Live Through This

I Was a High School Dropout: A Non-Horror Story

Graduating is awesome, but you’re not an automatic failure if you go a different way.

Illustration by Camille.

Collage by Camille.

I hated high school so much that I dropped out not once, but twice, and the second time was permanent. This doesn’t mean I’m a screw-up, or that I sacrificed my career by not attending class for most of my senior year. In fact, I graduated college last year and now work in a field that I love. All things considered, dropping out of high school was actually the most responsible choice I could have made for myself as a teenager.

I was bullied a lot in school because my classmates thought I was weird. On especially bad days, I would sneak back to my house at lunchtime and complain to my mother that I felt sick, then crawl under my covers, read magazines, and hope that maybe the next day would be a little easier. It never was. I started daily screaming-and-crying fights with my parents about having to go to school and had panic attacks in the middle of class. The anxiety brought on by the social politics of high school caused me to struggle academically. By sophomore year, I was failing math, and certain concepts, like chemistry, were completely confusing to me. Soon, I was getting awful grades in even my favorite subjects, and I knew I had to make a change.

When I turned to my guidance counselor for help, he told me that there were ways to leave high school as I knew it, earn my diploma with a decent record, and continue on to college. With my parents’ approval, I chose to drop out of school and earn that semester’s credits through a correspondence learning program based in my city: Every few weeks, I stopped by an alternative education center, picked up a packet of tests and a new piece of literature to read, and dropped off my completed assignments to be graded.

I noticed an immediate difference after starting correspondence work. I woke up in the mornings and did my schoolwork while I ate breakfast. I didn’t feel moody anymore. That spring, I watched on Facebook as my old classmates geared up for prom and decided to go to a concert by myself instead. I was starting to see that in order to be happy, I had to go my own way.

After completing my correspondence course, my confidence was newly restored. I tried heading back to school to fulfill my final credits, but after a few weeks, I was begging my guidance counselor for another solution. This came in the form of a work-study program: I worked part-time at a home decor store, then filled out assignments related to my job. (I also did plenty of shopping for knick-knacks and coffee table books on my lunch breaks.) I loved it, and my four remaining months of coursework flew by. When I finally received the document that said I was a high school graduate, I wanted to cry tears of joy. For a long time afterward, I had a recurring dream that I was sitting in a classroom, and I would suddenly stand up and happily shout, “I don’t have to be here anymore!”

If you hate the structure of regular schooling and choose to drop out, it doesn’t mean you’re dumb or lazy. A lot of really intelligent people have trouble in high school, which usually values routines and standardized testing over creativity. It often seems like the high school curriculum was expressly designed to oppress the very skills that artistic weirdos are good at! If you’re looking for another way to learn, are plenty of different methods of earning your diploma without having to attend normal classes. Homeschooling, unschooling, and alternative schools, like those that follow the Montessori model, are all solid choices, depending on what you’re looking for. Distance education and my work-study program were awesome for me—I learned so much more when I got to do my assignments at my own pace, in an environment where I didn’t feel like a cornered animal, and it showed in my grades, which had vastly improved. Lots of people are lucky enough to know at a relatively young age what they want to do for a living, and if it’s not something that requires a college or even a high school degree and you’ve reached the legal school-leaving age for your country, there are real advantages to dropping out and focusing your attention on your obsession—that’s what dumb, lazy losers like Tumblr founder David Karp, Kristen Stewart, Cher, Daniel Radcliffe, Quentin Tarantino, and Ryan Gosling did, and look how they turned out.

I’m not advising you to go ahead and drop out of school this very moment—that decision all depends on your situation. If you’re thinking about peacing out on your alma mater for good, it’s very important to keep in mind that high school sucks for everyone sometimes, so if you’re tearing up your homework on that basis alone right now, it might be a good idea to reconsider. Disliking something is totally different from being unable to do it; I dropped out because my psychological disabilities made it nearly impossible for me to go to class, and that decision worked out because of the alternatives that were available to me. If I hadn’t had them, I wouldn’t have left until I’d earned my diploma the traditional way.

