I blew $20,000 by dropping out of college mid-semester. Where do I go from here?
June 11, 2010 8:59 AM   Subscribe

I blew $20,000 of my parents' money in a decision that I've admitted to them was the most unforgivable, shameful thing I've ever done. How do I make this right?

About two months ago now, I made what I now recognize was an insensible decision: I dropped out of college mid-semester.

These were the factors that lead to this decision:

1) I strongly disliked the atmosphere at the college. There were very few ambitious students; most students were looking for any and every opportunity to get obliterated. I'm not a teetotaler, but I think going out more than twice each week is kind of pushing it. I have a lot that I want to accomplish, and I generally have more fun making progress towards those goals than I do drinking. I genuinely believed that if I stayed at the college, I would have sidelined those goals to avoid becoming a social pariah.

2) A business I had launched was doing pretty well, well enough that I thought I might be able to make up the lost funds from the tuition I was about to throw away. I had gotten accidental, indirect press from a popular Web site, and it had given me several leads. The volume of these leads sharply decreased after that article dropped off the front page, and the business eventually grew so slowly that the pressure to succeed following the drop-out was excessive and constricting. That entire venture just fizzled out.

3) This detail is the one that infuriates my parents more than the rest: I was doing extremely well academically: I had A's in all of my courses (one was leaning towards a B) and definitely could have pulled off a 4.0. I did come away from the fall semester with a 4.0, but I was taking a very light course load. The catalyst of this decision to drop-out was a paper that I had been given back, with virtually no errors and A+ mark. I stared it down, and rather than feeling a sense of accomplishment, I dreaded having to spend another 12-14 hours writing another one.

The first person I told about these plans was my English professor, during what was supposed to be a paper conference. He's one of the nicest and most thoughtful professors at the school, and was generally understanding. I couldn't bring myself to talk to my parents or roommate about this for another two weeks. During those two weeks, I didn't go to a single class. I eventually decided to withdraw from the courses a day before the withdrawal deadline (any courses dropped after that time are recorded as WFs rather than Ws). That set off an administrative firestorm. One of the deans requested a meeting with me, my meal plan was revoked, my roommate got a call that Access Control would be changing our locks, and I called up my parents.

During the call to my parents, my dad mentioned that he wasn't going to pay for college any more if I wasted the spring tuition money like this. At the time, I was making 1k every week from the aforementioned business, and I promised him that I would pay him back for the lost tuition and support myself through college if I needed to.

Next couple of weeks: business fizzles out, I am suddenly more stressed out than I have ever been, and I decide to really objectively look at my options. I started realizing that I wanted to get a degree related to business management, entrepreneurship and computer science. I found a program (Harvard Extension School) that I initially thought was a glorified community college, but upon further inspection is one of the best-kept secrets in academia. There are several reasons that that program is a good fit, but the most important detail for the purposes of this question is that the annual tuition is between 9,000-11,000. With food, train fares and books factored in, I don't estimate that my yearly expenses could ever exceed 20k. My parents have not started making me pay rent on my bedroom, thankfully.

Obviously, I'm trying to pay for as much as I can. I'm funneling all of the money made from that business into my college education, as well as the money that I'm making this summer. Altogether, that only amounts to $6,000-7,000. Obviously, if I want to attend this school in the fall, I'm going to have to seek out a loan from my parents.

One detail that complicates this situation immensely my dad's wealth. Because of this, I can't get a student loan. I am perfectly willing to pay back any loan that my dad could give me, but he is not willing to loan me anything at this point. His tag-line has been, "You're on your own now. Figure it out yourself." His parsimony is completely unpredictable: when I was about to buy a run-down Acura or a Pontiac, he came out and bought a slightly-used 3-series BMW for my brother and me, because he wanted us to drive a safe car. Fast forward two months and he's forbidding me to drive to Six Flags (about an hour out) with one of my friends because he doesn't want to "subsidize" the trip. I have always paid for the gas and was intending to buy the gas for this trip, but he claimed that he didn't want to pay for the extra miles on the speedometer, the maintenance, et cetera. It seemed like controlling behavior. Similarly, I know that he's leaving me a trust fund and have asked him to consider taking the money out from there.

Altogether (tuition, food, books and train fare for three years), I am going to need 60k. If I had stayed at the college I dropped out of, the remaining three years would have cost him $150,000. Obviously, the refusal to loan me money is an emotional issue for him rather than a purely financial one.

I've let him know as much as possible that I view the decision to drop out as the worst one I have ever made, and have continued to apologize for it whenever the issue comes up. I don't think that he's entirely opposed to the idea of loaning me the money, but I'm definitely going to have to convince him that I'm never going to do something like this again / am going to pay him back for this loan.

To anyone who reads this thread and immediately pegs me as a spoiled kid with so few problems that I have to invent my own, I completely understand that. Looking back on this decision, I can't believe that I could have been so careless. The reality, though, is that I live comfortably but modestly, and sometimes receive extravagant gifts (BMW). I am not the type of person who would have ever asked my parents for a gift like that.

I realize that I made a horrible mistake and want to correct it, but I'm only 20 years old and am not adroit enough to make this thng right. Where do I go from here?
posted by gacxllr9 to Human Relations (88 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
"if I want to attend this school in the fall, I'm going to have to seek out a loan from my parents"

Why couldn't you get a job, thousands of college students work an go to class. It sounds to me as though you have always relied on your parents to take care of you. You are going to have to start relying on yourself (just like your dad says.)
posted by leafwoman at 9:10 AM on June 11, 2010 [20 favorites]

Get accepted to the Harvard Extension School and defer entrance. Get a job for a year or two to save up enough to go (or start going part time). This will either get you the money you need, or demonstrate to your father that you're capable of standing on your own and taking responsibility for yourself.

You made a mess--an understandable mess in a lot of ways, but still, a mess that cost others a lot of money. You can only get your credibility back by being an adult and dealing with the mess.

The pressure to complete your university education immediately after high school is seriously misplaced for exactly the reasons you demonstrate: You're incurring a lot of expense at a time when you don't know that you want what it buys you. You've learned a lesson and have a much clearer idea now of what you want to do. A couple years working will only sharpen those ideas and make your education more valuable when coupled with actual experience.
posted by fatbird at 9:11 AM on June 11, 2010 [21 favorites]

I agree with leafwoman. Get a job and start paying your own way. Maybe you'll have to delay college by a year to save up enough funds, but by doing so you'll also surely impress your parents with your determination. That might be the best apology you could make.
posted by Go Banana at 9:12 AM on June 11, 2010

Yes, get a job and save up your own money.
posted by R. Mutt at 9:13 AM on June 11, 2010

He's doing you a favor by cutting you off. You're smart, introspective, and entrepreneurial and don't need somebody emotionally manipulating you with their money. (That's what your late 20s are for!)

