You Asked It

Just Wondering

Wherein we try to untangle some of your most perplexing quandaries. (Ours: how did French Montana come up in TWO consecutive answers this month?)

I’ve been in college for two months, and while I realize the opportunities it holds, I hate it here. I’m seriously considering dropping out, working a ton, saving my money, and traveling for a while (a longstanding dream of mine). I’m just worried that, because I’ve been failing classes and have amassed no credits whatsoever, dropping out now would guarantee I’ll spend the rest of my life as some weird traveling street urchin, not qualified for any decent job. I’m very self-motivated when it comes to the things I want to do (art, photography, writing, etc.), but I’m really worried that I’d be making a big mistake if I dropped out without any credits. Should I stay for one more semester and try to get good grades (but also not be able to make enough $ to get out of here), or should I just get out now because I already know I don’t want to be here? —Emily, Chicago

I have been exactly in your place, and I know the feeling; I’m so sorry that you are unhappy at school.

So you have two options: Dropping out or staying. Let’s list some pros and cons.

If you stay were you are now:
You know you will be miserable for another semester, at least. Getting good grades there during that time might help you if you decide to transfer somewhere else, but is it worth the pain and suffering? I think you have better options. Let’s cross this one off the list.

If you transfer to a different school:
You don’t mention this option in your email, nor do you say what kind of school you’re going to now, but have you considered transferring to an artier kind of school, where you’ll get credit for the stuff you say you’re already motivated to work on (art, photography, writing)? I know your grades haven’t been stellar, but a lot of art schools and small liberal-arts schools understand people like you, whose intelligence, talent, and drive just aren’t engaged in traditional classrooms, and aren’t reflected in measures like test scores and grades. They’ll be interested in looking at your portfolio and your creative writing. If you leave your current school now, you can spend the rest of the winter researching colleges that might be a better fit for you, gathering transfer applications, and making yourself a more attractive candidate for a transfer.

How do you do make a school want to accept a college dropout with a not-so-great GPA? There are a bunch of ways. First, you can enroll in your local community college right now. I know community colleges get a bad rap, but they’re a great way to earn better grades cheaply, get basic credits out of the way, and/or continue taking art classes while you’re working. Speaking of working, schools will often appreciate on-the-job experience as well as portfolios of your work and letters of recommendation from employers. If you need to wait tables to pay rent, can you get a meaningful volunteer gig, or an internship where you know you’ll learn a lot—then kick all kinds of butt there? If you can’t afford or don’t want to work for free or cheap, can you start a project on your own and follow through with it in a way that will make admissions committees salivate? Write a book, teach a class, start your own business, create the next YouTube or CollegeHumor or Facebook (or Rookie!). In your personal essay, be sure to address your issues at your current school, and to explain why you believe this new school will be a better environment for you.

If you drop out:
I absolutely believe that it is possible to succeed without college, particularly if you are interested in an artistic field. There are millions of people who have jobs that never went to college. You will not become a weird traveling street urchin (unless you want to be one—I did that for a while, and it was lovely). The first thing to consider is the quality of life you want. Is a decent job for you one that pays an extraordinary amount of money, or one that allows you to pay bills with a little left over for the occasional movie or dinner out, plus enough time for you to make art on the side? You might think getting a college degree and then a steady gig with benefits = job security, but, sad to say, there’s really no such thing anymore in this country, with the economy such as it is, when anyone can be laid off at any time with no warning at all. It’s better, in my opinion, to be standing on the bottom rung of a ladder you want to climb (art) than on the top rung of a ladder you want to burn to ashes (your current college). Can you get an internship? Work in a studio or rent a studio on your own? Get a job at Hot Dog on a Stick and use your weekends to set up a table at art fairs? The artistic life isn’t always one that leaves you in shambles, but you may have to compromise a little in the beginning and have patience; creating during that time will remind you of your goals. Way before I ever got a paycheck for writing, I kept a journal and carried around a book to make observations and jot down ideas. None of that stuff has ever seen the light of day, but it kept me in practice and helped me develop my writing style so that when I finally got an opportunity to write for money I was able to hit the ground running.