When I did get into college, my classes were actually interesting and filled with like-minded people, and reaching that goal was especially rewarding because of the difficulties I had to go through to get there. But, like high school, college isn’t for everyone! There are plenty of ways to be happy and successful in this world, and if you plan for what you want to do thoroughly and work really hard, you’ll probably be fine no matter what happens. I will say that, statistically, if you choose to finish high school, you’ll have a ton of advantages, including a broader range of job options. And if you do leave, you can always go back later if you change your mind—although I would imagine high school is probably even less fun the second time around.

Whatever you decide, know that dropping out isn’t something to be ashamed of, nor does it mean you’re giving up on intellectual and/or professional fulfillment. I’m happy with my life even though my path has looked a little bit different from most people’s. And if yours does too, that’s perfectly OK—though it can sometimes be a struggle to find your way, the awesome weirdo future that awaits you is totally worth it in the end. ♦

33 Comments

  • GlitterKitty February 18th, 2014 7:20 PM

    Oh my god this is so the opposite of everything I have ever been told by anyone. I really hate high school too but I know that dropping out or doing correspondence isn’t for me. I could never motivate myself to do work I don’t find super interesting. And also I would completely shut out of social life which isn’t helpful. Nice to know that there are options though and that the traditional high school-uni-work path isn’t the only one.

  • thebrownette February 18th, 2014 7:38 PM

    Homeschooling is the best thing ever (for me)<3

  • Goli February 18th, 2014 7:38 PM

    Wow, this is odd. I feel so identified here. I dropped out of high school during my freshman year and finished the equivalent to high school in my country via homeschooling. I dropped out for very similar reasons to what you write here, and am now in my third year of uni at the moment, an aspiring graphic designer! I really wish I had known options like a work-study program were available at the time though, since that actually sounds very fun, or at least something I would have liked, still, I don’t regret the homeschooled years of my life since I feel like they really helped me get to know ME, which I’ve now realized is kind of a big deal through those years, perhaps even now, -I just turned 20 on Sunday- and am glad I know myself the way I do.

  • soviet_kitsch February 18th, 2014 7:40 PM

    i was really looking forward to this article but it wasn’t as in-depth as i was hoping. i’m seriously contemplating dropping out (i’m a mature student and have tried A LOT to get back up to speed) and while this article was a great read i think it would’ve benefited from some more info about how to make friends outside of a school setting, entrepreneurship and how to actually drop out (forms etc).

    • Hannah February 18th, 2014 9:17 PM

      Hi there! Thanks for your feedback. I think all those topics you mentioned would make for great follow-up pieces. I wanted this to be about my own individual journey. I know everyone’s high school experience will differ from person to person, this was just my own account.

      As far as the paperwork, I can only say I went through my guidance counsellor and I believe my parents had to sign some forms because I was under 18.

      I don’t know if the process is the same elsewhere, I am from Ontario, Canada so it could be different in America, in each state, and different in other countries. I would recommend any student considering this talk to their guidance counselors because they will always have the proper information on alternative education.

      As far as meeting friends outside of school, my work placement program helped with that because I was working retail and customer service and had to be outgoing and good at small talk – working retail majorly helped my social skills more than high school. With my job now I always have to go to PR/media events and meet strangers all the time and it’s so much easier because of the workplace skills I learned.

      I would also recommend reading Krista’s, Estelle’s, and Jamia’s pieces about talking to new people:
      http://rookiemag.com/2014/01/life-skills-301/
      http://rookiemag.com/2013/11/lets-be-friends/
      http://rookiemag.com/2013/05/networking/
      I hope this response helped a bit! Thanks for reading.

      • soviet_kitsch February 18th, 2014 9:46 PM

        !!! i’m also in ontario! i’m unsure about work because i have a disability and i also don’t get out much (which is why i’m wanting to try to finish high school, because that’s automatic socializing) but thank you very much for the extra info. i have lots of confidence so i’m not too concerned with networking, meeting new people or anything of that ilk; it’s just figuring how to monetize that hehe. i hope you do write a followup to this one–i’d be all over that.

