBS (the Austr equivalent of PBS) both hold news and current affairs exams to determine which applicants can show that they really generally have an interest for news. And you know, I think both of those things are fair. And also goes to show that college isn’t the only way, even for companies like Fairfax.

  12. I can’t exactly say college is for me considering I took my second semester off with little intention of coming back and while I did return, after a year and a half of doing college, I can’t say I had a strong desire/motivation to be there. I feel if I could just take computer science classes were I just code/classes in where I didn’t have to write papers, I’d be way more satisfied.

    Either way, I’m not graduating by the time I’m at 23 or later at this rate, so oh well. At least I get to say I’m enjoying the social aspect of my college years for longer than my peers? 🙂

  13. A little advice from an old(er) soul:

    Consider programs like the AmeriCorps. Perfect program for 18-25 year olds trying to figure out what to do with their life/career path, and it looks great on the resume. The pay sucks, but the skills and experience you gain makes it worthwhile. Plus you can try out a field you might be interested in to see if its a good fit before investing in a degree.

    I didn’t do AmeriCorps, but served in the Peace Corps following college (another great program for those post-grads who want to travel the world, learn about another culture, and gain some valuable experience). It changed my life and I can honestly say has had an extremely positive impact on my life and career thus far.

    Besides, with these programs you’ll be promoting peace and understanding, and not supporting our military-industrial complex.

    Just my 2 cents.

  14. I never officially dropped out of college, but I withdrew from semesters or just didn’t go to classes a lot…. I was dealing with rebellion from my parents. I think it’s a lot about finding yourself and figuring out who you are. It took me a while to do that, but when I did I got on track, graduated, and now I’m on my way. Things have just happened later in life for me (I turned 30 just this fall).

  15. I am a grad school drop out. I am having a very hard time coming to terms with my sudden loss of “status”. I avoid meeting new people or seeing people I used to know to avoid those “what do you do” or “what are you up to these days” questions, because saying “i dropped out of a PhD, can’t get a permanent job, can’t keep a temp one, and I’m running out of employment insurance” is kind of devastating.

  16. This is like my life story exactly. Right down to the 99 cent store and spending all my money on pot. I dropped out because after seven majors and four semesters I only had 16 hours and was completely burned out. I got a job, travelled the entire state as a nomad, met lots of awesome people and did some really cool things. After a year, I’m going back to school at a much more affordable college where I can graduate in about a year, in a major that I love. I just needed the time off. Glad I’m not the only one.

  17. I already felt burnt out after high school. I’m only in my second year of college, and with what I want to do I won’t be done for about seven more years. (yay grad school) Thinking about maybe taking some time off, to travel or something? School and making good grades has always been my main focus, but whatever drive has kept me going this far seems to be gone.

  18. This came at the perfect timing and was a good confirmation that I’m not doing anything wrong. I stopped going to college because I had a photography business and didn’t have time to go, now I have no photography business, will be moving soon and will finally be feeling like a college drop-out and I’m hating this “now what?” feeling. There are so many things I want to do/think I’d be good at but I don’t think I will be doing one certain job for the rest of my life. I don’t think I could put 4 years of education into one part of my life unless it was art, but even then I’d still probably be a barista while working on my art.

  19. So very needed. Merci!

    I ran from an abusive household in March of this year, graduated and spoke at Baccalaureate two months later (my parents never came), and since then, have been quasi-homeless and struggling to go to Georgia State AND pay off my car AND all of those little things like gas and things you can’t steal and pads sometimes.

    I don’t know, I just. Sometimes I really don’t want to get up in the morning. But this makes it a little easier. It does.

    :>

  20. I totally burned out on academia two years into my degree and kept trying to push through. And then one day I was reading up on Ray Bradbury for an essay, and I was going through quotation sites and happened across these:

    “If we listened to our intellect, we’d never have a love affair. We’d never have a friendship. We’d never go into business, because we’d be cynical. Well, that’s nonsense. You’ve got to jump off cliffs all the time and build your wings on the way down.”

    and this:

    “I spent three days a week for 10 years educating myself in the public library, and it’s better than college. People should educate themselves – you can get a complete education for no money. At the end of 10 years, I had read every book in the library and I’d written a thousand stories.”

    and most importantly, this:

    “If you don’t like what you’re doing, then don’t do it.”