I dropped out of college after freshman year, and returned 12 years later. In between I held a lot of jobs, did a lot of writing, and a lot of living. Today I’m about to get a master’s degree, and I’m a professional writer. Not a street urchin! And a TON of people much more successful than me dropped out of college, or never even went in the first place: Lady Gaga dropped out of NYU, and Amanda Seyfried left Fordham on the first day of class. Patti Smith left Glassboro State, where she was training to become a teacher, to move to New York and write poetry. Donna Karan and Jason Wu dropped out of Parsons. Jackie Kennedy Onassis left Vassar, but eventually went back to school and graduated. Most of the cast of Glee and half of the people who run the internet (like Jack Dorsey of Twitter and David Karp of Tumblr) didn’t get undergraduate degrees. Harper Lee dropped out during senior year. Louis C.K. never even went.

Sometimes dropping out and getting on with what you know you want to do with your life is the best thing you can do for yourself. Maybe you’ll never return to college. Maybe you’ll return in a few years (or, as in my case, more than a decade), when you finally know exactly what you want to get out of the college experience. Dropping out isn’t a death sentence for your ambitions or success. It can actually introduce you to experiences and people that will help you make your life dreams come true.

I think that in your heart you know the answer to this question, and that you need a little reassurance that it’s the right thing to do. It’s the right thing to do. Go for it. —Danielle

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36 Comments

  • DreamBoat December 11th, 2012 11:18 PM

    AWWW ROOKIE, YOU ARE ALWAYS THE BEST!!
    May I suggest a little SALT with your PEPA for the female rappers? Salt ‘n’ Pepa are perfect, and “None of Your Business” is like, an amazing anti-slut shaming song! Plus their stuff is SUPER fun to dance to, and it’s pretty much the most rad thing ever!!
    I also grapple with a lot of problems with my music, because I listen to a lot of oldies-type music, some/a lot of which has misogynistic undertones. I’ll be listening to my JAM and then suddenly, I’m like “WAIT THAT IS SO WRONG! HOW COULD I LISTEN TO THIS!?” So, that was some great advice from you lovelies <3

    P.S. I have sooooo many issues with Taylor. "I'll tell all of my friends you're gay"? NOT COOL!

    http://psychedelicdaisy.blogspot.com

  • jenaimarley December 11th, 2012 11:33 PM

    Thanks Rookie!
    Also just wanted to mention: mc yogi is a really dance-able and fresh (also kind of coolly spiritual) rapper!

  • ViolentDreams December 11th, 2012 11:49 PM

    WOW that whole article on college was so spot on. Rookie you read my mind!, reading that article, i was staring at my internal conflict. Thanxxx Danielle for giving such a real perspective

  • estelle December 12th, 2012 12:04 AM

    Dear K.T.-
    about that rap. listen to Macklemore. He is a god. And his producer, Ryan Lewis, is so hot and yummy. He has songs about gay rights (Same Love), thrift shopping (Thrift Shop), consumerism(Wing$), and the beats are siiiick. Plus he has hilarious songs that just make you want to laugh and hug and dance, like American, Penis Song, Castle, And We Danced, Irish Celebration, Can’t Hold Us, White Walls and Victory Lap. Another good rap song is by a guy called Dee-1, he has this song called “You Stupid Fool” about all those rappers who make up stuff that never happened. But its always ok to relax and listen to whatever you want, and you dont have to agree with the message. BUT MACKLEMORE & RYAN LEWIS ARE SERIOUSLY THE BEST I WENT TO 2 OF THEIR CONCERTS IN THE PAST 3 MONTHS. love them. hope this helps to you or anyone reading this.

    • kirsten December 12th, 2012 1:19 AM

      Macklemore is the BEST. Another great song is “Otherside,” which is about drug abuse and how rap influences teens.