  • vintagebarbie February 18th, 2014 7:47 PM

    I really love this post so much.
    http://howfittingblog.blogspot.com

  • s0nicy0uth February 18th, 2014 7:50 PM

    I dropped out of school due to panic attacks too, and it was certainly the best choice I’ve ever made. I live in the UK so if any English rookies are out there, you have options too!
    I went to a hospital school, where classes are tiny and you get one to one support, as well as doing most your work at home. so yeah…hit up your gp

  • emilykiyoko February 18th, 2014 8:01 PM

    This article is amazing! I took the chspe two years ago as a way for me to leave high school a year early and go to community college. I loved my friends and learning but I hated high school and the way it made me feel. It was the best decision I have ever made! I even went to prom the next year with my best friend!

  • angeldee February 18th, 2014 8:04 PM

    WOW ! This is truly a blessing in disguise.most people would argue and say dropping out or moving to a lower level from the norm is such a terrible thing . I myself is struggling with math and this gives me hope that hopefully things will get better in the long run . Thanks for your inspiring story , it made my day !

  • Isbly February 18th, 2014 8:31 PM

    interesting and shows options not a lot of people know about. But I am not sure that saying that you dropped out of high school is accurate. You still completed high school, got your diploma, did things under the direction of the school board, etc. I am one of the only people in my generation of my family that hasn’t dropped out of high school yet so I just think that it can really screw up your life. And also it doesn’t help you get a lot of good jobs at ALL unless you’re self employed or work at a labor job, like roofer, etc. all of those are viable career options too but I think it’s perhaps misleading to say that you dropped out of high school when you still were able to graduate. I dunno sorry if I took this article the wrong way/too seriously! I really did find it interesting!

    • Hannah February 18th, 2014 9:09 PM

      Hi! I totally understand the confusion. Personally I feel that I did drop out because I had to withdraw from the system, fill out a lot of paperwork, and when I did decide to go back I had to re-enrol and all that jazz.

      I also especially felt like a “drop out” when I saw that my friends were getting ready for prom and getting accepted to college and I a) wasn’t in school and b) didn’t have all my credits yet and knew if would be awhile before I’d be on the path to going to college.

      I think when you withdraw from the traditional high school system and submit the paperwork, then you are “dropping out”, and since I did that twice I consider myself to be a dropout, even though I ended up graduating.

  • ThatSilentSound February 18th, 2014 8:46 PM

    I love this post! I was a great student all throughout middle school, but high school was too much for me, so I started learning online my sophomore year, and now I’m at a school based off of a project based learning style. I’ve always been very stressed about making sure I have good grades and I’ll get into college, and dropping out seems like my worst nightmare. This really helped me feel better about having a non-traditional highschool education. Thank you!

  • painting_the_roses_pink February 18th, 2014 8:48 PM

    My mom dropped out of highschool because she wasn’t medically well enough after her bladder operation to continue doing school and taking care of her three other siblings and working to help bring money into the household.

    After she dropped out she went to work fulltime with nuns in a nursing home and said that she learned a lot more there than she ever did in school.

    Although the structure of my highschool works well for me I can empathize with other students who don’t fit into the square pegs well enough or have other responsibilities to focus on instead of chemistry HW. Very enjoyable article <3

    http://aroseofadifferentcolor.tumblr.com/

  • bluelipsblueveins February 18th, 2014 9:10 PM

    Move to WA state and do the Running Start program! You can take all your classes at the local community college starting your junior year and graduate with you HS diploma AND your college AA degree. It was my saving grace. I too had terrible anxiety when it came to high school. I don’t know what I would have done if I hadn’t been able to get out of there early!

  • Tima February 18th, 2014 9:44 PM

    This hits home! Hardly finished my freshman yr due to depression, retrieved 2 missing credits over the summer, and I am now in the middle of my sophomore year. This year has been just as tough and I actually have been out of school since November. Once I was dropped from my school I wanted to still do something so I asked my mom to enroll me into an online high school. She wasn’t able to get all my forms in on time for the start of the new semester that started this month so they did not accept me. Now next Monday I am once again trying to go back to normal high school. Everyone believes I can do it, but I want them to believe that even if I don’t continue again, I can still make it and do things. I’m not sure how this’ll go but it’s nice seeing this article right now. This won’t be the end no matter which path I take. Thank you for this!

