Want to leave college and return in a few years, but can I do it?

I went to college for the intellectual fulfillment and stimulation; I thought that it would be a place where I could find a passion and pursue my dreams.

But quarter by quarter, I’ve realized that I don’t really know what I want to do in school. There are some classes I’ve done great in, and others that I’ve done horrible in. I actually have a lot of credits - I could graduate in three quarters - but it doesn’t all really matter much to me, because if I were to graduate with a B.A. in a liberal arts subject I would have nothing but an empty college sticker on my resume. Average grades, nothing learned.

I wish, if I could, that I could drop out of college, work for a few years, and return when I was 24 or 25 or so. I think that by then, I might find more purposes and find myself more willing to work hard. I don’t even think that it would bother me to be in my late-twenties walking around campus; I might have more confidence then and a better idea of what I was doing.

But I don’t know if its feasible. I don’t have tons of debt, but I have some: maybe 9k or so. The economy is tough; I’m sure I could find a little work, but it might just be temporary or degrading (working at McDonald’s). I wouldn’t mind living at my mother’s, but it might get a little bit depressing after a while.

I’m not hell-bent about dropping out of college, so don’t get me wrong, I’m not absolutely set on one thing. But I’d like to know if anyone else has been in this situation, had similar feelings, and can tell me about their opinions and experiences.

What do you think I should do? Are there options I haven’t considered?

You have a private message.

Have you thought about the military? Drop out, do four years, and then by out and go back to school.

No, never thought about it. My mother would freak. The military? Can’t they send me to Afghanistan?

My family freaked when I went. Now whenever I do something they don’t like (like moving out of state for school) I just tell them, “unless you’re willing to pay all of my bills you don’t really have that much say.”

What about the Coast Guard?

I know as much about the military as Shaq knows about Point-Set Topology. I don’t even really know what people in the military do. Can you give some elaboration on what the Coast Guard is like and what I might do if I enlisted?

I recommend visiting the Dean of Students’ office and asking about taking a leave of absence. If admissions at your college is competitive at all, I think you want to ensure that you’ll be able to return when you’re ready. I’m fairly certain that schools allow leaves of six months or a year. I don’t know if you can leave for several years and return. For one thing, your credits might expire. You may find yourself more motivated if you’re enthusiastic about your major.

A good point - it is harder to get into the University of Washington every year. People with 3.6 GPAs in high school generally do not get in.

There certainly are people who do it, but I would advise a lot of caution. Here’s why.

If you’re 20, the choice is between going into debt to get a college degree or working the lowest rung of a job, maybe making 30 grand or whatever.

If you go out and work a few years, odds are you’ll get some experience, a few pay raises, and then you find the cost of tuition has gone up 30%, and your income has gone up by maybe the same amount, as you’re no longer the FNG at work. A lot of people would look at that and say, I know college is good in the long term, but I am inthe second year of a lease on my car and I’m not sure I want to give up this nice apartment for a cheapo dorm.

I was intent for working a couple years after my masters and going back for a PhD. Different situation, I know, but it’s hard to choose to go back to being a poor student if you begin to make progress in your career.

Now, if you’re going to work McJobs for three years, the decision isn’t so hard: why would you postpone college to work at Office Max???

I understand your post, but I don’t think this would be a worry for me. In this economy, I am not apt to get great jobs, or even ones that have ladders to management. I’m not hoping to work for a long time, only two to four years. I can’t even drive; in fact, my mother doesn’t even have a car right now. I’m not apt to find myself in a place where I wouldn’t be willing to go back to school, provided that I found the motivation and interest.

One other thought: you don’t seem to have a plan. If you were saying you want to join the military, do a religous mission, sail around the world, or something concrete, I’d have a very different reaction. As it sounds, you are proposing to stop your studies for several years and hope that inspiration hits you while working a crappy job. That doesn’t sound encouraging.

I also think you’re idealizing what is really your last year of college. The degree is going to look the same on your resume whether you coast through or you put your nose to the grindstone. I worked hard in college, many of my friends didn’t. They have mostly found good jobs. I really can’t understand why you think your last year of studies is expected to be more valuable after a four year hiatus.

