Sunday, 18 January 2015

Why I Dropped Out of University (& Why it Wasn't the Biggest Mistake of My Life)


Why I Dropped Out of University (& Why it Wasn't the Biggest Mistake of My Life)




Exactly one year ago today I made the hardest, most important decision of my life so far: to drop out of university.

I was in the middle of revising for my January exams when I suddenly, and drastically, had enough, so I left Leeds in the middle of the night and got a train back home to Chester. I sent a text to my housemates to let them know where I’d gone, and that was that. I’d ran away, quite literally, from university, missed an exam and an essay deadline, and had absolutely no idea what I was doing. After a day of crying and talking to my parents about how unhappy I was, I still didn’t know what to do about anything. I remember thinking about how to go about re-sitting the exam I’d missed and whether it was going to be possible to re-do the essay I’d failed to hand in, but I wasn’t acknowledging that university was making me ill. I’d hit rock bottom. I was the most miserable I’d ever been, missing weeks of seminars and lectures at a time in favour of staying in bed all day, but I was refusing to admit any of that to myself.

The next day I sat in Pret with my friend Andy (at the exact same table I am sitting at now, as it happens) and told him how I was feeling. I said I didn’t know what to do, to which he was, as he always is, brutally matter of fact in his response:

Yes you do. You’re just scared to admit it to yourself.

So I admitted it. I decided I was going to drop out, and I’ve never been more grateful towards his infuriatingly rational mind.

A year on, I’m sat in the same seat, this time opposite Maddy (above photograph to show the crazy coincidence). And my life is not over.

Looking back, I was never going to thrive at university the same way others do. Don't get me wrong, I’ve always been relatively academic, and generally did well in school (when I put my mind to it); despite five years of enduring the wrath of bitchy teenagers and an emotionally abusive boyfriend, I did alright in my GCSE’s, and all-nightered my way to pretty good A Levels, too. That said, I always struggled, hugely, with motivation, and although being a last minute kind of person isn’t exactly rare, I think this was probably the first clue that further education wasn’t for me. Thinking about it, the second clue was the number of days I used to take off school because I couldn’t face going in, or face the work, or anything that wasn’t my bed. Ah, hindsight. 

Determined to ignore the signs (read: innumerable emotional breakdowns over mood boards and hours and hours spent crying into my sketchbooks), I opted for an art foundation course after sixth form. Somehow I thought this was the perfect choice for me. Funnily enough it wasn’t, and I quit after three days because I found it uninspiring and frustrating and realised I was fed up of working to coursework deadlines. Third clue.

Then, after months of worrying, I ended up working two jobs to save for a Gap Yah trip to Uganda to volunteer (and ‘find myself’ as a nice, privileged and self-indulgent byproduct, of course). Around this time, a family friend suggested I consider studying something to do with charity work and development (my new found calling, naturally). A bit of research, an ill-informed this-is-what-I-want-to-DO-with-my-life decision and a last minute UCAS form later, I was offered an unconditional place at the University of Leeds to study International Development.

You’d be forgiven for thinking I hated my course and university in general from the beginning, but I didn’t. I actually really loved freshers week, and had no problem making friends or going to seminars, at the start. It was after that initial few months where it was all new and exciting that things started to go downhill.

It happened quite gradually. I started to find myself having little or no interest in going out or attending lectures or anything that involved getting dressed and showered and actually leaving my flat. In spite of all of that, I somehow stuck out first year, and even managed to get a 2:1. In my second year I became so depressed that I started to push people away. I stopped spending time with my friends, I stopped going on nights out almost entirely, and my relationship with my boyfriend at the time fell apart. Something was obviously not right, and I don’t know why I left it so long before I finally sought help.

Diagnosed with depression and anxiety, I still refused to acknowledge the problem as one I could do something about. It was like a physical force was pulling me in the opposite direction to university, but I refused to listen to myself and my needs, instead going back after every holiday or study break, a little bit more miserable and a little bit more drained each time. My grades dropped and my attendance got worse and worse, and it got to the point where there was little point me being there anyway. I couldn't see myself pulling back the grades. Going back to Leeds after Christmas of my third year was the final straw. It was, despite my amazingly supportive housemates, impossible to ignore how unwell I had become. I was only back for a matter of days before I got on that train home in the middle of the night.

