Is dropping out of college the right decision for you? Here’s how I decided if I should stay in my two year MSW (Master of Social Work) program. My decision-making strategy – and the end result – may help you know if you should drop out of college.
I loved the first semester of my two year program…and barely made it through the rest of my MSW. It wasn’t just physically, mentally, and emotionally exhausting (four courses every semester, plus an almost-full-time social work internship or practicum), it felt like a waste of time. I had to work really, really hard to motivate myself to finish my university classes and get my degree.
But I finished my MSW – and I know I made the right decision. Dropping out of college would have been a mistake, even though I don’t currently work as a social worker! If you’re trying to decide if you should drop out of college, here are a few things to consider…
First, in what ways are you struggling in school? Are you overwhelmed with the coursework, bored or unchallenged, or dealing with emotional or physical health issues? Try to isolate the reasons you’re considering dropping out of college. If you’re struggling financially, read 10 Highest Paying Jobs for College Students.
If your dream was to get a college degree, don’t drop out of school. I know it’s hard, but don’t give up! “If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them.” ~ Henry David Thoreau.
The castles you’ve built in the air is your goal to graduate with a college degree. The foundations you now need to build are the steps that will help you achieve your goals. Your first step is to determine if it’s your dream to graduate from college, or someone else’s. If it’s your parents’ dream that you get a college degree, then maybe dropping out of college is the right decision for you.
Follow your path, not someone else’s.
How to Know if You Should Drop Out of College
After I graduated with my MSW, I decided I wanted nothing to do with the field of social work! I didn’t want a job as a social worker, I didn’t want to counsel people with chronic illness (which was my goal for getting an MSW), and I definitely didn’t want to leave my house every day to go to work. I’m an introvert, and my work as a writer is one of the best jobs for introverts.
So I spent two years struggling through the social work graduate program, I spent thousands of dollars on tuition and courses and textbooks and travel expenses, not to mention the lost time I could’ve spent working. I worked hundreds of hours in two different social work internships or practicums, which was essentially volunteer work…and I don’t have a job as a social worker.
And yet, I don’t regret my decision to finish my graduate degree! You’ll find out why, as I share the things I think you should consider when you’re deciding if dropping out of college is a good choice.
1. What is your goal for going to college?
I wanted it all when I was a university student: good grades, lots of friends, challenging yet fun extracurricular activities, a committed relationship, a college degree, an easy but profitable part-time job, volunteer work, and to pay my student loans before I graduated! That’s a big pile of goals for one college student…and it’s not possible to achieve them all. That’s part of why I wanted to drop out.
Before dropping out of college, you need to figure out what you want out of school. Create a master list of goals. Will the degree or diploma get you the job or career you want? It depends on your career goals, of course. What do you want to spend the next few years of your life doing? You don’t have to settle into a job or career for 25 or 45 years…you can change your mind.
Don’t drop out of college because it’s hard. If you decide that dropping out is the best choice for you, do it because a degree won’t get you closer to your goals.
2. Are you comparing yourself to successful people who dropped out of college?
Yes, famous successful rich men such as Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, and Mark Zuckerberg dropped out of college. Yes, it’s possible to succeed wildly in a career even if you drop out of college.
No, you should not drop out of college because those successful guys dropped out and changed the world. Every man and woman has a path to follow, and their path is not your path. Your path is your path. Those guys decided that dropping out of college was the best decision for them not because they were copying other college dropouts, but because they had a calling, a mission, a purpose for their lives.
Don’t drop out of college because successful people did. If you decide to be a dropout, then make sure you have your own path, goal, or purpose to passionately pursue.
3. How much college have you experienced?
Create a master list of your life goals. Create another list of your goals for college. Then, narrow each list down into two or three smart, achievable goals for each semester. For example, your goals for your first semester could include brushing up on your study skills, finding an extracurricular club, and achieving a healthy work/school/social life balance. This tip applies to achieving all goals in life: set a few small specific goals that won’t overwhelm you. After a predetermined amount of time, re-evaluate your goals. Make changes if necessary.
Sit back and look at those two lists – and the more specific goals you created from each list. Then ask yourself: how will dropping out of college help you achieve those goals? It’s possible that you actually need to drop out of school in order to pursue your goals…and it’s also possible that you want to drop out of college because you’re distracted by other things.
