Should I drop out of college?
October 26, 2008 11:37 AM   Subscribe

Should I drop out of college?

I'm a senior in an engineering school trying to get a computer science major. I'm also pursuing a second major of music, and for a while I've known that this, rather than computer science, is what I want to pursue in life. On a casual level, I enjoy the practice and ideas of CS, but unfortunately I have realized that my enjoyment of it stops there.

I am ADHD, inattentive, and this has made finishing classes that delve deeply into a subject that I'm not terribly enamored with to be an extremely difficult task. I withdrew from my introductory algorithms class twice before scraping through it with a C+. I failed my second-semester introduction to software engineering class once before doing the same thing. Things are only getting harder.

I've also not taken nearly enough classes to fulfill my residency requirements, and so find myself halfway through the first semester of my senior year needing 24 (maybe 30, if I do not manage to pass two classes this semester that are looking more grim every day) credits more of computer science classes as well as some remaining music major classes (I could drop this major but I would be heartbroken and I am, anyway, almost done with it).

Every semester I've had here has started with the earnest desire to do well that spirals down into panic, depression, and failure after about a month. It took almost a month of being free to live my own life this summer for me to feel like I had any worth whatsoever, to be able to create, and to be able to socialize with other human beings normally again. It's October and those feelings are all gone again.

I want to drop out. I am lucky in that scholarships and an immense amount of help from my parents has me currently debt free, but I am here on that provision that I get a lucrative degree. I have understood this process as me holding up my end of the deal, and while I feel an immense amount of guilt at having wasted my parents money, I am starting to a feel a desperation of a sort I've never felt before when I think about getting through the rest of this degree. They will not stand for paying for anything else, and I would have to stay here many more years if I attempted to pursue only my music major through the school of arts and sciences.

My choices now seem to be: I could transfer and pay my own way through a music education, or I could drop out and pursue a career from the ground up. I'm not particularly concerned with making a lot of money, and I have skills in web site creation/administration (and various other things, such as bike repair, etc.), so I think I could probably find a suitable to job to support myself. My parents will probably be unwilling to speak to me for a long time, and any hope of some sort of grad school program in music performance or composition will likely be dashed.

What should I do? Thanks for your help.
posted by anonymous to Education (25 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
It sounds like you can finish, even if it means staying an extra semester to take or retake classes. You should finish, then assess your options and maybe choose an alternate path if you decide that's what you want to do. Life is a lot easier with a degree, and you're at most three semesters away from one.
posted by Captain Rayford Steele, Tribulation Force at 11:49 AM on October 26, 2008

Why can't you drop the CS major and graduate with a music major if that's what you want to do?

Also, never ever drop out. Don't do a withdrawal--take an official leave of absence so that you're able to come back and finish your degree when you change your mind (chances are that one day, you will). This happens all the time and university administrators are there for the sole purpose of helping you make the best choice.
posted by halogen at 11:51 AM on October 26, 2008

Could you drop the Comp Sci major and finish the music degree at your current school? I'm a litle confused (maybe I don't get how double majors work) - if you're almost done with the music major, why would it take you a few more years to finish that degree? Also, consider if you've got 24-30 more credits for your computer science degree, it sounds like that will take 3 semesters anyway?

If you don't love the Comp Sci stuff, I would predict that you won't be happy working in that field, but I think at this point, you'd be wise to finish school. Maybe without the pressure of the 30 remaining credits in Comp Sci, you could happily finish your music degree and not close any doors on that front.
posted by drobot at 11:52 AM on October 26, 2008

Dropping out just when the economy is down and a lot more people are looking for work? Keep at it, but maybe take a less aggressive schedule even if that means taking on a little debt.
posted by Pants! at 12:02 PM on October 26, 2008

Speaking as someone who dropped out of CS for an ME degree don't do it. Just finish the damn degree - especially for what the market is going to be like for the next couple years. I keep coming back to the idea that I got off the wrong boat - I break down every problem in my life like a programming exercise. I do enjoy what I do, but often wish I had the CS ace in my pocket.
posted by notsnot at 12:04 PM on October 26, 2008

Can you look into getting treatment for your depression?
posted by wyzewoman at 12:10 PM on October 26, 2008

Try slowing it down, take fewer classes every term, but have more time to devote to them. It may take you an extra year. Maybe an extra two years. This is not a big deal.

Tell your parents you'll take on some debt, you understand they won't support you forever if you are functionally going to school part time, but that you think this strategy gives you the best chance of getting a degree in decent mental health, and that the economy sucks right now anyway.
posted by pseudonick at 12:12 PM on October 26, 2008

Having graduated with a Music Education undergraduate degree and TV/Radio/Film (entertainment industry) for graduate school, I think that the right call is to earn your com sci degree. Unless you are planning on being a music teacher, you don't *really* need a degree to be a professional musician. In the end, graduating with a music degree leaves you with no transferable skills (on paper) that will get you a desk job. I'm doing the starving musican routine, and it's not fun.