    • Hannah February 18th, 2014 10:01 PM

      Good luck! If there’s one thing I learned, it’s that taking the alternate route might take a bit longer. I wish you the best going back to traditional high school, and if it doesn’t work out there are always those other options. You’ll get there. :) <3

  • Marenh00 February 18th, 2014 10:00 PM

    I’m so glad that I live in a small town with a small school,and virtually no bullying. The people in my class I’ve known my whole life and everyone is nice to each other. I’m lucky that I don’t feel like I have to drop out.

  • fluorescentyesterday February 18th, 2014 10:20 PM

    This was great to read. It wasn’t troubling but informative and interesting. I’ve actually always hated school (bullies, anxiety, pressure) and especially in middle school, I was desperate to run away or do something drastic. Anyway, it’s just good to know there are other options and there are people who won’t look down on me if I ever do drop out. (-:

  • Lillypod February 19th, 2014 12:15 AM

    That’s so weird, I had the exact same reoccurring dream in high school for months—I would get my bag and try to walk out but my feet would be glued to the floor and I couldn’t move!! When I left, I had one single dream where I just stood up and walked out.

  • itsrebeccam February 19th, 2014 12:43 AM

    I actually hated high school near the beginning of my last semester of sophomore year and my guidance counselor told me about how if I wanted to I could start my junior year at the local community college. I am now a senior and I love it. I wouldn’t go back to my high school at all, it was toxic, and it’s said to say that Mean Girls could have been a documentary for it, never mind the whole bus/Regina George situation. I was an art geek but it wasn’t really working with my school and with community college it really gave me a variety of options. It also gives me dual credit so if I play my cards right I can graduate high school and get my associate’s at the same time. I also found what I want to major in by taking some classes I wouldn’t normally have thought about taking like Sociology. I just think if you have the opportunities then you should try and take them.

  • Narita February 19th, 2014 2:26 AM

    I dropped out in the beginning sophomore year, only to start at a honours school at the start of my junior year. I spent the months inbetween doing coursework and working on my career – I’m senior year now and I’ll graduate next year, because mental health struggles are making it too hard to graduate this year. Sometimes it is better not to go to school.

  • CharmingKitty February 19th, 2014 3:22 AM

    Regardless of what a few people may believe, attending school is not always the best option for everybody – and I should know because I’ve been educated at home by my parents from the age of eight.
    And you know what? Without falling prey to peer pressure or snobby rivalry, I’ve been able to settle into my own shoes and discover who I am, whilst gaining plenty of knowledge in various subjects, which includes strengthening my powerful relationship with English.
    Next year, I’m going to sit my exams and hopefully perform as well as average school-attending students.
    I’m still waiting for the day when everybody in the world will stop reacting with horror at the thought of an well-spoken, intelligent person such as Hannah drops out of school – all of us have a right to follow our own paths!

    http://www.lifeasamodernteen.blogspot.co.uk

  • mlv February 19th, 2014 11:32 AM

    I totally “quit” high school at the end of my high school year (was still technically enrolled, but never showed up except for sports lol). I took college classes full-time at a local university instead. If anyone’s unhappy academically with the level of work you’re being given, I would totally look into things like post-secondary enrollment–my state actually paid for me to essentially go to college for two years! Now that I’m officially enrolled in university my life is so much easier because I don’t have to take as many credits/have more experience with research/TAing/being in college/etc. High school can be super lame and is totally not for everyone and that’s ok. Find what works for you socially + academically!

  • pizzaface February 19th, 2014 2:30 PM

    This is actually so relevant, since I’m seriously considering dropping out of high school this year and starting next year at an art school. Tomorrow is this day at the art school were you sign up to have a little tour and workshop to see what it’s like, and I’m nervous but excited!

    In high school I never really get to do what I love doing, and all the subjects bore me or frustrate me. I keep explaining to people that this doesn’t mean that I’m too dumb for high school or can’t handle it, it’s just that I’m not motivated to study things I don’t like.

    Even though it’s like a weird school with a totally different and moving-forward way of learning, I am still tested on things I don’t care about. So I hope art school will be better and I could be doing what I like to do in school!