Look, maybe you fucked up; I dunno. But even if so, being 20 years old is about making mistakes. If your heart is set on going back to school, go. There must be a way you can declare that you're financially independent and won't be getting supported by your family. Just be aware, that means you'll have to hustle a lot harder than you probably ever have in life.

If instead you're ambivalent about letting go of that financial safety net, sit down with your dad, tell him you're in a bind but don't want to compromise your lifetime of opportunities simply because you got overly optimistic about your first flush of business success, and then ask him to define under what terms he'd help support your education. If the terms are reasonable, accept them. If they're not, see if he's willing to negotiate. If he's not willing, then you did your best and you're free. Reasonable adults cooperate to solve problems.

Next time, don't quit school because you got in TechCrunch. For what it's worth, I quit school when I was 19, pissed off my folks by being the first in my family not to get a college degree, watched the company that I had quit school to run slowly fall apart around me and basically had no clue what to do in life until I was 26 or so. And my life is fucking awesome now.
posted by anildash at 9:15 AM on June 11, 2010 [21 favorites]

Work full time for a year (possibly while studying part time), save up enough so that between your savings and the money you can make while studying, you don't need to borrow money off your father. You dropped out of school for a business that you then quit -- bring that business back to life, though while also working full-time. Quit using the car.
posted by jeather at 9:16 AM on June 11, 2010

You work. That's what you do. You get a job to supplement if you have to until you're putting in at least solid 40-hour weeks, and you work and live on rice and beans no matter what your parents have or your friends. (And yeah, no amusement park trips right now. You've got debt to pay off.) You set up a payment plan with defined payments and reasonable interest. You make those payments on time, every time. You also start paying for your own car, which is to say, if necessary you give the BMW back and you go buy a 1995 Civic or something. Moving out into a reasonably-priced apartment with a roommate is a good idea but might not be practical. But basically, you work harder than you have ever worked before because you have never screwed up like this before.

You do this until either they agree to help you pay for school--which is conceivable, once you have proved that you indeed have a work ethic--or you qualify as an independent and can get your own loans. At which point you may not be able to go back to the expensive school you started at, but you will at least be able to go back to school. Or, alternately, you may figure out that whatever your parents expect of you, what you're doing suits you better than school and you can make a living at it until such time as you really feel like committing to school properly.

Mistakes have consequences. You're not going to be able to get things back exactly like they were. But you're not going to die in the gutter because you couldn't go to an expensive private college, and this could turn out to be a really important turning point in your life later.

I say all of this because although I was not a child of such privilege, I was around your age when I made some really disastrous mistakes of my own that required big, grown-up decisions and serious work on my part to fix. And they did get fixed, and I look back now glad it all happened because I like the person it turned me into.
posted by gracedissolved at 9:16 AM on June 11, 2010 [5 favorites]

Yup. Get a job. The great thing about Harvard Extension is that most of their courses are at night, so working people can take them. I worked full-time when I was a Harvard Extension student, and a good chunk of my paycheck went to my courses (on top of rent-- so you've lucked out there!)
posted by oinopaponton at 9:17 AM on June 11, 2010

Why can't you get accepted, defer for a year and ask your parents not to claim you as a dependent on their next taxes? Then you can apply for student loans if need be and you'll have the money you've saved up for a year from working additionally.
posted by questionsandanchors at 9:20 AM on June 11, 2010

Would moving out on your own be enough for you to be considered an independent adult for the purposes of getting student loans/financial aid. If its just down to age then you're out of luck but I would look into what circumstances would make you independent from your parents (and their wealth)
posted by missmagenta at 9:20 AM on June 11, 2010

$7000 will pay for a lot of classes at most regular community colleges. Spend a year or two going part-time there to get some of your gen ed stuff out of the way, and keep working to earn more money for future semesters. Get good grades.

It's possible that after a couple of semesters your dad will see that you are taking your education seriously and doing well. At that point he might be open to discussing giving you a loan.

Even if he nevers comes around in regards to financial assistance, eventually you will reach an age where your parent's income no longer affects your ability to get a student loan. Yes, it may take you a bit longer than the norm to graduate, but in the grand scheme of things you'll come out all right in the end.

I know someone who went through a similar process and, while he didn't graduate until he was 25, ultimately he wound up doing just fine career-wise in. Now at looking back from age 35, those fucked-up college years were just a little bump in the road. His parents even helped him pay his student loans once he got himself together.
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 9:21 AM on June 11, 2010 [1 favorite]

Something very similar happened to me and I think you need to talk to a professional. It sounds like you may be suffering from depression.

I don't think you're spoiled; just very confused and a little lost.
posted by Dagobert at 9:21 AM on June 11, 2010 [3 favorites]

PS- you can't even be accepted to a BA program at HES until you've taken three classes (I'd recommend one or two at a time, at most, once you have a job). Getting a BA from HES works really, really well for a lot of incredibly smart, self-disciplined people-- but it will take longer than a BA from a traditional college. You should be prepared for that.
posted by oinopaponton at 9:21 AM on June 11, 2010

Have you considered continuing your education, but at a state/public university where tuition is considerably less? How important is it to you, if you had to finance this whole thing yourself, to continue at this same school? To answer that, what is your major and can you articulate to us what the benefit of this school is in the longrun? Is it purely the education, the social capital, or some kind of credentialing such that you think a public university cannot compete?

I think you definitely need to talk to your parents. You've broken that relationship by your actions, and that relationship is important. Clearly your parents are hurt, and they may not have forgiven you. Ideally, in these sorts of situations, both parties are able to listen to the other person in a way that affirms the other person's dignity and worth as a human being. Listening, taking in why they are hurt, may be the most important thing you can do right now. It's not as important that they understand what you did or why you did it; after all, everyone has their reasons. I think the more important thing here is what can you do in terms of going to your parents, seeking to see the whole situation from their perspective.

In other words, I think you're getting the cart before the horse in seeking restitution. It may come to that, but it's not the most pressing thing. The most pressing thing is the relationship, seeking understanding, and then forgiveness (and asking for it if necessary). Restitution comes later, and more on their terms. You do not want to make restitution without consulting them; after all, it's making the decisions independent of consultation with them that is kind of what set this all off.

Good luck man. I've made worse mistakes. Life is full of them.
posted by scunning at 9:26 AM on June 11, 2010 [1 favorite]

1) Forgive yourself. You're 20 for crying out loud. I would break mefi's server if I listed all the stupid things I did before I was 25.

2) Get a job.