    And then I skipped my final exams and dropped my next semester of classes and was seriously a fantastic life choice. Thanks, Ray Bradbury!

    • “If we listened to our intellect, we’d never have a love affair. We’d never have a friendship. We’d never go into business, because we’d be cynical. Well, that’s nonsense. You’ve got to jump off cliffs all the time and build your wings on the way down.”

      This is one of my favorite quotes of all time. Also,

      All I know about music is that not many people ever really hear it. And even then, on the rare occasions when something opens within, and the music enters, what we mainly hear, or hear corroborated, are personal, private, vanishing evocations. But the man who creates the music is hearing something else, is dealing with the roar rising from the void and imposing order on it when it hits the air. What is evoked in him, therefore, is of another order, more terrible because it has no words, and triumphant too, for that same reason. And his triumph, when he triumphs, is ours.
      -“Sonny’s Blues” by James Baldwin

      music is awesome. explore it.

  21. I’m in my sixth year of college and no where close to any degree or even certificate. I’ve gone through like six different majors at three different schools. Ever since year two it’s been a constant question of whether or not I should just drop out and get a job.

    This summer (in summer school) I was SURE that I wasn’t coming back to school, but then my mom talked me into taking culinary arts half time at the community college within walking distance. It’s convenient and not as academic, but it’s still driving me crazy. It’s like I’m half dropped out already, but I’m not sure if I should drop out all the way. Either way this post helped me.

  22. This made me feel a whole lot better. It would have been a perfectly timed article were it published in the Winter’09-10/Spring’10. I may be back in college, but I’m still a dropout inside my heart-thing.

    Well done and thank you. It’s so great that you wrote this.
    =)

  23. Okay, so I guess I sort of did the equivalent to this in the UK just a few years ago. I went to a rather posh all girls school and hated every minute of it, seriously hated it. When it came time to carry on into 6th form (16-18yrs) I started it and then dropped out. I just couldn’t handle the learning environment any more, despite getting all A’s, it just wasn’t for me.

    I got myself a job in an electronics shop in less than a week and vowed to enroll in a college elsewhere, in case it was just that school that had done me in. After a couple of months, I decided I LOVED the freedom of working and being my own person, so just didn’t go to college!

    Now, all my friends graduated from university this year and are still struggling to find a job. Some are taking crappy jobs well below degree level just to get by. I DIDNT get a degree and instead threw myself into work, learnt about business from rising up the ranks in small companies and now I’m a European Quality Manager for a global company! Suck it education system, I beat you!

    Seriously though, to this day I don’t regret not getting a degree but for some people out there going to university and coming out at the end with a degree, it was the single best experience of their lives. It’s different strokes for different folks. I’m not saying people shouldn’t go to university, far from it here, I was just suffocating in the rigid learning enviroment.

    I was the only girl out of 128 people in my year not to go to university and lost ALL my friends in the process. Society really thought I was a dumbass. Now I’m 24 and working in senior management, with my own house and car, doubters can suck it.

    There IS hope for dropouts, you just have to have the drive to get out there and throw yourself into life. I have had countless jobs on my journey to this one, trying to find what it is I wanted to do. Life is too short to do shit you don’t enjoy, and the opportunity to find stuff you DO enjoy is ALWAYS out there.

    • Hey I think it’s great that you’ve suceeded without a degree, but on the flip side it’s also important to note that without a degree glass ceilings often get in the way.

      My ex-gf has worked in HR for several FTSE100 companies and is seeing a lot of unemployed business managers and partners who worked their way up the company ladder but are now finding it impossible to secure work because they are competing with experienced MBAs and RG graduates.

      Similarly one of my friends dropped out of uni and became a chartered management accountant while working in the public sector. His aim was to cross over into the private sector for better pay, but no company will entertain him without a degree.

      My father and most of his colleagues lost their jobs a few years ago. They were replaced with younger graduates.

      So it’s all a bit of a gamble (alas most things are!)… not going to university works for some, but not for others.

      That said, lots of degrees are worthless (especially in the UK).

      • A similar thing happened to my boss – she’s got basically a 2-year degree (from Sweden, which is a bit different from the US/UK/Australia) in mechanical engineering, but when she interviewed at an unnamed Internet mogul they wouldn’t hire her because of her lack of a BA/BS.