      Also, the music video to “And We Danced” is hilarious.

      As a Seattle native (holla!), Macklemore is close to my heart <3

      • tcmaree December 12th, 2012 4:54 AM

        MACKLEMORE + RYAN LEWIS 4LYF.

    • farawayfaerie December 12th, 2012 9:39 AM

      hey! i really like your comment and I’m definitely going to check out Mackelmore and Ryan Lewis, ’cause they sound awesome and it feels so good to listen to ‘decent’ music. but it’s also kind of about getting to love rappers even though they’re sexist and/or homophobic, and then trying to ignore that side of them and just go along with it. I mean, i don’t want to not be able to like their music anymore…but I also think it’s important to see others who do good, so I’m really excited to do more research on it.

      • back2thepast December 12th, 2012 12:20 PM

        DUDE Macklemore is my LIFE gaaaahh he is so amazing. And his music videos are spectacular-go watch Otherside Remix Ft. Fences music video it’s really beautiful.I love him because he adresses serious issues but he’s also hilarious. I’m super obsessed with the Thrift Shop Video and the song American-piss yourself humor, he is just so damn good.

  • Christi December 12th, 2012 12:17 AM

    Rap is incredible, but when you listen to FEMALES who can spit BETTER than guys, it makes it a whole lot better!!! Azealia Banks is my favorite right now, though

  • Teez December 12th, 2012 12:45 AM

    really good video of bell hooks on rap: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xtoanes_L_g&feature=player_embedded

  • adelia f December 12th, 2012 1:22 AM

    Emily, check out schools like Hampshire College and Evergreen. They basically let you design your own course of study and there’s a huge emphasis on the arts. They really require you to be self-motivated (you’re basically setting the standards for yourself along with the professors you ask to be on your committee), which is hard for some people but sounds perfect for you.

  • georgie fruit December 12th, 2012 2:00 AM

    also if you’re into feminism and hip hop culture read the Crunk Feminist Collective blog! it’s under construction right now but they are on tumblr: http://crunkfeministcollective.tumblr.com/ and they are AMAZING.

    also Katastrophe is a Bay Area rapper and spoken word poet who is also FtM trans, and raps about a lot of his experiences living in all kinds of marginal spaces.

  • GorillazFangirl December 12th, 2012 2:24 AM

    Woo hoo! Yoh, another capetonian rookie reader, this is so exciting!

  • orientaltiger December 12th, 2012 2:26 AM

    I am surprised that I’m not crazy. That might sound a little irrelevant and silly but I mean that in relation to the comment about T-Swizzle’s lyrics. I tried to listen to her RED album, and while I liked some of the catchiness (is that a word?) about it, I couldn’t stand a few lyrics at least, because I felt like they were either throwing shade at girls (like hidden slut shaming) or just plain irksome for some reason I can’t pinpoint or remember. I used to question why I was picking out these things / making these up but perhaps I’m not. Funny how I’ve been following Rookie since the start, but it took a Taylor Swift moment for me to register and create a comment. :3

  • MichelleCarneece December 12th, 2012 2:51 AM

    Danielle, your response is incredibly encouraging, because I’m in EXACTLY the same position as Emily (although I’m a sophomore). My true passions are art and writing, and although I’m actually enrolled in a creative writing program at uni, I feel as if I’m not learning as much as I do whenever I’m on my own and involved in my own research. I adore learning, but classroom environments suffocate me (spoiled by unschooling? Probably.) Of course, whenever I’ve mentioned this to anyone, they’ve made me feel petty for “being immature” and “making up problems about school”, so the guilt factor ramps up. I don’t want to disappoint anyone, but I feel as if I’m disappointing myself the longer I stay in school and drift farther away from a drive to do anything at all.