Now, if music is your passion, study privately with professors and/or professionals now, and get involved with the music scene of which you want to be a part... play in informal recitals, go to local gigs and network with the musicians there, and do as many open mic nights as you can. Finish your comp sci degree, and try to pursue music in grad school, which gives you access to world class teachers if you get into a good school.

That way, you can get a job to hold you over while you work on your music. The starving musician situation is VERY true. You have 1 semester left if you bust your butt, 2 if you wanna take it easy, but i think 3.5 months of 24 credits is worth it if you wanna get college over an done. If you honor your committement to you parents, you have leverage in any conversation about your future thereafter.

best of luck!
posted by FireStyle at 12:16 PM on October 26, 2008

Stay in school. Period.

Also it sounds like you have some financial resources working in your favor. You need to know those financial resources won't always be there and you need to look at ways to support yourself. You say your not concerned with making a lot of money, but trust me, a few years in the real world will change that song.
posted by elwoodwiles at 12:16 PM on October 26, 2008

If you know that you don't enjoy computer science, or more importantly, the idea of sitting at a desk for 40-50 hours a week writing code or maintaining systems for a living, drop out. Once you attain that degree and follow the natural path of a graduating CS student, you'll find yourself being swept along into a life of quiet desperation that may take you years to break free of. I know people who take the highest pleasure in their IT work. But if you don't and deep down you know you should be doing something else, you may end up hating it.

Leave school for awhile and move to a city with a great music scene (Portland, OR, Athens, GA, Olypmia, WA, Providence, RI). Get a job at a coffee shop or a bar, scrape by, stay up late, make a lot of eccentric friends, and try to fall in love with genuinely fascinating and beautiful women. What you lose in financial reward, you'll make up for by being able to align yourself socially with people that understand you better. If that starts to wear you out or bore you (this may take 7-9 years:), return to school and get that responsible degree.
posted by Pinwheel at 12:34 PM on October 26, 2008

Have you been formally diagnosised with ADHD? Are you taking medication for it? If not, that could make a huge difference in your ability to concentrate and therefore learn the material much fast and more throughly. Have you talked to the college disability office about any accomodations that might make it easier for you to survive your CS classes?

Also, talk to your academic counseling about (1) the minimum needed to graduate with a CS degree and (2) the minimum need to graduate with any degree. Can you get a CS degree from the A&S school instead of the engineering school?
posted by metahawk at 12:39 PM on October 26, 2008

Echoing some of the other responses, I think your depression and ADHD are the real culprits here. Get treatment for those and the rest will fall into place. The good news is that college is an excellent place to find the help you need. Go see a counsellor on Monday. Your life can be so much better than it is right now.
posted by LarryC at 12:58 PM on October 26, 2008

It sounds like you're almost done. Stick it out, no matter what sacrifices you have to make. You can still get a CS job with "only" a music major. (Note: I know at least 3 music majors employed at 50k+ jobs a year or two out of college in a CS field. Those that program obviously make more than the tech support guys .. but still. Starving artist is a choice like any other.)
posted by shownomercy at 1:10 PM on October 26, 2008

As someone who has dropped out of college twice, I would encourage you NOT to drop out, even in light of all your circumstances.

We have a lot in common. I was a science student with a passion for music. I did poorly in many of my classes, for many years. I had supportive parents who nonetheless felt it very important that I succeed in school. I had emotional issues that I felt were getting in the way of achieving my goals. When I left school for the second time, it was to pursue a “career” in music (although looking back I had no idea what that really meant at the time).

Several years later I am back in school, and looking to graduate this spring. I feel a deep sense of accomplishment at having returned to complete my degree. I have few (if any) regrets about the choices I made and the life I led, and the years away from school have given me wisdom and perspective. But those things come only with time, and in all honesty you don’t need either of them to graduate college (which is why so many people are able to do it while they are young).

If you manage to complete this stage of your life now, and not wait, or put it off, you will end up feeling very good about yourself, no matter what degree you end up with or where you go from there. And it sounds like that is exactly what you really need right now – to feel good about yourself.

If you can identify your goal to be “stay in school”, then there are many things you can do to help yourself realize that goal. Much good advice has been given already in the thread: slow down, don’t panic, think about all the different ways you can get a degree from your school (different majors, B.S. vs. B.A.), take fewer (but more than zero!) classes, even consider temporary part-time status. Baby steps, my friend! Complete your degree one day at a time, and don’t worry about how much longer it seems like it will take. Most importantly, talk to as many people as you can about your situation and your options. Talk to an academic advisor about your specific academic needs, talk to a counselor or a therapist about your panic, depression and general emotional well-being, and talk to your parents about their expectations vs. your dreams and desires.