If I had to guess, it sounds like there may be more going on here than the standard stress of studies and angst of starting a career. If that is the case, I’d suggest addressing those issues (whatever they may be) more head-on, rather than by taking a rather radical change of course with no real plan.

I’ll get off my soap box now. I wish you the best of luck and hope you make the right decision for you.

Just finish the 3 quarters and get a degree. What if you never find what it is you really want to do? At least you’ll have the college degree. Then, if you come up with something you DO want to do, you can always go back. But the odds are just too great that once you leave, you won’t go back. You’re so close now; just bite the bullet and finish it up.

Okay, okay, I’m convinced. But suppose I later find out that what I was really meant to do was Cognitive Neuroscience. Isn’t it rather hard to get admitted as a postbac? Don’t universities glare at you and say “eh, you have a B.A. and you want another? Sorry, we have other students who really need to be here…”?

Have you thought about studying overseas?

Another vote for just finish. The inspiration will strike you eventually, but delaying without a concretely beneficial way to spend the interim time is not worth it. With that said, if you find something worth delaying for, don’t sweat it. Life is not an age contest.

Short version – been there, done that. Left school (the first time) at 21, went back (different school, across the country) and graduated at 30, then went to graduate school. If you want details, ask away.

Sure, you could take a break and go back, but it’s gonna be a tough slog. If you’re as close as you say, just put the final effort in and finish the degree.

Not even a little bit. For one thing, you can often go straight to an MA program in a subject quite different from what your BA is in: they may ask you to take some pre-reqs first, but they will often work with you. Most professional programs (MBA, Law school) just require a degree.

Second, the world is filled with great schools that do not have super-competitive admissions and that cater to non-traditional students. Frankly, if you are 25 and want to go back, you won’t want to go to a super traditional school anyway–I can’t emphasize enough how much you will NOT want to hang around 19-22 year olds once you have been out in the world a few years.

Definitely. I work with a few people in the 17-22 age bracket and the generation gap is just incredible (I’m 28). Most of them are just interesting in going clubbing and partying every weekend and even at uni, the undergraduate students in some of my courses were still very much in the “High School Drama” or “Party time!” mindset. There’s enough for a mature-aged student to adjust to at university without listening to 19 year old undergrads still giggling about “OMG Boys!” or “That chick who was totally up for it” or how wasted they got on Saturday Night or whatever.

Dude, just finish your degree. You are almost done.

I mean, what are your options for the next year? You could do a year of soul-deadening school and end with a degree that will forever allow you to check “college grad” on all those checkboxes, or you could do a year of soul-deadening entry level work that probably won’t even cover your bills. Either way you’ll end up in the same place, but at least with school you’ll have something to show for it.

Just finish it up. If you want to study something else later, you can work towards a masters. Changing fields is not that hard. I graduated with a worthless film degree, messed around for a bit, found some direction, started to lay down some groundwork and now I’m headed to a highly ranked school to study International Development. Even more dramatic changes are possible if you are willing to do a bit of coursework beforehand.

Anyway, having a degree is not going to hurt your options, and it’s pretty certain that it will help. A year isn’t that long to suck it up for. Just finish that sucker.

I’m an academic advisor at a university, and I’ve worked with a lot of students who worry that in the future they’ll decide that they should have done something else. I tell them two things:

  1. There will most definitely be a moment when you’ll think “Damn, I really should have done English/math/basketweaving! Everything would be different now.”

  2. Dwelling on this is useless at best and harmful at worst, because nothing that has happened can be undone or redone now.

If in the future, you realize you have a burning desire to study something else, you can decide what investment of time and money you’re willing to make in. For example, I love history and wish I would have majored in during college, but I’m not willing to invest any more time and money in formal classes for it, so I learn about it on my own. You might decide that there’s a career related to neuroscience that you really want to pursue and so a master’s or a second bachelors would be a worthy investment for you. You might realize that you have a passion for something totally different, so that wouldn’t be necessary.