This post is a lot longer than those I usually do, but I feel this is something I need to write about. Not just for myself (and it is for myself… to read over in a few years and to be able to reflect, and even just for me to get it all down in words for the first time) but also I think it’s important that I tell my story just in case it helps someone. When I was making my decision, I couldn’t find anything online which could actually help me. Sure, I could read all sorts of articles and posts with titles like “Why University Wasn’t for Me” and variations of the same, but all of these posts had one thing in common, as far as I could tell: the writers had a Plan B. 

Let me be clear: I had no Plan B. I had absolutely no idea what the hell I was going to do.

But I don’t regret it.

I dropped out of university because I had to, because I needed to, because I wasn’t well, but also because I wanted to.

Contrary to what I was led to believe beforehand, I don’t feel that the few years I was at university were a waste of time, money or anything else. Quite the opposite. University is intense. It’s exciting. It’s hectic. There’s always, always something going on. I was there for two and a half years, and in that time met, and lived with, some of the most incredible and unforgettable people, who I’m pretty sure I’ll always be in touch with.



I joined a social enterprise, Enactus, which I became co-president of in my third year alongside one of my best friends, (also) Rachel. Despite some hurdles along the way (largely down to my depression, I would say), we built our team from less than 10 members at the start of the year to almost ninety, and went on to lead the team to come fourth place in the UK at the Enactus National Competition - an achievement we never could have imagined possible, and something we’re both exceptionally proud of. The experiences I had with Enactus Leeds are completely irreplaceable and I would never have been able to do those things or meet so many remarkable people if it wasn’t for university.

So, do I think I wasted two and a half years of my life? Not even nearly. 



Also contrary to what I was led to believe beforehand, the Big Wide World hasn’t swallowed me up and spat me back out. I’m not on the dole/living on the streets because all the graduates are beating me to jobs. In fact, I’ve actually got it pretty good. I’m working at a marketing agency in my home town, and completely loving it, too. The education system beat me down in a way that made me feel as though I had nothing to give, but I’m learning that I do. Not only that, but I’ve found something I enjoy doing and want to do every day.

I’m also learning that experience really is as valuable as people say, and a degree is not the be all and end all. Although I know I’m lucky to have found myself a job which is so experienced-based (and I do not take that for granted), I think it’s important that people stop putting so much emphasis on university. My job suits me. Yes, I still have deadlines and yes, a lot of it is learning and training at the moment, but it fits me so much better than university ever did. There are good days and there are bad days, but there will always be bad days. I’m much, much happier now, and I can handle the bad days much better, too.

My depression and anxiety will always, I think, be a part of who I am and what I have to deal with day to day, but I’ve learned (the hard way, you could say) that there are things I can do to help. Dropping out of university was one of those things, and the best, and bravest, decision I ever made, and I don’t regret a thing.

You might think it was stupid to drop out so late on in my course, but I don't. People kept saying to me "it's only another few months". And it was, but I knew I needed to prioritise my happiness and my health. I could maybe have 'stuck it out', but I was never going to get what I wanted, and I wasn't willing to sacrifice my health any longer. You might think dropping out is weak, but making that decision to up and leave my university life and everything I had been working towards for so long was the bravest most difficult decision of my life. It took more strength than I even thought I had at that time to admit to myself, and then my family, and then my friends, and then finally the university that I wanted to leave, and I am so proud of myself, and so grateful to myself, for doing it.

To anyone who is feeling how I did before I dropped out:

Don’t pretend university is working for you if it’s not. Don’t force yourself to love it like other people do. Don’t feel ashamed to be a ‘drop out’. Don't let anybody else's opinions make you feel weak, you are not weak. Don’t be embarrassed to tell your friends and family. Don’t bottle it up. There is so much more to life than university, so many more important things to worry about than ‘wasted’ time and finances. Prioritise your health and happiness. Everything else will come together. And you will be fine.