One final piece of advice – do not make your “final” decision in a time of frustration or despair. Do not decide to drop out of school because “my homework assignment is two weeks overdue and I’ve been up all night struggling to write this paper and I probably won’t pass the class anyway and it would feel so good to just forget about all of this bullshit for just one day!” That is the worst way to make these kinds of important decisions. Good luck with whatever you decide to do! And for the record, you’ve inspired me to go finish an assignment I’ve been putting off all week...
posted by abc123xyzinfinity at 1:34 PM on October 26, 2008

Could you just take a semester or two off to get your head in order? I know a lot of people that say that this is a horrible idea and that you'll never go back, but I hated school and I was able to go back after a semester.
posted by greta simone at 1:45 PM on October 26, 2008 [2 favorites]

Thirding LarryC and metahawk. You need to get treatment for your ADHD if you aren't already. Also, it sounds like you might have undiagnosed depression. Go see a counselor or doctor and describe this situation. And hang in there, this will turn out OK. I wouldn't make any major changes without talking to a counselor first.
posted by dosterm at 1:59 PM on October 26, 2008

There's other good advice in this thread, but I'd like to point out that a "lucrative degree" is only lucrative if you can get hired and hold down a job in that field after school, preferably without making your life a living hell.

I'm not in the CS field, so I don't know how the experience of taking CS classes compares with the experience of holding a job in that field. Will your ADHD make working in CS as miserable as taking classes in it? Will you be able to perform well enough to hold down the job?

Related point: as shownomercy has mentioned, you don't necessarily have to have the "lucrative degree" in order to get a lucrative job.

If your university has a good career center, you might want to spend a couple afternoons there researching your options. (What's a day in the life of a computer professional like? Are there good jobs in the computer field for people who have ADHD? Can you get hired without a CS degree, but with a resume that stresses your education and experience in the field?) The results of your research may help you make your decision and might possibly even help persuade your parents, if you need their buy-in on whatever course of action you decide to take.
posted by Orinda at 2:21 PM on October 26, 2008

Do not drop out. Double degree in music and computer science. University is often times the first thing that a person finishes in their life that they started of their own accord.

Graduating felt good. Probably better than it should have felt. But don't rush yourself.

Spend time in college learning where these panic and depression gullies come from. University is a great place to learn to deal with these issues. It is possible to do this during a career, but it will keep you from really shining. You will always be trying to fix something other then concentrating on your love (hopefully your love == career).

And ten years from now this last push to graduate will seem like such a short moment in your existence.

And you are not wasting your parents money. You are wrestling with BIG issues. It is a sure sign of growth and maturity to consider your parents at all.
posted by YoBananaBoy at 4:03 PM on October 26, 2008

No matter what profession you pursue, even if you are lucky enough to be able to pursue one that is also a passion, you are going to run into things you need to do that are difficult, not as interesting as what you want to do, or even downright HARD. Not everything in life is fun and wonderful and joyful. Not everything is easy. Even your music studies are going to require dedication.

While I sympathize with your depression I read this and want to smack some sense into you. There are hundreds of thousands of college students who wish they had scholarships and parents to get them through the academic track of their choice. You want to throw it away because it's too hard.

He's not considering his parents in any way except damage control.

Honor your commitment to your parents and to *YOUR FUTURE* by finishing. By all means take your time. I strongly encourage you to pursue therapy or counseling to deal with your issues. There is also zero shame with taking a semester off to regroup and get your head back together.

But stick with it.

If you want to quit, you should make a commitment to pay your parents back, every single penny. That would be the honorable thing to do and I would respect you greatly (for whatever that's worth) for making that choice. But don't just walk away from it. That's the coward's way out.
posted by micawber at 5:39 PM on October 26, 2008

I'm 24, almost 25, and dropped out of college when I was 20. I've recently started taking classes again. On the one hand, I've carved out a nice living for myself making a (very low) six-figure income in the interim, so I haven't tangibly suffered due to this decision, at least so far. On the other hand, I have always seen myself as someone who would eventually have a college degree, and the lack thereof bothers me frequently in a "component of my self-respect" kind of way. I can't help but dwell on thought that if I'd stuck with it for another two years I'd already have finished several years ago now. Going back is hard - your habits and lifestyle and financial requirements all change after you leave school, and carving a place college again is difficult.

If you're only a couple semesters away from being done I would say just push on through. In the overall scope of your life those months won't be more than a blip, and you may open doors for yourself you never imagined, not just financially, but in terms of being able to work on interesting things with interesting people. It may seem hard now, but it's never going to be an easier than the present.
posted by hansfriedrich at 6:34 PM on October 26, 2008

Reading your entry is almost like looking at a reflection of myself. Interestingly enough, I'm in the same boat as you. I have inattentive ADD and I'm in my last(hopefully) year of my Computer Science degree. The difference is that my minor is in Japanese and not music. My overall gpa is something like 2.7 with a 2.5 in my major(that's about a C+).