3) Go back to school in a few years when you've saved up enough money and have your head on straight. Plus, at 23 (?) you'll be considered independent for financial aid purposes.
posted by desjardins at 9:26 AM on June 11, 2010 [4 favorites]

First, kill the guilt.

Everyone makes mistakes. This is not the worst mistake in the history of the world. Forgive yourself for having rich parents and stop apologizing. Realize that there was a reason you “made the worst mistake of your life” and it was because you were miserable. It’s your life. You don’t have to be miserable. I’m willing to bet that the reason you dropped out was because your parents are unreasonable, controlling, and emotionally abusive, and never take your concerns seriously. Sound anywhere close to the mark?

Your relationship with your father should not consist of him throwing money at you whenever he feels like it without listening to your actual concerns and feelings. That’s not healthy or normal, rich or not. Stop trying to please him, because odds are he’ll never be pleased no matter what you do. Odds are he could be micromanaging your life, you could be a brain surgeon making millions, with a perfect house and perfect husband, and he’d find something to nitpick.

Forget about your parents and start focusing on you, your life, and what makes you happy. Go to your father, summon up your courage, and explain to him exactly what you want in terms he can understand, and stick to your guns. Try to negotiate a deal where he will pay in part, or pay for your first semester, and upon seeing positive progress will consider continuing to help finance your education.

And get into therapy. You need to stop beating yourself up and realize your own agency. Consider explaining to your father that you’re depressed and struggling, and ask for help finding a therapist. You might be surprised at the results.

P.S. Realize that many people can’t understand your situation because they’re on the outside of the façade looking in. You don’t owe it to them to prove your pain or your work ethic or your value as a Good Person who is Not Entitled or whatever else. Do you.
posted by Nixy at 9:30 AM on June 11, 2010 [11 favorites]

Also, I have a used 3-series BMW. Get rid of it. Yes, it's safe (AND FUN!) but the maintenance and repairs are stupid expensive. Plus the insurance must be insanely high for a 20 year old male with a sportscar.
posted by desjardins at 9:30 AM on June 11, 2010

Response by poster: I just noticed a couple of things while I was looking over the answers: First, I didn't try to take a trip to Six Flags after dropping out - that episode with the car was some time last year. Second, in response to Dagobert above, I strongly doubt that I am suffering from depression, but I don't know. I'm thinking about taking on a 9-5 job while attending night classes at Harvard Extension. That seems like my best bet right now.
posted by gacxllr9 at 9:33 AM on June 11, 2010

I'm a first-generation college student. My folks couldn't have cared less if I went to college. They refused to sign any loan or financial aid forms because they didn't want to be on the "hook" for my mistakes. I had to wait until I was considered "independent", which is 24 years old. I'm now putting myself through school while I work a full time job. It's nowhere near the ideal situation, but I never had that choice.

You did. And you messed it up. Stop whining about it and change your life. Get a job. Put yourself through school. Pay your family back. There is no easy solution here. No magic wand to make your family forgive you or make your mistake go away. The real solution is hard work. I'm sorry if that's not what you wanted to hear.

At least there's one good thing coming from all this: You'll be a better person. Trust me.
posted by Lizsterr at 9:34 AM on June 11, 2010 [1 favorite]

1) I don't know the relevant laws, but if I were you, I'd be looking into what it takes to no longer count as your father's dependent for financial aid purposes. Then, I'd make a plan to do exactly that. It will almost certainly require you to move out and support yourself with a McJob for a while before attending school. The $6-7K you already have should help out immensely with this.

2) Before acting on it (but completely prepared to do so - possibly with job already in hand) sit down with your dad and present your plan. Your goal here is to present getting an education as a problem that you're trying to solve, and try to discuss it with him in an adult manner. You're not asking him for help, but rather explaining what you want to do. Don't count on it, but you might be pleasantly surprised by the outcome of this conversation.
posted by Metasyntactic at 9:35 AM on June 11, 2010 [2 favorites]

I agree with anildash and nixy- kill the guilt, chalk it up to the school of life, be happy your dad cut you off and learn from your mistakes, but don't beat yourself up over it.

You were smart enough to start a business that made you 1k a week. You were naive in believing it was sustainable. Okay, great, learn from it and move on. Well, you did, you learned you should go to business school, okay, so the next step is how.

If I were in your shoes, I'd research putting together a business plan. It sounds like your dad is a business man, so figure out how to put together a kick-ass business plan, and approach him as an investor. You will show that you've grown from your experience, that you are not free-loading, and that you will be accountable, as any business is with investors.
posted by TheBones at 9:37 AM on June 11, 2010

Response by poster: Also, re: nixy. That was a very thoughtful response that I am still working over in my head, but in case I've confused anybody, I just want to stress that I'm male, not female. ("You could have a perfect life, with a perfect house and perfect husband")
posted by gacxllr9 at 9:38 AM on June 11, 2010

I'll just chime in note that if your serious about going to HES, I would try very hard to get an administrative job somewhere within Harvard, because once you're working for Harvard full time you could attend HES night classes for (essentially) free.
posted by dyslexictraveler at 9:38 AM on June 11, 2010 [3 favorites]

Gracedissolved, are you a Dave Ramsey listener? 'cause I am, and that sounds like him. :-)

I second that - get a job, DON'T take out a bunch of loans. Putting off college a year or even 2 at your age while you work and pile up money is fine.

You might also think about the military - some defined college benefits and a job where you can wind up with virtually no living expenses, other than your recreation, etc. And it might not hurt to associate with some leadership figures other than your Dad.

FWIW, I don't see your Dad as a bad guy, nor do I see you as a total screwup. You made some mistakes that are comparable to those made by others twice your age and in a lot less stress.

When you get your plan figured out, I would simply inform your parents of your decisions, thank them for having supported you this far, apologize once for screwing things up, and put it in gear. I think your relationship with your parents will sort itself out. However, I would NOT entertain counter-offers that come with strings. If your Dad wants to give you money in the future because you're his child, fine, but, for example, being given a car and then told you can't take it places when you're 20 is not really right.

If the car is not titled to you free and clear, by the way, I'd get another car - something cheap that's actually yours.

Good luck kiddo
posted by randomkeystrike at 9:39 AM on June 11, 2010

Paying for college is one thing; you can probably do it. But your relationship with your father, maybe both your parents, is not in the best shape. Talk to your Dad, or, if he's giving you the silent treatment, maybe to another person he respects, to try to figure out what you can do to convince him that you care about him as a person, and that you're still you -- his smart, thoughtful son.

It sounds like you quit for unusual, sincere reasons. It might be that he'd have wanted you to do that. If you'd talked to him when you first started having doubts, things might well have gone differently. He could be angry for any number of reasons having _nothing_ to do with $20,000. If he suspects that you have no true idea of the value of money, then your dropping out could be interpreted as preventing the waste of many thousands of dollars on a too-easy education or a path to likely debauchery -- but saying this might just sound like spin.

