Should I drop out of college?

It’s not lack of talent, nor lack of time or will; it’s lack of money.

This has been my first quarter in the UC system, and I’m drained of money. As it turns out, my parents have decided that beyond next quarter, they can’t afford to pay tuition. Unfortunately, I banked on that.

My girlfriend is basically supporting me for all things domestic. I haven’t had the money to pay for groceries in a few weeks, and I just barely made rent last month. This month, I’m going to have to borrow from my parents to make rent, and I’ll be scraping the bottom of the barrel to get any more tuition out of them.

I’m working, but there’s just not enough work for me to do. I’ve applied to three more jobs and gotten three callbacks, but they’ve fallen through. I’m running out of leads both on-campus and off.

Tuition is a whole other story. My parents are too rich to get decent loans or aid, but too poor to afford tuition. I’m going to have to ask my girlfriend’s mother for a loan (sirens are going off on that one) or declare myself independent, get financial aid myself and be paying it off for who-knows-how-long.

I’m considering taking some time off to work full-time as hard as possible to at least save some money, but that means lost benefits as my girlfriend (who I am living with as a roomate-not-quite-sponge) will leave before I finish.

Moreover, I’ll be going through all of this for a computer science degree. (Though for those wondering, I didn’t choose that out of financial considering. It looks more and more like a bad degree to get, but it’s what I’m limited to at this pint.)

So, with all this in mind, I’d like a simple opinion on whether it’s worth going down this path with how things are going. Considering the means and the ends and my lack of perspective at this juncture, I honestly am not sure of whether to continue on or just search for a job.

Man, I have to preface my comments with, “been there, done that”. I was living at home with my parents though, so I had no real expenses, I couldn’t imagine having my own place at that time. Well, you just have to look at your options and make a decision, I’m not saying this will be easy, in fact it may be the toughest decision you make in your entire lifetime.

So, lay out your options, what are they?

  • Maybe ask your parents to loan you tuition? With sincere intentions of paying it back of course.

  • Work full time, school part time. Better do this when you are young, it gets exponentially more difficult the older you get.

  • Evaluate your relationship. Is she all about getting married? If so, there’s another very difficult decision for you. Or is she into “we can work this out together”?

  • Talk to a counselor at school, they may have some creative ideas.

I ended up getting loans for school, I had no choice. Good luck to you.

I’m going to repeat what my guidance counselor told me last week;

“If you don’t do something past High School you will not make enough money to do the things you want to do in life…anyone who wants to go to college can do it.”
Then he told me that after High School I needed to go to College and he showed me all the ways I could pay for it and he also told me that Community Colleges are much cheaper and easier to get into.
I guess what I’m trying to say is do whatever you gotta do to make it through.

I keep quoting the guidance counselor but he knows what he is talking about and he said that anybody who doesn’t get educated beyond High School will have a very hard time getting a job they want to do for the rest of their life. I personally have friends that have already graduated High School and some of them have given up College for jobs that they are already beginning to hate. Jobs with no benefits, or manual labor jobs for very little pay for the amount of work they are doing…anyway for me I don’t want to become one of these people that is stuck in a job they hate and has limited choices of where to be because they have no higher education I will definitely be doing something after High School and I hope you stick it out and stay in College, good luck :slight_smile: .

I am pretty much on the exact same situation as you are in right now. I am still not sure exactly what I going to be doing about it. But I am pretty sure it is going to involve taking out some nice loans that I will probably spend the rest of my life trying to pay off. That said, have you considered going to Junior College for your first two years? It’s what I would still be doing if not for the fact that I already have too many units and would not be able to transfer anymore. I live in Santa Rosa and the Junior College here is, I think, $24 a unit. It’s a pretty damn good deal and a very good school, in fact the classes I took there were much more difficult than any of the classes I took at my four year school. There really is no need to pay for all four years at UC tuition prices.

Of course, you may have already done the Junior College thing, like I did, and are now stuck in the upperclassman mode in which case, loans may be your best bet.

Good Luck.

I’m another “been there, done that,” too.

Since you mentioned that you’re in the UC system, but didn’t mention your location, I’m assuming you mean University of California.