Don’t drop out of college because you feel overwhelmed. Instead, look at how much of college life you’ve experienced and what else you might want to do at school.
4. Who have you talked to about dropping out of college?
Here’s a list of people you should talk to:
- College dropouts who “failed” (according to their own definition)
- College dropouts who succeeded
- Your parents
- Your significant other or your life partner
- A few fellow students who you like hanging out with
- The college guidance counselor
- Your college professors
“The single most underutilized resource at college is the office hour, now available in-person, by e-mail, or by Skype,” writes Lynn Jacobs and Jeremy Hyman in Top 10 Secrets of College Success. “You might not have realized it, but professors are required to be in their office two to four hours a week to meet with students and help them with the course. Your tests and papers will go better if you’ve had a chance to ask about things you’re confused about, and, with any luck, received some guidance from the professor about what your thesis sentence should be or what’s going to be on the test.”
Don’t drop out of college until you’ve talked to a few people. I’m not saying you should ask for advice – because only you can make this decision! I’m encouraging you to explore all your options and learn the “before and after” picture. Dropping out of college will affect the rest of your life, for better or worse.
5. What is your definition of success?
This goes back to your reasons for asking if you should drop out of college. Do you feel like a failure at school? Are you dealing with social anxiety as a college student? If you feel overwhelmed and anxious, then you might naturally think that dropping out of college is the best solution.
But take a deep breath, and step back for a minute. Take time to think about what success really means to you, and how you might achieve it.
For example, if getting good grades is your measure of success at college and you’re struggling academically, them maybe you need to reconsider your study habits. Start spending time with students who get good grades. Talk to your professors, ask for help and advice. If joining an athletic team or drama club is what you want out of college but you haven’t quite gotten there yet, then start connecting with those athletes and actors. Don’t revert to dropping out of college just because you haven’t succeeded the way you thought you should.
6. Have you focused on your strengths?
Marcus Buckingham is a career coach who advises people to let go of their weaknesses and focus on their strengths. If some part of college is a weakness for you – and you really want to graduate – then focus on the strengths that will get you through. Figure out what your strengths are, and keep working on them.
“It’s ironic that your strengths can be so easy to overlook, because they’re clamoring for your attention in the most basic way,” says Buckingham, who wrote Go Put Your Strengths to Work: 6 Powerful Steps to Achieve Outstanding Performance. “Using them makes you feel strong. All you have to do is teach yourself to pay attention. Try to be conscious of yourself and how you feel as you’re completing your day-to-day tasks.”
You shouldn’t drop out of college because you feel weak and inept. Instead, start thinking about how your strengths will help you graduate with the degree or diploma you’ve always dreamed of getting.
7. Do you know how to cope with college stress?
Let’s face it: college is hard. And it’s scary to set goals because we might fail, or we might succeed, or people might think we’re stupid, or we might have to change our opinion of ourselves. Even just scrolling through this list of things to consider before dropping out of school can be overwhelming and tiring.
I had to push myself to finish my MSW graduate degree. It was really hard. But, the harder things are, the happier we are when we actually achieve them! It’s true that nothing easy is worth having. Easy is too easy. Hard work feels awesome when it’s done (but not during the slog, I know). Learn how to deal with the stress you’re facing. I dealt with a lot of stressful things in school – and one of the outcomes as my article How to Get Good Grades in College When You’re Stressed About Money.
Even though I don’t have a job as a social worker, I am so glad I didn’t drop out. I learned a great deal of stuff (even technical terms like “stuff”!) that I apply in my work as a writer and in my daily life as a human being. I learned how to study, how to think critically, how to get a job in social work, and how to stubbornly persevere even when I wanted to give up. Dropping out of college would have been a mistake for me.
This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t drop out of college, though. You really do need to listen to that still small voice, and follow your path.
If decision making isn’t your strong suit, read How to Make a Decision by Looking Forwards.
I welcome your thoughts on how to know if you should drop out of college below! I can’t give advice, but if you share your experience you may gain a little insight into the decision you need to make. Write out the pros and cons of dropping out of school…but trust your gut instincts.