His trust in you is what needs to be restored, but that's only going to come if you guys can actually *talk* and really know each other.

In the meantime, you can make your actions speak for you by planning to pick yourself up.
posted by amtho at 9:46 AM on June 11, 2010

I have a core value that, obviously, many other people don't share. But it has served me well, and almost everyone I know who also has this value has nothing but praise for it:


What I mean is this. If my parents offer me money "for college," I don't take it. If I'm strapped for cash and they offer me no-strings-attached money, I might take it. But no matter how much I want something, if a friend or family member offers me money -- but there are rules that come with it ("this is money for X! I don't want to find out you spent it on Y") -- I say thanks but no thanks.

By "rules," I don't mean rules about paying back loans. Of course I expect to pay back loans. Otherwise, they wouldn't be loans. But if someone gives or loans me money, I make sure they understand, up front, that I may use that money for anything. I might use it for college; I might use it for drugs and hookers; whatever. A gift is a gift.

I feel the same way about gifts I give. If I feel the urge to help out a friend by giving him money to pay a debt, I don't give it to him, if I feel like I'll be pissed off if he uses the money for some other purpose.

For me, accepting this value was a big part of becoming a grownup and relating to my parents as a grownup. I absolutely refuse to allow money to become some kind of twisted, symbolic object through which me, my parents or my friends work out our issues.

Whether you agree with my or not, it sounds like you BADLY need to be independent and you're old enough to be so. Your relationship with your parents will improve only when you relate to them as an independent adult. At the moment, you're relating to them as a naughty child.
posted by grumblebee at 9:48 AM on June 11, 2010 [13 favorites]

I think to fully prove to your parents that you can figure it out, you'll need to move out and hold down a job, save up money, and pay for your own school. this isn't the get-back-in-school-next-fall plan, but you made the bed so now it's time to lie in it. You don't mention if you've ever had a job other than your own business before, but if you haven't you will have to work really really hard, probably moonlight as a waiter, and still be just barely scrapping by.

It's a wierd thing about parents too that once they see their child making it on their own, but on the bottom socio-economic rung, they usually become more like helpful family and less like nitpicking parents and make themselves available to help you.
posted by WeekendJen at 9:51 AM on June 11, 2010

If he is truly cutting you off, then he should stop declaring you on his tax returns as a dependent. If he does that, you may be eligible for a student loan based on your own circumstances.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 9:52 AM on June 11, 2010 [3 favorites]

I borrowed $5000 from my dad while in college to buy a car. That car was held over my head well after I'd paid him back for it, and to this day it still comes up from time to time. But I used that car to deliver pizza at night, 3 or 4 nights a week... and I never asked my family for a dime again.

At 20 you're an adult, regardless of what others will tell you. It's time to leave the nest and act like one.

I understand that's some easy advice to give, but hard to carry out. Even though I paid for and completed college on my own, I still didn't 'get' life. You sound similar to my mindset back then... very centric and always with a plan for success - that depended on the support of others and fair winds.

The only thing that cured me of that was.... joining the military. Not saying you should join the military (but hey, it's not such a bad idea!), but rather that you need to take that leap out of your comfort zone and go find yourself, and more importantly your own way. Taking that step was the hardest thing I ever did, but 15 years later I can't imagine what life would be like if I hadn't taken it.
posted by matty at 9:53 AM on June 11, 2010

I love nixy's response and feel like otherwise, there's a forest-for-the-trees thing going on here in the comment section. This isn't a question that's fundamentally about making a budget.

Dude freaked out because he couldn't stand the pressure to get yet another A+, and with his parents' reaction to his dropping out, well, now we know why. The whole first half of the question was about this anguish, but the second half rushes back into "well, I can achieve and be perfect at business." Sure, go for it, but I'd also follow up on looking at what freaked you out. It happened, and you weren't temporarily insane; you did it for a reason. I once heard a school counselor from a private school say that in his professional experience, on average, kids from wealthy families carry a different, but in many cases more intense, set of psychological issues than kids at the more middle- and lower-class schools. Your family does not sound easy to grow up with. I'm not saying anyone is "bad" here, as I'm sure they do what they do for their own reasons. I'm just saying that I would get to know and befriend the parts of yourself (the fears, shame, anger), that caused you to want to drop out in the first place. If you do that, and take that action as a wake-up call instead of a mistake you immediately disavow, then I'd say the $20,000 was well-spent. The earlier you start looking at what's going on behind the scenes in your mind and heart, the more of your life can benefit from those lessons.
posted by salvia at 10:00 AM on June 11, 2010 [19 favorites]

Rather than echo what others have contributed, I'll just mention this:

One detail that complicates this situation immensely my dad's wealth. Because of this, I can't get a student loan.

This isn't actually uncommon at all. My parents are by no means wealthy, and they still made way too much to get a single penny of need-based money for me or my sister - and they were far from able to finance my education, even at the affordable state school I attended. You can't get a subsidized Federal loan. That is a very, very different thing from "Can't get a student loan." You can get a few thousand a year in unsubsidized Stafford loans, which is no small thing and can pay for a huge chunk of an affordable school; you can also get private loans which will be more expensive but if you issue is just "can I get the money somehow," you're actually in the same boat as an awful lot of middle-class kids whose parents make too much to be 'poor enough' but who can't actually afford to pay for all of their kids' schooling.
posted by Tomorrowful at 10:04 AM on June 11, 2010 [5 favorites]

If blowing $20,000 was the most unforgivable, shameful thing you've ever done, you're doing pretty well from my perspective. If your English professor understood, why can't you be more understanding about it? I think there's more here than meets the eye.
posted by Obscure Reference at 10:07 AM on June 11, 2010 [4 favorites]

Hmm, my comment might've sounded critical. I meant all this talk about freaking out not to rub your nose in a mistake, but to say I think there were probably emotions going on behind the scenes. Those emotions are very understandable. They deserve to be known and understood. Trying to figure out what happened will probably make your whole life happier over time. Not looking at it means you're vulnerable to those emotions sneaking up out of nowhere and causing you to take (or at least want to take) actions that aren't in your best interest.
posted by salvia at 10:08 AM on June 11, 2010

A friend just reminded me:

I'm not sure what kind of aid you think you'll get after you become independent, but I guarantee you it won't be much unless you lower you standards of living dramatically. I make a not-terribly-low salary (think teacher's salary), and I don't qualify for anything other than loans. I struggle a bit.

Maybe your dad would be willing to hold off on making you pay the $20k back until you are finished school?