 


39 comments :

  1. I love this post! sadly I'm a little bit of the opposite... I have always hated school (mostly down to bad experiences), I'm now in College and I spend more time taking days off than I do in class, just because I hate it, truth is I want to stick it out because It's only a year and it's a BTEC Degree under my arm at the end of it (fingers crossed).

    I only passed three GCSE's and even those grades weren't fantastic, I never did A Level because truth was I couldn't stick another year at High School and that's why I've ended up in College. I had a shit time when I started... because I'm in a class full of girls (I think you can guess the rest), however I enjoy the course (Health and Social Care), but I have been swaying a lot about what I want to do in the end up, because frankly I haven't a clue!

    I'm someone who was adamant she wanted to be a journalist, then a photographer, then a nurse but all involves University and I don't think I can hack it. I don't want to be someone on the Dole, luckily I have never touched it but this means because I have no job... I spend my savings (which is running low). Truthfully I'm stuck in a rut, but that's why I started a blog...not for the money as such but to talk to people who are in a similar position as myself... I'm so glad you wrote this post! x

    www.sheintheknow.co.uk

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    1. Sorry to hear that things aren't great for you, Rebecca. I know first hand how awful girls can be during high school, so I'm really sorry you had to deal with that. It's okay not to know what you want to do. I for one go through manic phases where I get all obsessive about a certain hobby or career path and it never got me anywhere to try and force it.

      My advice is to get yourself a job (when you have the time) and start earning so you have one less worry. Money worries are such a huge source of stress and things always feel easier when you don't have to factor finances in so much. You said you're struggling with your BTEC and that you're going to try and stick it out, but make sure you don't force something that isn't going to be worth it in the long run.

      Weigh up your options: sure, you'll have a BTEC at the end of it, but what would that mean for you? What would you do with it? Would the things you'd go on to do with it make up for being unhappy now? If yes, then that's great and if you think you can stick it out without making yourself unwell, then definitely do so! I would never recommend someone drop out unless it was the best option for them, of course.

      Thanks for commenting and telling me your story, will you let me know how it all goes? I'll be checking out your blog soon x

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    2. I can't begin to tell you how many phases I've been through, it's ridiculous haha! but I'm focusing on Health and Social care at the moment, I might even have a job on the line in a nursing home :) so I'm excited to hear more (I only found out this evening) coincidence I think not!

      Although getting a job has been hard, it's a relief to know the money worries may finally be over (fingers crossed) anyway :)

      With the BTEC... it's not so much the course but the group in the class, when I started I had to deal with a lot of name calling... turns out they aren't so nice after all, but luckily my best friend is in my class, so I have someone to lean on when times are tough :) not to mention our College is useless! our teachers barely show up, so it also means days I do feel like going, nobody's there :') I'm hoping when I go back next week things improve a little, I'm determined to get my exams over with and put my head down :)

      Thank you for getting back to me by the way, I can't say I've come across many blogs who write back :) so it's always a pleasure! x

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    3. Sorry it's taken me so long to reply! Ooh no way that's crazy, any news on the nursing home?

      Ugh, people can be so awful can't they? So glad you have your friend with you, sometimes as long as you have that person, life can feel a great deal easier to manage. Oh what!? That's ridiculous! Let me know if things start to improve and email me if you ever want to chat about it! x

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  2. This was such an honest and inspiring post to read, thank you for writing this! University is definitely not for everyone, however the pressure to go is so enormous that we feel like there's no other options. Like you, I really struggled with motivating myself through my time at uni (I was doing a double degree - perhaps not the easiest thing I could have picked) and ended up in a pretty bad place in my second year.

    Luckily I got myself out of it by the time I completed my degrees, but it was definitely not easy. I'm so glad you've made a great life for yourself without the degree, proving that university is not essential by any means!

