How to Tell Your Favorite Professor That You Want to Drop Out of College

The following is an excerpt from a letter I wrote to my favorite professor at SVSU. It’s dated November 24, 2012, by which point I’d been working on an undergraduate degree for more than five years.

I’m posting it here now (with her permission) not because my breakup with academia is anyone’s business, but because choosing to leave school is kind of a taboo topic– the kind of thing you Google late at night when no one’s watching.  And that was sort of my reason for starting this blog to begin with: to create a safe space to discuss the things society thinks we should do without questioning it– like drowning in student loan debt.

I’ve not been very good at updating this blog in recent months.  I haven’t written anything new since my cat broke her femur bone last summer.  This piece of writing isn’t new, but it’s honest.  So in my attempt to revive this blog, I’m starting with it.

I hope to post more soon.

I have a confession to make. I really dislike school—so much so that I’m not even sure if I’m going to graduate.

For as hard as that is for me to acknowledge, it’s an incredibly freeing thought.

In a blog post I wrote earlier this year, I finally admitted that I consider transferring to be one of the most cowardly things I have ever done. That’s not because I think I should have stayed at SVSU; I needed to get out of there, and am glad that I left. But I wanted to drop out. And instead, I transferred to Wayne State.

I only did it because it was the easiest option, and I was scared. I didn’t want anyone to think of me as a failure, and was afraid of what it would be like to no longer be a student.

I tell you this because even though I have quite the reputation for being unapologetically weird, I actually do care what others think—those I care about, in particular. And your friendship is so important to me; I do not want to lie to or hurt you.

So I think you deserve to know just how strongly I’m considering dropping off the face of the earth. I know that you understand, better than anyone else, what it feels like to want to run away. But I don’t think you know just how seriously I’m thinking of actually doing it.

I’d like to think of it, though, as running toward something—something that suits me better, whatever that is.

I’m so tired of trying to convince myself that school is where I belong. I’ve always fit in with people who excel academically because I love to read and write. And because so many of my friends are in academia, I’ve shied away from trying to explain that I just don’t love school as much as they seem to.

But since it’s the truth, I should probably stop hiding it.

I’ve never been a consistently great student. I’ve had good semesters here and there, sure—I even got straight A’s last fall. And during my k-12 years, I was good enough at English to be placed onto the honors track, and into AP classes.

But it never felt quite right. And it still doesn’t.

Every time I’ve ever worked any kind of low wage job, the people who’ve hired me go on and on about how reliable, competent, and thorough I am. I’m well known for going above and beyond with everything.

Except, that is, for school.

I still struggle to put it first. And I think I’ve finally figured out why that is.

In elementary school, one of my teachers tried to scare us all into doing our homework by saying, “Go ahead and slack off. The only person you’re going to hurt is yourself.”

I took that to heart, and to this day, blow off school sometimes because others need me. So, even though I’m the most reliable person on the planet, one wouldn’t think it by looking at my transcript—which, because I transferred, added a second major, and have this habit of taking classes I don’t need just because they sound interesting—makes me look like I’m flaky and can’t make up my mind about anything.

Which is not an accurate representation of me at all. And it’s making me doubt that a transcript could ever say that much about me.

I couldn’t even bring myself to acknowledge how I feel, let alone discuss it with anyone else, until about a week ago. And I only did so because my friend Lucy (who I swear can read my mind even though she says she just reads my Twitter) brought it up. In response to a fleeting comment I made about wanting to run away she said, “I wish you could drop out. I understand why it’s not a good idea, but a big part of me wants to be like, fuck it.”

And when she said that, I started crying, because she voiced what I’ve been thinking but refusing to confront for months. Or years, really.

Other things she said that comforted me:

  • “You are incredibly, incredibly smart and you are attracted to people who are also incredibly smart. But the academia world is very straight-jacket, one-form. And you can be friends with people who play that game (hell, I play that game), but it doesn’t mean you have to.
  • “I hate to lump everyone in a group, but I think that academia people wish they could all drop out, but are often caught up in this web. And I think you have a foot out of the web and realize how fucking good it feels.”
  • “Maybe you’re feeling like you have to stick with Wayne State because you did so much to get there. But I kind of think that all of these twists and turns were you just trying to figure out why it didn’t feel right. And you tried. You tried really fucking hard. But you still don’t feel right. I think that’s saying something.”

Her last comment makes me think that what I want to do will be considered a failure. But I don’t think of it that way. Because after Lucy and I talked, I felt so much better.

I don’t know what I’m going to do. And I’m not necessarily asking you for advice (although I do value your opinion tremendously, so if you feel strongly about anything I’ve said, please say so, because I will listen). Like I said, I just want you to know. Because you’re one of my dearest friends. Because you, like many of the people I care about, are educated. Because I have no idea what you’ll think of all this and am curious to know.

What I do know for sure is that I’m okay. As I mentioned, it’s very freeing, admitting this—even though I’m not sure what I should do about it.

So I’ll close by wishing this feeling for you, too—no matter how or where you find it.

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About Amelia

feminist, seafood enthusiast, bookworm, blogworm
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