And, please consider community college! I know you have it in your head that you are a special snowflake who needs to go to the fanciest school, but it doesn't sound like that's a great option for you. Community college doesn't make you are loser or a dunce. It's a cheap way to get your education going.

Good luck.
posted by Lizsterr at 10:09 AM on June 11, 2010 [2 favorites]

Er, that's Community college doesn't make you a loser or a dunce. Classic.
posted by Lizsterr at 10:10 AM on June 11, 2010

I may have missed this in there somewhere, but unless tuition is $20,000 per semester at your previous school, I don't see how you wasted $20,000 by dropping out mid semester. I can see how you lost the money you paid for the Spring semester, but you didn't lose the money from the previous semesters...you earned grades in those classes and they are on your transcript and can be counted (depending on transfer policies) toward finishing your degree elsewhere.

Besides, you don't pay tuition to get grades on a transcript (despite what people may believe). You pay to get education and experience. You didn't waste the $20,000...you just got an education that didn't match the expectations of your parents. I'd think about that before beating yourself up over "wasting $20,000."

At some point you need to let that guilt go, dust off your hands, and take control of your life. You're getting excellent advice in this thread on doing that. I'd encourage you to find someone to talk to about the emotional aspect of all of this while still on parent's insurance. You're fine...you made a choice and you're on a different path now. There's more than one way to get to the finish line.
posted by MultiFaceted at 10:25 AM on June 11, 2010 [1 favorite]

Get away from entangled finances with your family as soon as you can.
posted by k8t at 10:34 AM on June 11, 2010 [2 favorites]

Enroll at community college. Harvard Extension School is not "the best kept secret in academia." That's probably Foothills Junior College in Palo Alto which is essentially a feeder to Stanford University, and it costs a ton less even as a non-resident After you show Dad that you won't drop out of community college and pay for it on your own, and pay them back $20K or close to it, I'm sure he'll help you transfer to another 4-year school.
posted by anniecat at 10:35 AM on June 11, 2010 [4 favorites]

Is there any chance you have some underlying psychological issue aside from depression? The impulsivity, severity, and rashness of your poor decisions sounds like mania to me. IANAD, of course. But I think it might be worth talking to one.

OR you might just be incredibly spoiled.

I guess I'm getting a different reading on this than most posters here. It sounds like you have a severe lack of good decision-making skills. That you're currently considering going even deeper in debt for "the best-kept secret in academia" underscores this for me.

Quit looking for shortcuts. By this, I mean: huge loans from your parents, over-the-top business schemes, expensive degrees meant for people with, you know, jobs and lives who can't make a go at real college. The choice you realistically face right now is to attend an inexpensive school that you can actually afford (community college or a state school, for example), or, if you're really not ready for academics at this stage in your life, a full time job. If you view blowing this last semester of school--and your dad's money--as such a huge failing, I cannot conceive of why you think asking him for another loan would be okay. It's not okay, and his reticence after watching you screw up this badly (after he warned you!) is completely understandable. His money ($150k! that's an exorbitant price for an undergraduate degree!), his choice--and a choice that's clearly been informed by your past performance, or lack of it.

And for the love of god, don't use your trust fund to fund this. You might actually need that money some day. As in, when you don't have a roof over your head or a BMW.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 10:37 AM on June 11, 2010 [9 favorites]

Stop being so ashamed. A lot of people screw up freshman year much worse than you, and wind up with a set of horrible grades and much bigger debts. You didn't do this by drinking and partying nonstop-- not that there would be anything so bad or wrong about that at your age. You haven't hurt anyone and you don't have a crime on your record. You just clutched; it happens. I agree with the person who said above that your father will find something to pick on, no matter what you do. He probably won't stop once you are no longer on his payroll but he'll have less power over you.

Decide what you need to do and do it, with or without your father's help. I can almost guarantee you are looking at a few hard years with him in any case.
posted by BibiRose at 10:38 AM on June 11, 2010 [1 favorite]

Just out of curiosity - is your business completely useless, or is there something you could do to revive it if you could get more publicity to get it up on some other front page? That might be worth a bit of your time if you thought it would work.
posted by CathyG at 10:41 AM on June 11, 2010 [1 favorite]

Nthing community college or cheap state school. Buckle down for a year or two, get awesome grades, and you'll be able to transfer to whatever "prestigious" school you want, and hopefully at that point you'll have shown your dad you have the commitment that warrants him funding your education.
posted by 6550 at 10:58 AM on June 11, 2010

I found a program (Harvard Extension School) that I initially thought was a glorified community college, but upon further inspection is one of the best-kept secrets in academia.

This is a very ill-informed way of thinking. My best students come from community colleges. You'd do well to rethink what a community college offers and what you think you know about yourself and higher education.
posted by vincele at 11:08 AM on June 11, 2010 [7 favorites]

the most unforgivable, shameful thing I've ever done.

When I read this, I clicked on the "more inside" genuinely expecting to see a tale of how you bilked the elderly out of their savings, or scammed the families of children with cancer, or went on some sort of crazy binge that ended in the deaths of innocent bystanders.

Seriously, you desperately need some perspective. No one died. No one was actually, tangibly hurt. You dropped out of school. This happens all the time. It is true that the particular financial and familial details of your situation may not apply to every one who's ever dropped out of school, but it's really not all that unusual -- and it certainly isn't "unforgivable" or "shameful," even if it involved wasting $20,000 of your (wealthy) father's money.

So start forgiving yourself, right now. Say it out loud, if necessary: "I forgive myself for making a mistake." You may not feel it or believe it; that's fine. Say it to yourself enough that you start to believe it eventually. (As for your parents forgiving you: it's not your concern, because it's not ultimately in your control.) It is vital to drop this kind of extreme, catastrophizing language from the monologue in your head, because it is emotionally paralyzing and mentally unhealthy.

Beyond that, I second all the advice about getting a job, disentangling your money from your dad, etc. A book that I like about getting your finances in shape (even when you don't have much to speak of) is All Your Worth, which uses a model of categorizing and balancing your expenses, rather than a "write down every pack of gum you buy" approach to budgeting. The basic idea is that essentials should account for 50% of your expenses, savings should account for 20%, and non-essentials should account for 30%.

Good luck.
posted by scody at 11:14 AM on June 11, 2010 [5 favorites]

1) I strongly disliked the atmosphere at the college. There were very few ambitious students; most students were looking for any and every opportunity to get obliterated. I'm not a teetotaler, but I think going out more than twice each week is kind of pushing it. I have a lot that I want to accomplish, and I generally have more fun making progress towards those goals than I do drinking. I genuinely believed that if I stayed at the college, I would have sidelined those goals to avoid becoming a social pariah.

