I’m about four weeks away from the beginning of my final year of undergrad (pause for emotional crisis), and my ability to finally see myself nearing the destination has gotten me thinking a lot about the journey. More specifically, I’ve been thinking about the first few steps of the journey.
I started my undergraduate career at one school, and was completely miserable. I thought about dropping out after my first semester, but convinced myself it was just my school, maybe my roommates, or possibly my major that had me hating every second of my college experience. I tried to change the way I felt by weeding out the things that might have been making me so miserable. I transferred to another school, then another. I dropped out for a year. I switched majors three times (or maybe four – I might have lost count), before settling on the one that I would finish with.
I say “settling” because, if I’m being as honest as I possibly can with myself, I know that I have settled. I am ending up with a degree I am proud of, and one I feel confident I will somehow profit off of. But I settled on a life-path I was uncomfortable with, and I am regretful of that fact. I am one of those people who was not academically, emotionally, or socially ready for college when application deadlines were fast-approaching during the fall of my senior year of high school. I am one of those people who, against my better judgement, went away to school because really, what the fuck else was I going to do? After three years of trial-and-error, I did eventually settle comfortably into a degree program I enjoy at a school I don’t mind going to every day – but I question whether or not I would do it all this way again, if I were given the choice to go back.
Would I have taken a year off in between high school and starting college? Would I have decided not to declare a major so soon as to not risk wasting precious time and money on credits I wouldn’t end up needing? Would I have maybe discovered some sort of academic passion, and worked towards it from start to finish without changing my mind incessantly? I have no answer to these questions, and they do sometimes haunt me. I don’t regret my degree entirely, but I genuinely don’t think I would take this path again if I were given the chance to backspace and redo the whole deal.
Over the past few weeks on TFD, I’ve conducted a fair amount of school-related research, mostly by interviewing people in my personal and professional networks about their degrees, their school experience, their debt, their academic successes, and their regrets. I’m not really sure what kind of answers I’m searching for by prying into the deepest thoughts and regrets of my lovely friends and peers, if any. Maybe I want someone to tell me that, at the end of the day, it is all worth it. Maybe I want someone to tell me that it is a waste of fucking time, so I don’t feel so alone with that thought.
Because the truth is, I do regret going to school. I love learning, and I am proud that I’ve nearly earned my degree – and I will be proud when it is in my hand, and I’m citing it as a reason why someone should please fucking hire me.
And maybe I don’t so much regret the decision to go in general as I do the decision to go when I did, where I did, and why I did. I do regret the push, and the pull. I regret allowing myself to become fully convinced my future was unsafe without a college degree, and I regret letting myself be bullied into making decisions I wasn’t ready to make.
This may be an unpopular opinion, and I’m by no means saying that taking an Instagram-worthy gap year of travel and ~self-discovery~ is the way to do this, but I do certainly look at my experience and my regrets and urge high school students I know to think long and hard about who they’re filling out the Common App for. Is it for their mother? Their school guidance counselor? Their extended family who, come Christmastime, will ask them incessantly how school is going, and surely be overcome with disappointment if they say “I’m not in school right now.”?
School is both a financial and emotional commitment that you need to be ready for on all levels before deciding if it is truly the right decision. The decisions of when to go to college, where to go to college, and what to study are deeply personal ones, but we’ve somehow taken to treating them like decisions that forces besides ourselves can make for us. If the world in general was more accepting and supportive of the idea that there are options for graduating high school seniors besides signing on for years of student loan repayment and going straight to school for a degree they are highly unsure about, they would maybe think twice about it. I certainly would have thought twice about it.
I would urge young students in the situation I was in two years ago – watching my classmates excitedly flaunt the brand-new university sweatshirt they bought on accepted student’s day, and not at all sharing the feelings of excitement or confidence in my decision – to take a step back and think about what it is they truly want, before making a $20,000+ mistake. The little bit of extra time between “not at all ready for college” and “ready for college” is worth every penny saved on a degree or an experience that you might end up looking back on and regretting.
Mary is the summer Media Fellow at The Financial Diet. Send her your summer intern stories (your lessons, failures, triumphs and good advice) at firstname.lastname@example.org
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