I honestly believe that you shouldn’t drop out of college completely, but change your game plan. Get out of the UC system for now. Transfer to a community college (there are some excellent ones in California) and go part-time, while you work full-time to support yourself. Take all your general education classes at community college (if you’re working full-time, you should be able to handle 2-3 classes a semester). Take a few classes of subjects you’re interested in, along with your general ed classes, since you seem unsure of your major. Chances are you may find something else you’re much more interested in.

In a few years, you can transfer over back to UC to finish your degree, and by that time you’ll be considered independent, which means you’ll be able to get loans and grants that your parents wouldn’t be able to get for you. Also, if your grades are good enough, then chances are you may be able to score some scholarships to help with the costs.

Another vote for the Junior College route.

The junior college I attended (Glendale College, Glendale, CA) was excellent. My interest was art and pottery. There was a Life Drawing teacher that also taught at Otis (which I also attended). As far as I know her Life Drawing class at GCC was identical to the one at Otis, the only difference was the price tag (Otis being a high falutin’ art school and all). So, GCC students got an Otis-quality class at junior college prices. And I’m sure that class and that teacher was not an isolated incident. Lots of great teachers at that school.

Also, the Ceramics dept. at GCC is freakin’ AWESOME. It’s been featured in Ceramics Monthly (the magazine for potters), and has had wide acclaim. The GCC Ceramics dept. has produced potters that have gone on to great things (at least one student that I know of ended up on the cover of Ceramics Monthly, and I hasten to add that all of his ceramic education was obtained through GCC).

It’s just an antecdote, but from my perspective, junior colleges (at least the ones in California—can’t speak for the rest of the country) are great.

Have you considered enlisting and getting the GI Bill to pay for it?

First apply for any grants that you would qualify for and then look for a job that will pay your way through school. It took me over 12 years to get out but I didn’t take college seriously for the first 3 years. Finally pulled my head out of my ass and got through it.

And if UC stands for University of California then you should be able to go to a 2 year college free. Get a 2 year degree and then roll it into a 4 year degree.

I have two brothers. None of us has completed college.

I work in the computer industry, making 6 figures.

My younger brother has his own graphic design business, owns a house, a car, a boat…he seems to be doing fairly well.

My youngest brother owns a couple of restaraunts & a beach rental property.

In other words, we’re all doing pretty well for ourselves, despite not having a degree. The key to success is hard work. You may have an easier time of it if you complete one, but it’s not necessary.


  1. Don’t be too afraid of debt. Sure, the prospect of being 30K in the hole sounds terrifying, but spread out over 20 years at 4%, it isn’t really that bad: I mean, paying a couple hundred of bucks a month in order to make a thousand more bucks a month is a good investment. Look at how many people graduate from college and then buy a 20K new car when they land their first job–you’l just put that off five years and be no different than them.

  2. If you are only one quarter into a CS degree, you aren’t stuck. A programing language class or two is a good thing, even if it doesn’t apply to your ultimate degree. If you don’t want to do CS, switch.

  3. Can you move back in with your parents? Living exprenses are what kill you when trying to go to college cheaply.

  4. If you can’t move back in with your parents, would they be willing to not claim you on their 2004 return? That will spead up the process by which you can apply for pell grants and such.

  5. Do you have any skills that would allow you to get a moderately decent full time job while you went to school? If not, you might consider getting some. I know a woman who got a degree in cosmology and then worked as a hairdresser while getting her B.S. I believe she still had to have loans for tuition, but it allowed her to support herself in a decent living situation. Living at a bottom-of-the-barrel standard of living while you work and go to school full time is grueling and it eats away the soul. Having a slightly better job while doing the same thing is much more bearable and more likely to be successful.

Sorry for quoting myself - I forgot to mention, we’re 30, 28, and 26. It’s not as though it took our entire lives to become successful. I guess I’m respond to STARTs guidance counsellor as much as anything else.

Computer Science isn’t necessarily a bad degree, but what people in this industry want is experience. I’d suggest you look hard at Linux & Oracle (both freely downloadable), and in a few months try to get a job as a junior unix sysadmin or DBA. It may be difficult, but it’s not impossible. The sooner you start getting some experience, the better off you’ll be.

