I’m Doing Exactly What I Wanted to Do with a Degree as a College Dropout
Literally. The exact same thing. Minus hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt.
Fall of 2015 was (supposed to be) the start of best four years of my life. High school was in the dust and ahead of me stretched the glorious, long-awaited College Days. The newfound independence straightened my shoulders and puffed up my chest. When Orientation Leaders rattled off statistics that “at least 50% of freshmen drop out within the first year,” I scoffed and closed my ears. Maybe some people don’t make it to graduation day, but not I. I would be waltzing across that stage, shaking the President’s hand firmly with my right hand while graciously accepting an English Writing degree with my left, in four years — maybe three — no doubt about it.
Then reality knock me off my high horse in one fell swoop: my health took a turn for the worst. Chronic illness that wreaked havoc in high school revved up with the increased stress. By November, I had been hospitalized twice, my absences outnumbered my days of attendance across the board, and I was struggling to breeze through five hundred pages of reading in an attempt to somehow make up the months worth of assignments I had lost. My cockiness was crushed. I dropped out of college a whole month before my first finals week and I haven’t parked my tush in one of those painful plastic desk seats since. At first, I felt like a failure. Now, I honestly feel no worse for it.
I saw a Bachelor’s degree as a ticket to success for my ultimate goal: writing for a living. During my short stint at college, I wrote for the entertainment section of the university newspaper. While I was only there for a few months, I managed to rack up quite a collection of clips through that one outlet. As rest morphed into boredom a week or two out of class, I started scavenging the interwebs for something productive to do. Also, my bank account broached dangerously slim territory and I needed some dough funneling into it instead of always out.
I submitted an application for a music review job on a whim. Somehow my application stood out. Within a few days, the editor reached out to me with offerings of a full time remote staff writing gig (paid). I fired back the professional equivalent of a “yasss please!” This first taste of acceptance at the hands of an editor left me wondering who else would give me a chance.
Blissfully ignorant to the ways of the professional writing world, I binge read publications, digested their tone and most popular content, and regurgitated the essence into essays, blog posts, and think pieces. I then cold pitched fearlessly, always assuming that the piece would be accepted for publication because, in my eyes, no one tells writers no (please note I was fresh out of high school and green as all get out to the harsh world of creating for a living).
I went almost a year before my first rejection. I made hundreds of dollars in my first month of freelancing. Pitches were accepted for publication without a hitch. Editors extended the invitation to contribute again. I was living the dream that I expected to come after four years of blood, sweat, tears, and building up a lifelong financial burden. Which made me question social norms, as writers tend to do.
The rhetoric circulating university halls is this: real professionals get real educational qualifications. The school of life doesn’t cut it if you want to make it in this world. Sure, you could try to make it, in my case, as a writer without any secondary schooling. But most of us “aren’t disciplined enough” to learn how to be a successful writer on our own. Most of us “could benefit from having a professor with years of experience critique our work.” Most of us “need a support circle of like-minded academics because writing work is hard work.”
The line between privilege and necessity blurred. I would like to have someone giving me a deadline for a paper with the threat of an F looming over my head to motivate me. I would like someone who knows the field and the craft to take a look at my work and tell me where I’m going wrong. I would like to sit in a class surrounded by peers to critique, commiserate, and collaborate with all in one place. All of these things would be helpful, I suppose, but they are not essential.
Doctors, lawyers, nurses, teachers — heck, even welders and electricians — need formal education and training to practice properly in their fields. But when it comes to the humanities, the majors where one isn’t heading towards a specific career path but rather learning for learning’s sake, I can’t help but wonder is it really benefiting the students? Or is it benefiting the schools? Because I’m sitting here writing this essay with the intention to write a blog post after that for publications to pay me while college asks for me to pay them to teach me to do this very thing. The only difference is that instead of one college professor reading my words, millions of readers across the globe have laid their eyeballs on my writing.
I can’t say for sure whether I’d be further ahead with a degree to my name, but I don’t think I’m doing too terribly without it. My English teacher of all people warned me that an English degree wasn’t necessary or helpful — unless you wanted further qualifications to work at the checkout for life. At 18, I dug my heels into the sand and pressed on, certain that after 4 years I would prove her wrong. At the moment, I work part time in retail and mostly full time on wordsmithing. By her predictions, maybe I am precisely where I would have been had I spent 4 years getting an English education. Only, y’know, with a small, manageable pile of loan debt from the degree I never received (a whole ‘nother issue for a whole ‘nother day) rather than an insurmountable Mt. Kilimanjaro.