Everyone is ignoring this part.

I feel your pain. I dropped out of college for similar reasons. I expected to be around people devoted to learning. I wound up being around people devoted to partying or pseudo-learning (e.g. dropping names and theories, but fleeing the instant any real, vigorous thinking was required).

Years later, I went back, and things were much better. IF you're right about the fact that being a devoted learner (and a frequent abstainer) makes you a social pariah, then you're at the wrong school. Every school has its own personality. Some are more party-ish than others. If you go back, research this before choosing a school.

But you're going to be disappointed wherever you go. There will definitely be lots of people who don't live up to your standards. That's okay -- or it should be -- as long as you're not alone.

It's unrealistic to expect the majority to prefer discussing Proust to keg parties. So don't expect that. Rather, expect to find a group of close friends who share your interests and values. If your school is so inhospitable to those values that there isn't even a small group like that there, then -- again -- you're at the wrong school.
posted by grumblebee at 11:15 AM on June 11, 2010 [1 favorite]

I second the concerns above about depression and mania. You're being awfully hard on yourself about your mistakes and your experiences, in a way that could - but I hope doesn't - spiral into something worse.

Fine, so you blew some time and money when you had a rough go at college at age 20. It happens. Don't describe this as being unforgivable, because you're wrong about that. This is very forgivable. You won't be able to move past this difficult time until you forgive yourself and understand why it is that you did what you did. You also have to put your blow-out into perspective: as far as blow-outs go, this isn't even that remarkable of a blow-out in the grand scheme of things.

Hopefully your experiences have taught you a lesson about hubris that will serve you well in the future. I'm honestly not trying to be a dick here. Speaking as a reformed stubborn arrogant person: failure is good for the soul. It is just a part of growing up and becoming a wilier version of yourself. You have probably learned more in the last semester than most people do in all of college.

With that education, though, comes the realization that you don't need to put this huge pressure on yourself to the be the self-starting entrepreneur going to Harvard Extension in the evening. As salvia points out upthread, pressure and expectations seem to be looming over you like a curse. You'll just grind yourself to dust if you keep swinging between these high hopes and a feeling like you're the worst human being on the planet if you can't live up to them. You'll also be happier if you learn to be humble. You might also want to speak to a counsellor about your decisions - at the very least, you could use a professional sounding board for this delicate time in your life.

So now what? You're still alive, your parents still love you, and you have now joined the ranks of the very many people who have had problems during college. Why not just work part time and go to your public community college to earn a shiny transcript with some As on it again. Prove to yourself that you can accomplish things without killing yourself or squandering money. Prove to future admission boards that you are a serious student. Prove to your father that you are serious about your education and working with discipline to achieve your goals. No short cuts, no quick fixes.

Also? Harvard Extension is probably a good program, but it is out of your price range and you don't need that name right now. Community college is better than you think it is and there are more people as smart as you there right now than you may realize.

Your father will either be amenable to funding your education later or he won't. It sounds like he needs proof from you that his investment will be worth it. This is not just to protect his assets. This is also to protect you. It is evident from your question that he wants you to have a good life. He no doubt understands how much this must have torn you up, but he also understands that you'll never survive on your own unless you can break this cycle. Cutting you off is a good kick in the pants to get you in a place where you will learn good habits.

Best of luck sorting everything out. It must seem like the world is collapsing around you right now, but that's an illusion.
posted by Sticherbeast at 11:16 AM on June 11, 2010 [1 favorite]

You didn't make the worst decision of your life. You made the best, and strongest decision of your life. Someone weaker would have stuck through the pain because of the money. The fact is, everyone has the choice to blow it all up and start over if that's what they need to do, and that option is always there - even if most people are afraid of it. You did well by yourself, so don't sell yourself short.

My suggestions: Give your father some time to cool off, and then go back to him with three things:

1. An apology for surprising him with what you did. Not for having done what you did, but for the impact that the way you presented it to him had on him emotionally. He may not actually deserve it, but it might make you feel a little better to sincerely apologize.

2. An explanation. Basically, let him know that your path at this college lead only to doom, and the only way to find that out was to go there. It was an expensive lesson, but you actually did yourself, and him, a favor by leaving when you did, and not waiting. When you have to change what track your life is on, it's always better to start doing it as soon as you can.

3. A value proposition. Basically, figure out how much money he ends up saving in total between paying for your original college plans and what contributing to your current plans would entail. Let him know that you have a contingency plan of working through night school if that's what you need to do to be successful, but it would be faster and easier for all concerned if he would be willing to assist you at the discount price that your current college plans offer.

I can't guarantee that anyone I've never met will be reasonable, but if your father is, I think that this can be persuasive.

Good luck!
posted by Citrus at 11:19 AM on June 11, 2010

If I may recommend:

If you have a path that gets you through college, without enormous debt, take it. Yes, even though it involves getting money from your father. I'm going to tell you this, and you may not believe this, but he actually very likely wants to be very proud of you.

There were many paths you could have taken that would have paused your time in college, without costing him $20K. You didn't. That hurts.

Here is what I would suggest: Talk to your school, and find out what it would take for you to rejoin the campus. This might involve taking classes at a community college, it might involve winning over a particular professor, whatever. You need to know if it's even possible to return.

Then, I would build a plan for the next several years. Include in this plan some amount of business classes, for obvious reasons. Entrepreneurial effort is going to be respected by any father who has achieved wealth, especially if you're willing to pick yourself up after failing so miserably.

The plan for several years will not be enough. Solicit a trial by fire -- a test, designed by your father, that will show you're actually interested in making something of himself. Remember, he wants you to succeed. But you've blown $20K, and now you're going to have to show you've learned something.

He'll give you some task you won't want to do. You are to kick ass at it, out of respect for him. If he's loathe to make this deal, then go unilateral. Just say, look, here's where I want to be in seven years, and the next three to six months is yours to declare. I lost $20K of your money and if I do nothing but work that debt off I will accept that.

Here's the hard part: You have to mean it. This is a challenge to yourself. One of the things you'll find as you get older is that the only challenges that matter are those that you dig yourself into. The question is not whether people can grow through crisis. The question is whether people can grow through anything but crisis.


1) Do the groundwork to find out what it would take to go back (if you really do not want to go back, find out what it would take to go to a peer school).
2) Build a long term plan -- respond to this failure, express how you intend to learn how not to repeat it.
3) Accept a short term challenge, no matter how onerous. It must specifically be something you're expected to fail at.

The goal is to separate the short term doubt (which is legitimate) from the long term career damage (which your dad probably doesn't actually want). It's not impossible. Hell, it's an opportunity.
posted by effugas at 11:21 AM on June 11, 2010

The catalyst of this decision to drop-out was a paper that I had been given back, with virtually no errors and A+ mark. I stared it down, and rather than feeling a sense of accomplishment, I dreaded having to spend another 12-14 hours writing another one.