      • I totally agree with you, it all depends if the career you want to go into is heavily reliant on qualifications. In my case, the job I’ve now found myself in is so specialised, even without a degree, the amount of industry knowledge I have stands me in good stead. I guess it’s about networking too, not what you know, who you know etc.

        It’s coming to light more and more now that there are a shed load of people making it in the UK by starting up their own business without even having finished secondary school.

        It is a gamble and for me it paid off luckily, but I wasn’t going to stop trying until it did.

        I see the other side of the coin totally though, and REALLY respect people who have got degrees, those things are hard work!!

        There is hope, and fate will run it’s course 🙂

  24. Katrina! Thank you for writing this. Long story short: Graduated high school, accepted to college, dropped out after one semester. Now I’m working full time, and you know what? It’s good. I actually kind of like this life, ya know? What sucks for me is some of my friends/acquaintences are very judgemental about it. They’re all like, “You’re never gonna go anywhere without a degree, blah blah shit.” I’m like, can’t you see that I’m happy?! I don’t care that I don’t make a shit ton of money, I like what I’m doing. Whatevs. Oh, all of your tips are ace as well.

  25. I have a feeling that this will be very useful to me next year. I’m currently struggling through my last year of 6th form and I can’t wait to leave.
    I’ve applied to study psychology at several universities and I really have no idea if that’s what I want to do. In any case my future plans certainly don’t involve a psychology related career so I feel like I would just be wasting my time and money if I went off to do this degree that I’m never going to use.
    I feel like I’m being rushed to make up my mind as to what I want to do but I don’t really feel old enough or mature enough to make any kind of decision that could affect the next 5+ years of my life, which probably means it’s just time for me to grow up.
    This is a wonderful article and it did help, thank you.

    • My best and only advice as a current college student is to find what you love about your life, and study something related to that. If you’re not loving your work every day, then the quality will suffer. World class cardiothoracic surgeons don’t get where they are because they hate the human body, they get there because it’s what they are passionate about.
      If you’re going to study psych, do it because you’re fascinated by human responses to stimuli, or whatever it is about the subject that you’re interested in. Don’t rush, just think about what you like, what you read in your spare time, what you make time for even when you have huge projects due the next day.

  26. This is such good timing. I’m in my second year of a science degree, and the more time that passes and the more I struggle, the more convinced I am that it’s not for me. There was actually a pretty big chance I wouldn’t be going back to school after the Christmas break, and this list definitely makes me feel like if that is the case, it won’t be the end of the world. So thank you.

  27. Does anyone else think it would be a great idea if people would stop giving out “HOLY CRAP YOUR LIFE IS TOTALLY OVER NOW THAT YOUR NOT IN COLLEGE ANYMORE!” looks, when informed of the fact. Seriously, I’m young my life is just starting and college is just not were I need to be right now. At least I’ve figured that much out.

    • YES! YESYESYES. It’s like, if it’s not about college they don’t know what other questions to ask about your life that won’t possibly trigger a long discourse of stuff they don’t want to know. You leave them paralized. It becomes about them being unable to be politely interested but not really.

      It seemed like I was gonna go straight to college, good student, yaddayadda, and last minute I said no. People that thought they knew me act horrified when they find out. They can’t seem to understand why I’m incredibly happy with my choice. xD

  28. this sounds like what it means to be an unemployed writer and i’ve been there and it’s awesome and terrible and then awesome again.

    love this article. love all of you.

    what i really wanna ask is why autostraddle doesn’t have a live like digital ticker tape scoreboard live stream thang where we can all give up our random and awesome thoughts and watch them scroll across the AS website…

    and back to the article, i would like to add READ A GRAPHIC NOVEL, write a dope poem and then go PERFORM IT and after that learn how to cook one BANGING ASS MEAL and cook the shit out of it for some pretty girl.

    word. much love. super love. go n get it.

  29. 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?

  30. 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 🙂

  31. 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…..like 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.

  32. 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.

  33. 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.

  34. 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?

  35. 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.

  36. 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.

  37. 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 😀 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.

  38. 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.

  39. 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!

  40. 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. 🙂

  41. 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..

  42. 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.

  43. 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.

  44. 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.

  45. 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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