  • zombiesockmonkey December 12th, 2012 3:54 AM

    I’ve always seen college as a means of pursuing my dreams, by providing me with the financial and basically life stability to do so.

    that being said I can still relate to the frustration of going through the college grind instead of doing what you love

  • La La Land December 12th, 2012 4:48 AM

    Looooove Danielle’s answer!!!
    I’m so so glad you pointed out one can always return to college later! So often people think that if they drop out of school that will be their fate forever. But it’s so much better to go back to studying when you actually want to do it, so that you will enjoy your time and actually appreciate all the amazing resources that your university can offer!
    I didn’t drop out, but directly didn’t go to university after high school, cuz it had been so hard for me that i just knew i couldn’t go on studying back then (even though i really love knowledge, and books, and learning). Just a few years later (after working and having amazing adventures around the world) i found the most amazing university, which I am attending now! If i hadn’t given myself the time i needed i would have never: 1- known about this university, 2-been accepted (my school grades alone weren’t all that special), 3- appreciated being a student so much, 4-had the background of life experience that is allowing to understand so much better a lot of what im studying!
    And really, it was all worth it even just to have access to the amazing library of my university ;)

  • rose-nymph December 12th, 2012 6:40 AM

    Thank you so much Sady, I am pretty much going through the same thing and this has helped immensely. I feel like I’m forever in debt to Rookie and all of the great contributors xx

  • filmfatale December 12th, 2012 7:24 AM

    You know who’s a good female MC? Ana Tijoux. I actually want to get better at Spanish so I can figure out what she’s saying.

    Here’s her video for “Shock”, a song she wrote with Naomi Klein:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=177-s44MSVQ

  • Isil December 12th, 2012 10:45 AM

    You people are beautiful for helping people like this. I’ve never been into a depression problem, or something about my school (i have bad grades, but i like my school) but I’ve always afraid of it and I am not good at all about giving suggestions about serious stuff if someone asks me about it. Thank you all for helping people.

    http://isilnoir.wordpress.com

  • spudzine December 12th, 2012 11:54 AM

    I really liked how different this article was from all of the other “Just Wonderings” Probably because of its serious undertones, and because I feel like I can relate to a couple-if not all-of the questions above. I feel like whether you go to college or not, it all burns down to how driven you are at wanting whatever it is that you want.

    http://spudzine.tumblr.com/

  • Miss Erin December 12th, 2012 5:05 PM

    Danielle, as someone who has already decided not to go to college (for now, anyway), I still found your answer REALLY inspiring and encouraging, and want to say thank you for it!

  • Cerise December 12th, 2012 6:40 PM

    Advice that includes a reference to Doctor Who? Thank you Amy Rose!

    Seriously, though, I definitely agree. Don’t pretend to like/dislike things you really don’t/do like. If you hate Monty Python–which would make me sad :’(–then don’t say you *love* it, because then the person in question may buy you Monty Python and the Holy Grail for Christmas and ask to watch it with you.

    Also, it’s totally fine (and fun, even) to not know anything about your crush/significant other’s favorite things. We don’t have to share every interest we have. There was this one guy I really liked who was obsessed with martial arts–something I didn’t really know a whole lot about–but he was cool with that, and we actually had some interesting conversations about what he was learning, which was fun (plus his love for it was adorable).

    Plus, if you both are open and honest about what you like, you may discover something awesome together that you can share. (Like Doctor Who!)

  • FlowerPower December 12th, 2012 6:44 PM

    I can totally relate to that “talking to a boy” example. We just finished reading “The House on Mango Street” and I about the only person (besides the teacher) who enjoyed it. Always makes for an awkward conversation.
    ~Caroline~

  • sophiethewitch December 12th, 2012 7:00 PM

    I’m pretty sure that one of the two people who landed the rover on Mars is a dropout.

  • Martinapovolo December 12th, 2012 7:32 PM

    y’all should get christopher owens to do that ask a grown man thingy!!!

  • lizzyheinie December 12th, 2012 7:51 PM

    Female rappers tumblr link is broken :( Amazing suggestions from all the rookies though!