Re-reading the question, this leaps out at me. I relate to this feeling precisely, especially since I had this mentality right before I started treating college like this onerous chore that was completely beneath me (with my grades suffering accordingly). Think about why this feeling came to you and why it came to you right before you started doing things that you now regret.
posted by Sticherbeast at 11:30 AM on June 11, 2010 [2 favorites]

I just wanted to chime in and correct some information about FAFSA / dependency status. Your IRS status as a dependent has, unbelievably, *nothing* to do with your dependency status for federal financial aid.

I found this out the hard way when trying to file as an independent-- at 23, having been a tax independent for two years, having already graduated with a BA, having worked in a "grownup" job, living 4,000 miles from my parents, etc. etc. etc. There are a few exceptions: if you're married, have non-spouse dependents living with you, are / were an emancipated minor, are an orphan, are in the military, or are pursuing a graduate degree, then you can file as an independent. Otherwise you are classified as a dependent until you are 24 years old. Period, full stop. I even called to talk to the FAFSA helpline and they told me that "your dependency status has nothing to do with your parents," which would have been amusing had it not sucked so much.

So whatever you end up doing, don't count on federal aid until (I assume much) later.
posted by charmcityblues at 12:19 PM on June 11, 2010 [4 favorites]

a real jerk (like the asshat who answered my wedding question with insults!) might assume you're a spoiled rich kid. No, you're not. You're young, you made a mistake. no need for me to be like that Australian about it: let me help you.
Get a loan agreement, a formal one, detailing how and when you will pay back the 60K. Offer some form of security that you WON'T make the same type of mistake again (that trust fund springs to mind). At the end of the day, I think he might just smile on graduation day and rip up the loan agreement- and, dude, that's the end to a beautiful movie.
posted by flowerofhighrank at 12:36 PM on June 11, 2010

I paid for my own college because I didn't want $$ from my parents. I sent my mother's tax forms in with my student loan information, and listed my father as "whereabouts unknown" so that I wouldn't be penalized for his income. Of course, that was 15+ years ago.
posted by coolguymichael at 12:45 PM on June 11, 2010

Charmcityblues: I just wanted to chime in and correct some information about FAFSA / dependency status. Your IRS status as a dependent has, unbelievably, *nothing* to do with your dependency status for federal financial aid.


I had the same problem (see my first comment). No matter how long you beat down the doors of the financial aid office or FAFSA, there's nothing they'll do for you. I was living on my own by 20, and I was 22 when I tried to go back to school. I had to wait until I was 24 to go back to school full time. I couldn't even afford full-time community college by myself. You are lucky you still have a free room. If I wasted $20k of my folks' money, they probably would have killed me for my organs or something. Hehe.
posted by Lizsterr at 1:00 PM on June 11, 2010

(I realize that this is going in completely different direction from most of the advice above, but maybe it will be helpful anyway.)

The first thing you need to realize is that you hurt your father. It wasn't just throwing away money, you hurt your father. He may not even realize that's what it's about, but one semester's tuition is a drop in the bucket to him, and as you point out, you're actually saving him money. That's why constantly repeating how you know you're a screw-up isn't going to fix it. From the timeline here, it sounds like you didn't even talk to him until after you'd already withdrawn from classes. I don't know how that conversation went, but I imagine he was furious, but you were making $1000 a week at the time and more or less told him you didn't need his advice or his money.

Now he says "You're on your own now, you figure it out." This is a coded invitation for you to admit that you need him and that you can't figure it out on you own. And he's right! The lesson you should be learning out of this is humility. You think you're too good for the college you were at--you are ambitious and they are just interested in partying; you didn't want to jump through the stupid academic hoops and when your business took off, you thought this was your chance to make your mark on your own; also the crack about a "glorified community college" tells me you think a lot of stuff is beneath you. Now you want to be an entrepreneur! I'm not going to tell you that you're not as smart as you think you are -- you probably are. But still: humility. If you have a need to get people to recognize how smart you are or believe that the rules for regular people don't apply to you, this is going to be a huge problem.

Like a lot of 20-year olds, you think being an adult means no-one gets to tell you what to do; but really, being an adult means having the maturity and confidence in your own autonomy that you can seek out and accept advice people who know more than you without feeling threatened by them. That means you need to drop all these plans about how you're going to do it all by yourself -- even (and maybe especially) if you do manage to succeed, your relationship with your father will be permanently broken. You need to focus on repairing that, and not worrying about what you're next career move is going to be. That doesn't mean subordinating yourself to him and letting him dictate everything. You need to be able to share your hopes and dreams with him and if he gets too controlling, you need to get to a place where you can say to him (and mean it sincerely) "Dad, I appreciate your advice, but I think I need to do this one on my own. But I still want you there in case things don't work out and I need your help."
posted by AlsoMike at 1:02 PM on June 11, 2010 [7 favorites]

@MultiFaceted, $20k/semester (especially including housing) is not at all an unreasonable figure for an out-of-state or private institution. Okay, definitely unreasonable, but not unrealistic.

As someone else said above--make sure your father understands that, if he wants to cut you off financially, he can not claim you a dependent.

I can't count on one hand the number of young men I personally know, who didn't make it their first time around in college. I can vouch for the exceptional intelligence and latent ambition of every one of them. And for each of them, taking some time off and working full or part time was exactly the kick in the ass they needed. If you can't land a 9-5 desk job, look into construction or service industry (bartending). When you go back to school full-time in a few years, you will know why you want to be there and what you need to do to succeed.

In the mean time, swallow your pride and take some community college classes. I have a lot of respect for people who spent their first couple years in community college and then paid their own way through two years of a $20k/semester 4-year institution. They are often more resourceful and grounded than those who had daddy paying for all four years (speaking as one of the latter).

Regarding disillusionment with the college environment, once you get out of freshman weeder classes, you'll find it a lot easier to meet people who share the same ambition as you. Then again, in a couple years, I doubt you'll be so concerned with how other people choose to live their lives and do what's best for you.
posted by ista at 1:06 PM on June 11, 2010

Response by poster: @AlsoMike: I appreciate your response and your insights, but you've made several inferences about this situation that aren't accurate.

1) I didn't mean to put down all community colleges with that "glorified community college" line, I was just suggesting that initially I thought Harvard Extension was a community college trying to capitalize on the Harvard brand name, and later found out that it is essentially Harvard College at night (something like 25% of your courses at HES need to be taught by Harvard professors in order for you to graduate.) That distinction was admittedly unclear in the original post.

