This post may contain affiliate links which means I make a small commission if you click on any external links and make a purchase. For more information, visit my Legal Stuff page. I value your support and always promise to prioritize my honest opinion over any monetary gains..
I always saw college as mandatory. Not optional. My family wholeheartedly believed that I would never make it if I didn’t go to college. However, college wasn’t for me and I had to leave half-way through my Sophomore year. It took me 12 years, but this is how I got over the shame and guilt I felt from dropping out of college.
You can skip to the next heading if you don’t wanna read about my experience with college….
The Good Ole College Try
Senior year of high school, I applied to three colleges. Murray State in Kentucky, Georgia State in Atlanta and Valdosta State University in…. well, Valdosta…
As the acceptance letters rolled in, the seriousness and finality of my decision kicked in.
I wasn’t quite ready to stray far away from my friends and family, so I chose the closest school and I was off to Georgia State.
Totally ignoring the fact that I was not a city girl, I moved into the heart of the Atlanta and tried to blend in with the hustle and bustle.
I rode Marta to campus, walked the city streets in between classes and dove head-first into every ‘college activity’ I could find.
I immersed myself in city life. Exploring every inch of the city trying to find little hole-in-the-wall places to eat, shop and hang out.
Freshman year, I juggled an active social life, A’s & B’s in most of my courses and I worked a waitressing job in my hometown on the weekend.
I joined a Freshman Leadership Course where I was in most of my classes with the same 25 people, so I had a really close-knit group of friends and people I could rely on. (Love y’all forever FLC2!)
I even joined this stupid Freshman Orientation group where they had us waking up to roam the city at 4am…. (I honestly don’t know what I was thinking!)
Sophomore year rolled around and I moved into a tiny studio apartment even deeper within the city.
Something about living on my own let me decompress and reflect on my first year in college. I felt so incredibly disconnected with who I had forced myself to become, so I took some time to find me.
I started reading a lot and searched the world over for a passion. I became obsessed with writing and reading about politics, philosophy and anything involving positive change in the world.
Wild nights exploring the city with friends turned into nights in on the sofa watching political debates. My early mornings at the campus Starbucks turned to me barely skidding into class before the professor locked the door.
I became less interested in the stuff in my textbooks and more interested in real-world events and experiences.
I couldn’t focus on the required courses to get to the courses I actually cared about. I wanted to take advanced writing classes, advanced philosophy, psychology…
I didn’t give one single flip about advanced mathematics… or physics.
My grades in those classes started to slip, but my grades in beginner writing, philosophy and history were steady A’s.
Eventually, my grades got so low that I gave up. I stopped going to classes all together and bunked out in my apartment for about a week.
I was dreading the ugly phone call home to say that I couldn’t do it anymore.
I knew I would hear the word ‘disappointed’ and that was my kryptonite.
I eventually made the call, packed up my belongings and made the shameful trip home.
The guilt I felt in the following weeks, months and years was physically painful.
Every time I would see a classmate posts college-related photos on Facebook, I would feel guilt.
Whenever I saw commercials about student loans or the ‘back to school’ season, I would feel guilt.
Every time I applied for a new job and had to check the box ‘Some College Completed’, I would feel guilt.
Every time I had a bump in a career, my family would suggest that I go back to college. Which of course sent me into a full-blown spiral of extremely toxic, negative self-talk and guilt.
I call the feeling guilt…. but it was more than that.
It was shame for not being ‘strong enough’ or ‘smart enough’ to finish. It was fear about what my future without a college degree would look like. It was embarrassment that I spent a ton of my parents’ money and ended up with nothing. It was a deep feeling of loss– all my friends, professors, the campus and my apartment that I just left behind like they weren’t important…
The guilt is about 100 other things too, but whenever someone asked how I felt about leaving college, guilt was the only word I could muster to describe it.
Living With The Guilt
I assumed that the guilt was just my punishment for not finishing college.
Like I had sinned and this awful feeling was my pennance.
I always let myself feel the feelings all over again like I was supposed to re-live the hurt because of how many people I let down.
I almost got used to it over the years.
Like an old, deep scar that hurt when it was about to rain.
I let it hold me back and scare me into submission.
I defined myself the way my family defined a ‘college drop out’. Someone who was always going to be at the bottom of the totem pole. Reaching for the top but never fully able to succeed because I didn’t have the ‘College Ladder’ to stand on….