    Tessa at Bramble & Thorn

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    1. Thanks so much, Tessa! It was a pretty scary post to write. I was also doing a double degree - what were we thinking? Sorry to hear things didn't go so well in your second year, but congratulations on graduating (and your job in media), that's amazing! x

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  3. Hey! I started reading this post because I was totally drawn by the relatability of the title! I left Uni aswell in what could have been said to be a hasty decision! I know it's a lot of pressure to have to explain your reasonings for leaving etc but it sounds like it has been the best decision for you! Have followed your blog and have nominated you for the liebster award on my blog because I think your blog deserves more recognition :)
    Charlotte x

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    1. Thank you, Charlotte! I hope everything has worked out okay for you since leaving uni? Thank you so much for the nomination, I'll be doing one of these (and reading the posts I've been nominated in) soon :) x

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  4. Hello, we are in love your blog and so we've nominated you for the Liebster Award! The questions are on our blog if you want to have a go! http://atsundaycoffee.blogspot.co.uk

    Also, I loved this post. I struggled through my first year of University and I think a post like this would of reminded me of some important things, so thank you. T x

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    1. Thank you both, so lovely of you. I hope everything worked out okay for you, Tomiwa x

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  5. Genuinely found this post such an interesting read Rachel!
    I've applied to university for September and although I'm VERY excited I'm equally worried with how I'll struggle with the workload. Sometimes I just feel like I want to get out there and explore the world instead of being deep in study most of the year round which currently seems like the only option.
    I'm so glad everything has worked out for you :) Also, all your photos look a blast! X

    www.farawaylucy.com

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    1. Thanks Lucy! I agree, sometimes it's just like, is this it? You know? x

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  6. Thank you so much for this! I was in exactly the place as you though in my first year, I had to escape and I was depressed and had major social anxiety. Reading your story has been the most encouragement and positivity I've experienced this whole year. Thank you

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    1. Thank you for reading, Tom. I'm glad you could take something from it, and I really hope things look up for you soon x

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  7. I can relate to this ,but it's not uni, it's work. One day, a day very soon, I will have to give my notice,even though I have nothing else lined up. I think that day is getting closer. Your story is inspiring, I hope it will for me too

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    1. You know what? You should do what you need to do. I wish you all the luck in the world, I hope things work out for you! x

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  8. This is really interesting and a great read. I think today a lot of people go to uni as it is what you are 'meant' to do even if in reality uni isn't the best place for you, I'm glad you figured that out and you are doing well now :) x

    Jasmin Charlotte | UK Lifestyle Blog

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    1. I couldn't agree more. There needs to be more talk of 'alternatives' from a young age! Thank you Jasmin x

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  9. I have a bit of a love/hate relationship with university. I love my uni town and living with my friends and how good the nights out are, but I've grown to really dislike my course and I have just lost all motivation for it, money stresses me out so so much and I am finding it impossible to find a job, and the house that I live in (like all student houses) is terrible. I have considered dropping out but I can't imagine myself being any happier leaving uni before graduating and leaving all my friends and this town early. It is such a hard decision and I really enjoyed reading your story, it was so inspiring. I definitely don't think that you dropping out was weak, you did what you had to do and your in a much much better place for it!

    The Velvet Black // UK Style & Beauty Blog

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    1. Sorry you're having such a difficult time, Alice. That does sound like a really difficult decision for you. Feel free to drop me an email if you want to chat about it? Thanks for your kind words, too x

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  10. So glad you are happy with the decision you made you made! it must of been a hard decision to make especially after 2 and a half years! i'm glad your happy now!

    www.oliviamulhearn.blogspot.co.uk

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  11. How inspiring. Honestly, kudos to you girl. It is your life and you took control over it, which is very good. In spite of your anxieties and depression (I wish you all the best and I hope you recover at your own path and time), you did something good for yourself instead of staying just because 'it is what we're supposed to do'. I have felt that way before, but slowly I'm enjoying uni more and more and if that's not the case for you, then find what makes you happy and do it. xx

    www.definitelymycupoftea.com

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    1. Thanks so much Christina. I'm so glad you're enjoying uni :) x