Let me just say, there is no rush to graduate. Colleges an parents will put pressure on you to graduate, but all in all, they will still be supportive of you if you decide to stick around for another year. If you can't finish it 4 years, then don't push it. You know you're limits and you know exactly what you need to get through this. Just keep in mind that college isn't an all or nothing.

In my case, I'll be the first family member in 3 or 4 generations to go to college, get a degree and make something of myself, so there's a lot of pressure for me to finish. But the way things were, I just couldn't do it in 4 years without driving a pencil through my head. Yeah, it's true that my friends from Freshman year graduated before me since they all did the 4 year trek, but it seems like none of them can get a decent job out there now. Not to mention that they are all very ill-prepared for the work force since none of them got a job other than retail while they were in college. They have nothing to put on their resumes except their class experience. As for me, I took a semester off to work and then studied abroad for another semester, putting me one year behind my friends. It's true that my ADD got the better of me while I was abroad and I failed 3 out of 5 classes, still, I didn't take it heart. Failure is a fairly objective word and is what you make of it. Personally, I think I learned far more than what my study abroad mates did(and I can speak the language more fluently) simply because I focused my energies on different matters.

A little debt is ok, and it really helps your credit score once you pay it off, so don't be afraid to take out a loan for an extra year. You can also take a semester off to earn some money if you decide not to take on debt. You're at a point in college where companies will hire you for your CS skill even though you haven't graduated yet so you can probably find a nice job or internship to keep your mind off school while you take a break, which will also give you some time to rethink your options and see where you want to go. Career Services at your school will have plenty of opportunities for you to investigate and sample, but if worse comes to worse, you can always refuse a job that's offered to you if you change your mind.
posted by nikkorizz at 6:47 PM on October 26, 2008

If your University has an office set up for undecided students/multiple majors/Independent Studies, stop by and talk to them (note: I work in one of these offices). They should be experts at paring down options and knowledgeable of obscure University policies that might save you some time/money. Someone from outside your majors may be willing to tell you things that your faculty advisers won't. I've seen people pull of triple-majors in fairly unrelated areas within reasonable time periods, and every single one of them has gone to an adviser outside of their primary majors to put together a long-term plan. Some universities are willing to make some concessions to multiple-major people that they do not wish to publicize.

I don't want to imagine that you're taking Music major and upper-level CSC classes at the same time--individually those are notorious time swamps at my University. Average time to graduation is around ten semesters for either by itself. I don't know if some of the other comments on here are made by people who realize how time-consuming these are individually, and if your parents are expecting you to graduate from both of these in four years you need to have a sit-down with them. And ultimately I think that's what you need to prepare yourself for--the best solution that I see is to decrease your work load significantly and add at a semester or two to your expectations. If you are diagnosed with ADHD, they should understand that you're having trouble with your focus, and you can point out that you've been fighting it for three years now and are getting a little burnt out.

Don't make a major life decision based on avoiding having to hash this out with your parents.

If you were a student at my university I could give you advice that is a) better, and b) more specific. Find someone to talk to. You may not want to escape the situation once you've changed it.
posted by Benjy at 7:55 PM on October 26, 2008

Unless school is putting you in debt, I'd recommend staying.
posted by saxamo at 9:07 PM on October 26, 2008

Assuming you're in school right now, strongly consider visiting your school's counseling center. Normally this is free for students and it can be very, very helpful.

If you go into a counselor and tell that person the same story you've just told us you will probably get a lot of help.

Also do consider taking a lighter load and getting tutors to help you through any classes you are having difficulty with. (And "difficulty" meaning not just those that might be "hard" for you but particularly the ones you find yourself disliking or having a hard time keeping your mind on studying.) That one-on-one help really makes a huge difference.

Music + CS could be quite an interesting combination--not that many people have that particular skillset.

For certain, at least finish the music major portion of your degree. If that is finished and all that is left is your residency requirements, maybe you could fill those with electives in subjects you are highly interested in (rather than the CS courses you seem to dread).

Also it might be worth exploring the idea of putting together an "independent studies" type degree. Some universities have this option, where you more or less design your own program. The thing that could be interesting is to take the CS classes you have already completed & figure out what you could put together with that, that you are truly interested in, that would add up to a really interesting and employable degree.

That's something you could talk about with some of your current professors and/or an academic counselor from the school.
posted by flug at 9:36 PM on October 26, 2008

No. Transfer, maybe, drop-out, no.
posted by From Bklyn at 3:08 AM on October 27, 2008

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