I say I lived with the guilt, but I honestly lived under the guilt. It was on top of me and there was nothing I could do to rise above it.
It wasn’t until my ‘spiritual awakening’ that I realized that I didn’t deserve to carry these awful feelings anymore.
When our subconscious repeats and dwells on negative thoughts, it is just a sign that something needs to be healed.
So, despite my previous belief that I deserved to feel this way, I actually deserved healing and closure instead.
Realizing this was almost harder than continuing to feel the guilt.
I had tortured myself for 12 years.
So, when I found out that I could have had some relief, I started kicking myself “Why didn’t I know about this sooner?!?!“
Then I came across an amazing quote that calmed me down.
Forgive yourself for not knowing what you didn’t know.
I didn’t know I could heal. I didn’t know I could resolve the guilt and pain. I didn’t know that there was any other way to live than just living through the shame.
So I had to forgive myself and get on the train to healing.
But what does that even mean?!?!
Healing looks different for everyone, so there is no cheat sheet or guide that will be perfect for everybody.
However, I found journaling to be my saving grace.
I just wrote down all of my feelings about my entire college experience…. and everything that happened afterwards.
I created a worksheet that you can download for free (at the bottom of this post) that might help you with your own healing. It’s an outline of the topics I journaled about to get some clarity about my own situation.
Again, no two people are the same when going through a healing process… but this is the guide I wish I had when I first started my healing. I was sorta flying free and I hit a lot of roadblocks along the way.
Validate & Dismiss
Once I had everything written down, I validated and dismissed each sentence one by one.
“I am a failure because I didn’t get a degree.”
Dismissed. I did not finish college, but I am not a failure. That statement is like when someone says “I am fat”. No, you’re not fat. You have fat. You also have fingernails, but you’re not fingernails….
“I will only have minimal wage jobs because I don’t have a career.”
Dismissed. One of my last jobs, I worked my way from the bottom to being manager over two departments in just a few years. I’ve got a badass work ethic. I can do whatever I set my heart on.
“I am a college drop out.”
Valid. However, I am also a business owner, a happy girlfriend, a loving daughter, a doting fur-mama, a homeowner and a giving friend. ‘College drop out’ is just a label. I have so many other labels that actually matter in my life. ‘College drop out’ is one that I own, but it does not define me.
I felt 10000 times better once I validated and dismissed my journaling.
I didn’t realize how many ugly, negative, hurtful things I actually felt about myself.
I guess I had taken in everyone elses’ opinions and just shoved them into my own guilt backpack. By the time I went to unpack it, the seams were busting!
Once I faced it head on, I was able to confront my pain and move past it.
What I Discovered
As I journaled and did some research, I made a lot of discoveries that made me feel at peace.
Here are some things that I found to be true:
College Isn’t For Everyone
I felt like I was making excuses for myself when I told people that “college just wasn’t for me”.
But it’s true! College isn’t for everyone.
I have lots of friends who went to college and freaking killed it!
They were a part of Greek life, they were involved in sports, they went to parties and events…. and still had all A’s & B’s.
They loved it, never wanted to go home to visit. Some of them became ‘career students’ and spent 7+ years college!
However, that can’t be the expected outcome for everyone.
Everyone has different talents, skills, learning styles and most importantly: personalities.
It wasn’t until I learned that I was an INFJ that I actually started to understand why college didn’t work out for me.
For the pessimistic turds that are going to read this and think I’m blaming anything on being an INFJ or using it as a cop out: please leave.
Being an INFJ doesn’t mean you don’t do well in college, or finish or whatever. Don’t come for me.
I just realized that the college atmosphere wasn’t my thing… and I found lots of other INFJs that had the same experience I did!
College was just too people-y, most of my professors were condescending elitists that wanted to force their beliefs on you and honestly, I didn’t feel like I was learning anything important or meaningful.
I felt like I was a fish being shoved in a stream to follow the other fish. I was surrounded by egotistical social justice warriors that didn’t practice what they preach and so many people thought that they were better than everyone else for whatever reason.
Personality differences, learning disabilities or social anxiety… they’re all valid reasons that college might just not be for you.
So don’t let yourself feel like you’re using a cheap excuse when you say that college wasn’t for you.
College Isn’t The Only Way
Older generations seem to have it in their minds that college is the only path to success.
And I couldn’t disagree more!
It’s finally making it’s way to mainstream media that college is not a ‘required ingredient’ for success.