Yes, drop out of college. Do you really want to be some mindless zombie?

This will give you more interesting stories about being an underpaid wage slave and how you could rule the universe if someone would just listen to you.

Then you could post it on The Dope.
Because Stories from Cubicle World are just.not.interesting.
Hope this helps.

I never finished mine, either, and did quite well…but now I’m 38 years old and back. BUT – I really suspect the jobs you could fall into without a degree and succeed in someone else’s business were a product of the low unemployment late 1990s, plus the hard work and talent part. There will still be stories like EwJ’s and mine, but they will happen less frequently. Now, self employed - different thing. If you have the gift for opening a restaurant, running a garage, etc., you can do well regardless. But not everyone has the risk tolerance for self employed.

At this point, if I were you, I’d think about the eight year plan. I currently work full time - in a pretty challenging job. I’m married. I have a five year old and a six year old. And I take two classes a semester…you can work full time and go to school…its just hard to do both full time.

Now, there is a catch, which is that you will want to find yourself a full time job that pays something more than minimum wage.

Also, I don’t know why you are limited to a CS degree. I work in IT - and if I had an interest (which sounds like you do), I’d double major in CS and management. A lot of people change their majors…maybe it will take you another semester to graduate, maybe not.

I’ll second Manda JO’s suggestion that you take out a loan, that is, if you really really want college now. If the loan won’t cover everything, then maybe you qualify for a bursary.

I will say that my husband’s greatest regret in life is that he didn’t finish college; he dropped out after two years because, in the IT field, at that time, you could get a wonderful job without a degree. But times have changed. The last couple of years have been very tough for us, and I’m sure he would have had a much better job by now if he’d had that degree. So, my advice: do what you have to do (work full-time, go to school part-time; go to community college; declare yourself independent and borrow money; whatever.) But get the degree.

I’m at the point where I’m going back to school because I cannot get any further in my career (Technical Writing) without it. After I dropped out of college, I took my office skills (I took the secretarial vo-tech classes in high school) and worked scut manufacturing and retail jobs for a number of years. About six years ago, I worked my way into a customer service job at a food company, which I eventually parlayed into a writing job.

But I Need some papers that prove I can do what I can do and I know what I’m doing to get any further.

Most of my CS buddies who aren’t programming something hot are going back into teaching or other industries.

As for “get financial aid on my own”, I have to sadly and bitchily say “HA”. Unless your parents are willing to sign off on any of the paperwork, you probably can’t. That was my barrier - I didn’t think they could afford it, and I couldn’t qualify for anything unless I went to them and got paperwork signed off (and I didn’t think that would happen as a major financial upheaval was going on).

Transfer back to a community college that is working with the UC system (so your credits are taken at full value), get a job (in the shade if you can), and do what you can.

If you can’t find a job this year that is compatible with attending classes in person, look at online options - right now I’m taking extension courses through, both for edumacating myself, and to get the skills I lack to move up the coprorate ladder or break out into my own small or medium sized writing shop. I work hard, but don’t know how to price or manage myself, so I’m severely underpaid right now. Business and career sense is not always plucked casually from a shelf - you need to plant the seed, tend it, and harvest the fruit yourself.

You could get married and claim you are independent of your parents. Then you’d get pell grants. Also your parents can get PLUS loans. Plus you can join the military. And you can take out loans yourself. And you can try junior college instead. Or you can work one semester and do school the next (if you want to spend 8 years on a 4 year degree).

A college degree in california is what, $30,000 over 4 years (not including room and board)? If you can get your parents to take out a 10k PLUS loan, you take out 10-15k in loans and work for the rest it is feasable. Or you can try junior college for the first two years and cut the costs down even further. Why are you sticking with computer science anyway?

None of my friends with degees are doing great, but they are doing moderately better than my friends without degrees. A degree is one of the few things you can buy that last forever, and it is a heck of a lot easier to get one now than in the future when you have a family, major expenses, and a career. Junior college is an option, but it’s not for everyone. Your investment in your education is less and the temptation to drop out or goof around is higher. Most my UC friends finished their degrees and most my JC friends didn’t.