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  14. It's 4am and I'm in bed reading this after a friend posted it to Facebook. I've read it back to back 3 times to myself and felt every ounce of your emotion and insecurity, and I say a big bloody thumbs up to you woman. I equally didn't enjoy university at undergraduate level - I isolated myself from the people there as much as they did me and I longed for it to be over, I didn't have the bottle like you to stick it in though. Thankfully I am now on a postgraduate course with a group I absolutely love to bits and find myself really engaged in the work. Funny, it's a careers guidance course, and I can appreciate so much how hard the decision must have been for you, I'd agree totally that uni isn't for everyone and often people go (me included) because they are scared of being deemed a failure (my demon was my ex head of sixth - what a tool she was!). There needs to be much more discussion and impartial advice given to students at a younger age on their options after school instead of making them feel almost cornered into the academic route to succeed or else guaranteed failure. Thankyou so much for sharing this Rachel, you're a true inspiration and I'm sure this story will meet plenty of pairs of eyes that before reading this would have been too scared to admit that change is needed for the best. I really wish you all the best

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    1. Thanks, Liam! Completely agree that guidance can be a nightmare - great you're going to be able to do something about that, even in a small way. I'm really glad you're in a better situation now! Thanks again, such a nice comment!

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  15. This is such a fantastic post, I only managed a few months at university before dropping out, before going I changed my course which was a big mistake and I was diagnosed with panic attacks before going which didn't make the uni experience any better. I made some amazing friends in my flat who I still go back and visit. I'm so happy I made the decision to leave as soon as I did rather than hang on in there and hope it would get better. Now I'm taking the year to relax and finally I know what I want to do, I'm going back to university next year but on a different course that I've heard good things about.
    This is a post I needed months ago so hopefully it will help others who are in the same situation.

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    1. So glad you're taking some time out for yourself, Rebecca! It's SO important to look after your health and your wellbeing. Sounds like it's given you some thinking time too, which is great, and I'm thrilled for you that you know what you want to do now :) I wish you all the luck in the world x

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  16. It's funny, I also quit college a year ago. I had minor symptoms of depression and anxiety attacks, and things got worse while I was in college. I also had no plan B, so I know the feeling of despair. It's the first time I visit your blog, but I was deeply happy to see that you're happy! Congratulations for the wonderful job you are doing (in and out of the blog).

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    1. Sorry to hear you when through something like that, Adriana, and thank you for such kind words :) I really hope you're happier now? x

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  17. I can completely relate to this. I didn't go to university but I went to an actor's equivelant and went to a drama school. I left after my first year, it was the best decision I made. If something isn't making you happy why continue doing it. Happiness is the most important thing, and although some would say 'but you worked so hard to get there and the time there has now been wasted' I see it as a lesson learnt and the next step to discovering who we really are and what we really want and don't want, and that's a good thing!

    Hayley-Eszti | www.hayleyeszti.com

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    1. So glad to hear you don't regret your decision either! I completely agree. People who say that will never understand, but that's okay as long as we do. I hope more people will begin to feel like they can drop out without being a failure, I really do. I wish you all the luck and happiness whilst you find what it is you want to do :) x

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  18. This is so inspiring to read. Last year I really struggled with uni and coursework and wanted to drop it all. It's great to hear that good came out of your decision and you're in a better environment for your learning and work prospects. I've also nominated you for the 'very inspiring blogger award'.

    Eunice Caroline.
    http://theberryway.blogspot.co.uk/2015/01/nominated-for-very-inspiring-blogger.html

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    1. Ah, thanks Eunice, I'm pleased you were able to get through that, and hope that it's working out for you now? x

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  19. hi brilliant post x
    I've nominated you to take part in the Liebster Awards xx http://connieflower.blogspot.co.uk/2015/01/i-have-been-nominated-by-rachel-and.html

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  20. Hiyah
    I stumbled upon your post because a friend liked it on facebook. I also posted a comment a week ago but blogger was being temperamental!! I just wanted to say a huge thank you for your honesty. I felt very similar to you especially in the last 6 months of uni, I remember sobbing on NYE and telling my dad I didn't want to go back. But I stuck it out and grit my teeth, for me that was definitely the best decision but it was soooo hard and I can totally relate with how you felt and the reasons behind your decision- I am so glad it has worked out for you! Laura (a fellow Chester blogger) xx

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