So many people are graduating with degrees they can’t do anything with. They’re leaving college with boatloads of debt and not enough real-life experience to land a job in their field.
Employers are less impressed by degrees and they’re leaning towards the applicants with true, real world qualifications.
Trade schools, apprenticeships and internships are finally being promoted to high schoolers and people that ‘just aren’t cut out for college’.
Mark Zuckerberg, Steve Jobs, Rachel Ray, Bill Gates, Ellen DeGeneres, Ted Turner…
All extremely successful people that didn’t graduate college.
There are so many resources in the world that can help you achieve your dream life. You just have to find what works for you!
Do you learn faster with hands-on experience? Or do you absorb information by reading and then trying?
Of course, you’re not going to be able to learn how to be a surgeon from a ‘Surgeons for Dummies’ book. But chances are, that’s not the type of career you’re interested in anyways!
If you have a work ethic and a passion, there’s nothing stopping you. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.
You Can Go Back Later
I’ll honestly never understand why society pushes people into college right after high school…. and almost punishes people who choose to wait.
I don’t know a single 18 year old kid that is prepared to decide what they’re going to do for the rest of their life.
Seriously. I had friends who wanted to be lawyers from the time they were 12 and ended up changing to a teaching degree. Or people who got their degree in social work only to realize it wasn’t for them and they got a job in HR somewhere.
If you don’t know what you want to do for the rest of your life, don’t force yourself into a degree just to do it!!!!
It’s a waste of money and time you could be using to figure out your real dreams.
Go find your passion. What makes you tick. Figure out what you want to do that will make you excited to wake up every day.
Then, evaluate if college is the right way to get yourself into that dream job.
If college is the best way, then go back!
Just because it wasn’t your thing when you were young and undecided, it doesn’t mean that you couldn’t excel with a heightened awareness about who you are and what you want to do.
Don’t Align Your Self-Worth With College
Someone who has a Ph.D and 3 masters is not better than you.
And you are not worse or lower than them.
I think society has so many people convinced that our identities and self-worth should be directly correlated with our formal education.
While I don’t have a degree, I can set you up with an IV or give an injection. I can build a house. I can answer telephones while simulatenously directing 2 firetrucks, a med unit and 6 deputies to an accident.
I don’t have a piece of paper saying that I completed anything (other than CPR), but I am worth more than the label ‘college drop out’.
While other people may mistake your decision as laziness, stupidity or ‘failure to apply yourself’, you may have your own completely beautiful reason that actually adds to your self-worth.
“I am too creative to be confined to the institution of college learning.”
“I am too eager to learn. College classes move too slowly for me and I became disinterested.”
Your decision for dropping out of college doesn’t mean you are worth less than someone who did. Stop thinking that you deserve less and start believing that you are worth more than what you give yourself credit for.
Don’t Make Yourself Feel Like You Missed Out
I shamed myself into thinking that I had missed out on so many essential pieces to life by leaving college.
Parties, graduation, grad school….
The FOMO kicked in and it made me feel incomplete.
I saw everyone having these big parties with their school logo printed on a cake. Social media posts about being accepted into their dream grad school program.
However, if I really think about it, those aren’t really things I was interested in anyways.
I’m not knocking anyone for wanting those experiences, but it just wasn’t my thing.
But some little piece of me was thinking ‘you should have experienced that’.
Until I realized that while they were experiencing that, I was experiencing something totally different and still just as exciting.
I had let the excitement of their accomplishments and events overshadow my own.
But looking back on it, I wouldn’t trade a single second of my ‘Life College’ moments for anything on Earth!
It’s All About How You See It
Was it dropping out of college or early-enrollment for Life College?
I prefer to look at it as early-enrollment.
Because if you take away the nasty stigma of ‘dropping out of college’ then you get the chance to look at it as something beautiful– an accomplishment really.
Because if you see this chapter of your life as a failure, you’re never going to recover and allow yourself to reach your true potential.
BUMP what everyone else says or thinks about your decision. It doesn’t really matter how they see it.
It’s all about how you see your decision and what you’re going to make of your future.
Comment down below with your own experiences with dropping out of college and don’t forget to follow me on social media down below!
Also, if you join my e-mail newsletter, you’ll gain access to all of my freebies Behind The Barbed Wire. Including a little worksheet I made to help you work through your feelings since you left college. The worksheet is called ‘Early-Enrollment in Life College’ and I hope it helps!