Anyway, the first thing you are going to want to do is get to the financial aid office quickly. There are often unclaimed grants and other emergency aid that you may be able to get. Finances are tight in the UCs right now, but I know at least a few years ago it was possible for ineligable people to get some help. They want to see you stay in school, too.

Student loans are a fact of life. Most people going to a UC have them. They suck, but it’s unrealistic to expect to attend a UC without one. Very few people have parents that are able to bankroll the whole thing and even the best financial aid plan leaves you with about $15,000 in loans. The plus side is that federal financial aid loans have the best terms you will ever see in your lifetime.

I don’t recommend going the GI BIll route. It has pretty strict conditions and will only cover $36,000 worth of expense and 36 months of school. It works for some people, but it’s not “free college” and joining the military during wartime soley for these benefits is a pretty extreme step.

How serious is your girlfriend? Getting married will make you independent and qualify you for all kinds of financial aid.

If it’s not marriage time, I really do recommend trying to become financially independent of her, though. It’s hurt more than one of my relationships. It’s worth moving in to a cheap closet or porch or something (really, the kids out here rent porches for $300 a month!) to keep some kind of independence in your relationship. Staying at her house all the time and eating all her food is cool, but when you start relying on her for rent and living expenses, things can get bitter and complicated really quickly. I know it’s hard and may be impossible. But I lost two of my best friends by becoming financially dependent and I’d give a lot to have known how twisted and broken things could get.

What UC are you at? If it’s SC, I know some cheap places to live, good places for free food and a couple places that are hiring. College kids sometimes have to live in garages and go to dumb meetings for the free pizza. If you live on campus it’s a good time to get out of there. Try looking at co-ops…the ones in Berkeley are especially cool. $500 a month a few hours of work gets you room, all-you-can-eat food, prepared dinners and plenty of entertainment.

Try going to small hotels and offering to be a desk clerk. They are always looking for smart reliable people and love students. The pay sucks, but the hours are long and the work is light- I saw one customer at work today, and he was my friend. You’ll have plenty of time for studying and homework on the job. They might even be able to rent you out a very cheap room during the slow winter months.

I know it’s hard, and it might not work out anyway. But I wish you luck in all that you do.

This is why I got married right out of high school. Everybody thought I was crazy. “Oh, you’ll never get through college if you’re married…can’t you just live together?”

Well, my school’s tution is $22,000/year. How far in debt do you think I am after four years? If you guessed $20,000, you’re right. The rest? Scholarships and grants. They really want to help very poor, young, married people get through college. It’s great.

Short of getting married, have yourself emacipated from your parents and declared an Independent. Same principle applies. If you make shit money and want to go to school, the government and private organizations willl help you out. Also, right now, interest rates on student loans are very low. Lots and lots and lots of people have student loan debt…it’s not the end of the world.

Avoid the fucking credit cards though. A lesson learned too late for me.

Also, do look in to going to a JC. Think about this…whenI applied to UC Berkeley, I got a letter that said “We don’t want you now, but if you go to a JC, you will automatically be accepted as a transfer after two years.” If they’re good enough for Berkeley, they should be good enough for you, and if you’re a resident of CA, they’re dirt cheap too.

Anything I was going to tell you, others have already said.

Just want to encourage you to do whatever you can to keep from dropping out. People drop out all the time with the best of intentions of going back “after a year,” but this thing called “life” gets in the way and all of a sudden 10 years have gone by.

It is really hard to do school when you’re married with a kid. Oh sure, it’s possible, lots of people do it. I just want you to have the easiest time possible, though, and that’s right now, while you’re still single.

Don’t be scared of student loans. The interest on them is low and you can have up to 30 years to pay them off. Whatever money you spend paying back student loans will be way less than the extra money you will make over your lifetime by virtue of having a degree.

Lots of people do well without college degrees, but overall the more education you have, the more money you’ll make. Get it over with now while you’re still young.

Unless you were absolutely positively without a doubt going to marry your girlfriend anyway, don’t get married.