  • wiltedrues December 12th, 2012 9:48 PM

    K.T. and anyone else who’s interested,
    I recommend listening to Brother Ali! He’s an underground rapper from Minneapolis and is very genuine and has a powerful story and lyrics. He especially focuses on the problems in America like racism and sexism, so I think you’ll find meaning in his work. I’ve met him multiple times and he’s a really great guy with great beats.
    Good luck!

  • insteadofanelephant December 12th, 2012 9:54 PM

    really good advice! i love getting new music and movie ideas from cute boys or girls. people are always willing to show you something they love and will want you to get involved too so you can love it TOGETHER! even if you don’t end up loving each other.

    XX
    blog: instead of an elephant
    Creative Director: Thread Magazine

  • Aurora December 12th, 2012 9:59 PM

    Julia, I am going through a startlingly similar problem, but the guy is not my boyfriend. He cuts himself a lot, and he has been hospitalized three times. He texts me all the time asking for advice, and it’s hard. I can’t fathom how it would feel to be in a romantic relationship with someone who is so depressed. I hope everything works out okay with your boyfriend, and I think I speak for everyone on this site when I say we love you :)

  • insteadofanelephant December 12th, 2012 10:00 PM

    emily from chicago: I don’t think you should drop out just yet! college isn’t for everyone but I hated HATED my entire freshman year but now this school is one of the most memorable, dearly to-be missed things about my life. I didn’t think I was learning anything new, but then I took some more classes and I learned not just new info, but new ways to THINK. I’ve heard of a lot of people transferring, who have become quite happier after they did, so that is always an option too. In my opinion, there is always time for that work hard/travel break after school or during the breaks you’ll have in the summer or holidays. There are also SO many study abroad options that I think you should consider! Don’t cross staying where you are off the list just yet.

    blog: instead of an elephant
    Creative Director: Thread Magazine

  • MaggietheCat December 13th, 2012 12:31 AM

    Although I’m happy with the life I have now, I really wish I hadn’t dropped out of college.

    I went to beauty school after working retail for a while, and I loved it so much. I’m an apprentice in a salon now. I plan to go back to school after becoming a stylist.

    I just wish I had sucked it up and finished school, but I couldn’t pass anything that wasn’t English or art.

    It will take a lot longer and be A LOT more expensive next time around, though.

    Lets just say that I now understand what my dad meant when he said that then was the best time to do it.

  • sneakybacon December 13th, 2012 7:47 AM

    hey K.T, maybe coming from south africa you’ve heard of Die Antwoord? theyre kinda a love it or hate band (i love it) but they deal with a lot of issues that rappers don’t always, the homogenisation of modern music the lines between black and white and out of the two members (most awesome husband n wife team eva!) the girl is so incredible, definitely worth a look

  • hollyholly December 13th, 2012 8:04 PM

    I LOOOVE Rookie and this article and hate to nitpick, but it would be super-cool if you linked to books on, say, an indie bookseller’s website (like Powell’s) instead of Amazon.com! (Here’s When Chickenheads Come Home to Roost: http://www.powells.com/biblio/2-9780684868615-1) :)

  • justsomeone December 14th, 2012 11:54 PM

    Rookie, you rock. I sometimes wonder if other people see the world as sickening and wrong, or if I am too sensitive? To me, the world seems wrong, so wrong that the written word will never do it justice, just as it seems there is none of that in this world. Maybe other people ignore it, in the knowledge that there is nothing we will do to rectify this…this pile of blood, guts and pain, sweetened only by those we love and the notion of life itself. God…where is the answer? Buried beneath the remains of the dead and all of those who have died without justice? Or is it just nowhere to be found? I then turn to Rookie and read all the stories and comments of the brave and beautiful readers out there and I can hope again. Thankyou Rookie. In a world where all hope appears lost sometimes, you provide answers, hope and light.