As I found out in October 2015, the internet is awash with uni drop-out success stories. For these people, dropping out was the best decision of their lives – they ended up with dream jobs and none of the debt. At this point, I was having a miserable time at university. I wasn’t getting on with my housemates, I barely slept or ate, I skipped countless seminars and felt completely overwhelmed. Or maybe underwhelmed is a better word. I had expected my uni experience to be amazing – again, largely because of endless buzzfeed posts about first year being one huge party. I had been struggling with mental health issues for years and things were coming to a head in my final year of college. Getting to uni, a whole new city with a whole new group of people, was my promised land. It sounds ridiculous, but I realise now that I was expecting it to solve all my problems. After years of family and friends telling me that with my grades and genuine interest in academia uni would be the making of me, I got there and it was very nearly the breaking of me.
I dropped out in late November, a week after I was prescribed anti-depressants. The whole process was horrible. I look back on it now as a blur of panic attacks and arguments, constantly trying to justify my decision to people who would bemoan how I was wasting my intelligence. Not to mention my Personal Tutor was an utter bellend and nearly made me cry when I was finalising the whole thing. Oh, and I somehow got an ulcer in my left eye. Honestly, everything that could possibly have gone wrong managed to do so. Anyway, long story short I moved back in with my parents, got a temp job at M&S and started looking for apprenticeships, intern work, work experience… I applied for the Sky Academy, I contacted museums, radio stations, publishing houses, law firms, anything that vaguely appealed to my interests. Then when my contract with M&S expired, I immediately got another job. In fact, another two jobs. And I kept on sending out CVs, filling out applications, practically bending over backwards trying to make myself into a success story – not a dropout loser, but someone who had gone against expectations and came out on top.
And it didn’t happen.
That’s really what this post is about; I think it’s great to have these inspirational stories about people who have done well without uni. It isn’t for everyone. But while they can be encouraging, they can also leave you feeling like a failure when that doesn’t happen to you. Being realistic, in this day and age with a flooded job market and when an unpaid internship or work experience just isn’t practical for many lower-income people, it is ridiculously difficult to find a promising career even with a degree. Realising that made me resentful at first; I came to the conclusion that to get to the sort of job I wanted, going back to uni was basically my only option. But why should I be forced back into something I hated because I didn’t have any other opportunities? It seemed deeply unfair. In fact, it is deeply unfair.
Luckily I have found a course and a uni that I actually want to do. As I said, I’m a nerd. I love studying. Going back to another uni and a course that is more practical to my interests makes sense for me, and I’ve made enough progress in my mental health to actually look forward to it; something I never thought I’d do! I’m not for a minute suggesting that I shouldn’t have dropped out. It absolutely was the best decision I ever made… but not because it resulted in me achieving a career I love with none of the debt. Dropping out for me made me re-evaluate where I wanted to go in my life. It gave me some distance from the enclosed environment of school or college to think about what I really wanted to do. It gave me the opportunity to pursue other interests – to get more involved in social justice causes, to spend more time on my spiritual growth, to write my novel. It gave me a much-needed break from the constant pressure of deadlines and exams. On a practical level, it allowed me time to work and accumulate a decent amount of money that would help me with the costs of accommodation (and beer tokens, of course). Most importantly, it made me realise that I really wasn’t well and that my first priority should be sorting my head out. The decision to drop out is what made me get better, and now I’m prepared to go back and smash a law degree.
So if you’ve dropped out or are considering it; if it’s what you need, then do it. But be prepared for a hard slog and a long wait for your success story. I’m not saying it can’t be done, but I feel like there’s a lot of bullshit surrounding both uni and dropping out (or not bothering with uni full stop). Neither is easy, and neither is a sure-fire recipe for a dream job. It all boils down to keeping your head above the water, making sure you’re as healthy and happy as you can be, and doing what is best for you.
Blessed Be )0(