Published on Feb 25, 2015

On dropping out

After leaving university in the spring semester of my senior year, I’ve reflected deeply on my decision, and my college experience as a whole. While this doesn’t capture my thoughts perfectly, I’ll share a piece I wrote for a student-run publication at my university. The editor asked me to share something about my story. She thought it was inspiring, and that dropping out took some sort of courage. Well, not really, frankly I was just unsatisfied with my situation, and pretty depressed about it, so I left and tried to make my life better. Here are some of my thoughts. Maybe they will be useful to someone who is in a similar situation.

It's nearly been a year since I dropped out of college and took my education into my own hands. On paper, college was a thoroughly successful experience for me - I was a Centralis Scholar and McNair Scholar, I had a high GPA, I held several leadership positions on campus, I studied abroad, and I kicked the GRE's ass. But it's not until now, a year removed from spending 4 long (and quite frankly exhausting) years at CMU, that I'm finally flourishing as a scholar. More importantly, I'm happy.

I've always taken school seriously. Some of my grade school classmates might tell you I was a teacher's pet, others might say I was a perfectionist about my school work. In high school, my classmates deemed me "Most Likely to Succeed". These sentiments reflect my long-standing dedication to the sorts of successes my formal education promoted and rewarded: memorization for the sake of memorization, obeying authority, and earning high test scores to prepare for the next step in the education pipeline. In high school it was college and the ACT, in college it was graduate school and the GRE.

But quite frankly, school sucked for me. College especially. Most classes were boring and washed out to suit the masses. Most teachers appeared worn out and unenthusiastic, and others were unforgivably detached from their students and responsibilities. That's not to say some professors didn't convey their excitement about their specialty or engage their students in meaningful discourse. Some did, but they were rare and mostly found in the philosophy department.

What if rather than bearing 12 years of public school and 4 years of college, I spent that time reading, questioning, and exploring independently? What if I had spent all that time creating, writing, and dedicating my energy to things I found interesting and important, rather than sitting through gen ed courses and UP courses? What would I be like now?

It's hard not to feel bitter about wasted time and brain development, but bitterness does not serve anyone's goals. I can only share how I feel now and hope I'm heard.

Surely college can be conducive to innovation and learning in some cases. But what about those students whom it fails? What about those who find the dotting of "i"s and crossing of "t"s in the college bureaucracy unbearably inefficient, or their classes disrespectful of their intellectual advancement? What about those who learn more quickly independently, and find meaningful stimulation via alternative channels, like the Internet, political activism, or as a laborer? Should we be quick to dismiss their complaints as aberrations, or might their experiences highlight areas that need improvement?

If you want a genuine education, understand that while college may facilitate that in some ways, ultimately you need to provide it for yourself. How? Read a lot, ask questions, and make things. Repeat. For the rest of your life.

--Tara Vancil