  • lexilikes February 19th, 2014 3:02 PM

    This was really useful, thank you! I’ve been researching into homeschooling and other methods because I think it would be better for me. But I have to convince my parents first haha <3

    http://www.lexilikes.com/

  • Annikaaa February 19th, 2014 4:52 PM

    Oh my god, I identify with this so much. Up until recently, I struggled to make it through a full day of school. I didn’t have any social issues; I simply couldn’t handle it. I was exhausted, I was stressed, I got headaches, and I came home at lunch every day and collapsed into bed, complaining that I felt sick. I was close to failing my courses and I was afraid for my future. Just recently, I dropped all but two classes (I’m in French immersion and I can’t get my Double Dogwood, a sort of bilingual diploma, without them). I’m taking the rest online now and it’s so much easier. I just go to school in the morning and then I’m free for the rest of the day. Hopefully, now I can achieve my goal of studying forestry in one of my local universities. I’m stoked.

    Moral of the story: listen to Hannah! She’s telling the truth.

  • Mimi7 February 19th, 2014 5:48 PM

    This is a great subject to be brought up. Thank you for the great piece! I went my freshman year to a “normal” high school. It wasn’t the school that was in the district where I lived, but I picked it because I thought it would be better. It wasn’t. It was my living hell. I got good grades, but it just seemed like so much of your class time is wasted- the teacher either over explaines or drones on, yells and tries to get kids to listen/behave, you do dumb busy work or just sit around and watch movies because the teacher didn’t feel like doing much of a lesson. I know I’m being harsh, but it just seems like teachers should respect our time because we are spending a very significant portion of it at school. Plus standardized testing messes everything up.
    BUT!! This story does get better. I found out about an independent study school that was in the same district. You have less class time, and get more homework so you teach yourself more. It’s so nice because I can go at my own pace. Plus the teachers seem to love working there and want to help. It’s great and it makes me genuinely love school! I never thought I’d be able to say that. Socially it also attracts a lot more interesting people so it’s easier to make friends.
    So talk to a guidance counselor or ask around to see if your district or town nearby has an option for Independent Study.You get a normal high school diploma (at least I do, some may be different like a GED), take classes at regular schools, or at a community college. It might work as well for you as it does for me.

    http://dreaminginfashion.wordpress.com

  • flocha February 21st, 2014 10:08 AM

    Thank you so much for writing this! I was home educated for two years around the age of eleven but before that I had no idea that dropping out of school was even an option. I am back in mainstream school now, but I feel so glad that I was homeschooled and I know people who still are and really love it because they get to pursue stuff that ordinary schools wouldn’t allow them to

    http://whimsicalprocrastination.blogspot.co.uk

  • zoeb February 23rd, 2014 10:49 PM

    i love this! i totally agree; everyone is different and “regular” high school isnt for everyone. i do full time dual enrollment at the university in my city as a sophomore in high school (so basically a regular freshman college student just younger) and love it so much more than regular high school; its much easier and the people are so much nicer and tolerable. i get to choose my schedule and classes so its just like college. ill graduate high school and have 75+ college credits. my friends at other schools think im crazy for doing the program but i think theyre crazy for going to normal high school haha i know id die if i ever stepped foot in my zoned high school

  • feminazi February 24th, 2014 6:41 AM

    This is so great! I dropped out of high school after my junior year because I really hated it and didn’t have a lot of friends. I got my GED and started attending community college. I am about to finish my associates and plan on attending a university in the fall! It’s really cool because I’m a whole year ahead now. I’ve made really awesome connections with people in college even though I’m only going to school 15 minutes away from where I went to high school. I wish more people knew that this is can be a good option instead of assuming that people who drop out are lazy ):

  • itsadrydryspring February 28th, 2014 9:56 PM

    This may be a bit of a tangent, or a big picture comment. I notice that there isn’t a lot of coverage of social action / politics on Rookie (that I have found so far — I am new to the site). I bring this up because a just read an older, somewhat similar article about taking your dreams seriously — which I thought was excellent. It does not address, though, that there are society issues, such as high unemployment (especially for young people) and a dearth of good paying jobs, “even” for college graduates. These issues will need society-wide, or “political” solutions, as well as individual preparation and effort.

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