2) I didn't leave my previous college out of a feeling of entitlement or superiority - I just felt incompatible with the school. I'm not passing any judgment by saying that most of the people at the school liked to spend most of their week at parties - I would have also been incompatible with the school if most of the people liked to spend all of their time playing chess.

3) This wasn't my first business, and I didn't decide at that time to drop everything and become an entrepreneur. I've been interested in entrepreneurship for several years, and when I started making real money through one of these companies, pursuing it full time seemed to be an infinitely better idea than continuing in a program in which I felt out of place. If you're trying to pursue entrepreneurship, running a company is an infinitely better learning experience than college courses that don't excite or inspire you. I was intending to see how everything played out with the business, and then enroll in another college with those funds. Those funds dramatically decreased after week 3, and here I am.

4) I haven't made any of these decisions because I thought I was better or smarter than the hoi polloi - the only reason that I looked into Harvard Extension School initially was that I'm from the Boston area and wanted to explore my local options.

This thread has been incredible so far. I need to sit down with this and really read through these carefully.
posted by gacxllr9 at 1:28 PM on June 11, 2010 [1 favorite]

When I'm faced with a life crisis and I don't know what to do, I make a list of goals and than I make a plan with the list of things I need to accomplish for that plan.

So yours might look like this

(1) Goals:
(a) Graduate from Harvard Exension School
(b) Make Dad Proud and Pay Dad Back

(2) Steps

(a) Talk to financial aid office and admissions office about options for paying for school: (i) Can I get a loan or (ii) is there work study available (iii) can I become independent so that dad's income won't disqualify me from loans or financial aid.
(b) Since I can't afford full-time tuition, talk to admissions office about part-time options
(c) find a job that is flexible enough to allow me to attend school during off hours
(d) give dad a promissory note showing that I will pay principal amount of $20,000 and interest of the amount of ___percent per annum. When I am able, make payments on the promissory note.

This seems like a really big crisis, but really it will work out in the end.

Good luck
posted by bananafish at 1:29 PM on June 11, 2010

Take a year off of school. Get a job. Work hard. Pay your father back the $20,000, along with an extra $1,000 just for the inconvenience. Once you've done this, let him know that you want to go back to school and would like his support going back to school on the same terms you'd had before you made this monumental mistake.

He may say yes, and he may say no, but either way your conscience will be clear and you'll have a years' experience working to get you a better job to help you pay the rest of your way through college (if that's what you want, and if he says no.)

In short: the only thing that's really happened here is that you've jeopardized a sweet deal with your father and now have to struggle to pay for school the way most people do. You could technically chalk it up to a learning experience and move on as-is, but better to pay him back, show you have discipline and the capacity for responsibility, and at the same time increase the odds he'll give you that sweet deal again.
posted by davejay at 1:43 PM on June 11, 2010

Oh, one more thing: he's right, you ARE on your own. Every time he subsidizes you, you're choosing to take that subsidy, and every time he attempts to control you, it is through the power you gave him when you chose to take that subsidy. If you want to be free of his control, you have to be free of his funding.

So, take the year. Pay him back. Get his funding again. Get through school. Then stop accepting his subsidies. You have a whole lifetime to be an adult, and right now there's advantage to accepting his subsidies on his terms, but not if you're going to resent it.
posted by davejay at 1:45 PM on June 11, 2010

I genuinely believed that if I stayed at the college, I would have sidelined those goals to avoid becoming a social pariah.

So, become a pariah. That's actually okay. Or even better, be the guy who sometimes comes out to parties -- and when he does, has a good time -- but often does not because he's studying hard. There is no need for you to thwart your own goals just to seek approval from your peers -- especially because most of your peers will find reasons not to approve of you no matter how hard you try. No sense getting sucked into that.

And if you have to change schools, change schools.
posted by davejay at 1:48 PM on June 11, 2010 [1 favorite]

If you're trying to pursue entrepreneurship, running a company is an infinitely better learning experience than college courses that don't excite or inspire you. I was intending to see how everything played out with the business, and then enroll in another college with those funds. Those funds dramatically decreased after week 3, and here I am.

I think something you're missing is that the vast majority of new business ventures fail. What you were doing was incredibly risky for someone who is not financially independent and doesn't have significant personal savings to fall back on. While I understand how thrilling that sudden rush of success must have been, you were gambling--and now you've gambled yourself away back to square one.

I say this as someone who is, likewise, pretty ambitious and a dreamer (seriously, grad degree in poetry and wannabe-novelist here). We all have to do some things that don't excite or inspire us. In fact, I firmly believe that we should do some things that don't excite or inspire us, so that we learn what hard work looks and feels like. Why? Because if you're going to make your ambitious, crazy-sounding dreams work, you're going to have to be able to put your nose to the grindstone, not to mention sometimes grit your teeth and do some things you don't really want to do.

(And maybe this school wasn't right for you--but seriously, not all colleges are like that, and you certainly don't have to spend a hundred and fifty thousand dollars to find a school that's not filled with partiers. Promise.)

If I have any general advice to you, it would be to live the next few years as if your parents don't have an enormous wealth of money. Work and educate yourself as if you need to in order to live. Not only is this a more fiscally responsible way to live, as it saves things like your trust fund and your dad's cash for a future when it might be more necessary (say, to help you establish a household as an adult, to take advantage of real opportunities that poorer people genuinely can't--like, for instance, travel--as opposed to stuff like Harvard night classes), but it will help to ensure that you have the life experience and grounding in practical skills that your ideas will need to flourish into a tangible, long-term success story.

Really, seriously, do what you can to avoid the "Midas curse"--remember that your father (or his, or whoever made that money in the first place) didn't become wealthy by spending big chunks of cash at a time on his ambitions, but rather by saving, planning, and being fiscally responsible (not to mention, I'm sure, a little lucky). I know that's less exciting than being an entrepreneur, but it's a lot safer, too.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 1:50 PM on June 11, 2010

Uh, everyone saying "get a job" remembers that this is one of the worst employment markets in decades for college graduates, right? I would wish the poster luck, and hope that turnover in McJobs of some sort or another pops up an opportunity, but this may not be the best year to assume this strategy is a slam dunk.
posted by dhartung at 1:50 PM on June 11, 2010

Heh, if the question had left out all the price tags, it would have been this:

"I quit college because I couldn't stand the people and the pressure, and because I thought I could do better with my side business. I know that was a big mistake and I'm so sorry for it. I wasted my dad's money. I've disappointed my dad and he doesn't trust me to do anything right anymore. How do I fix things?"

There are lots of questions like this in askme; it might help to search around for college dropout.

What I'd suggest:
You don't have to go to school right away. You're smart, driven, and know what you want out of school; you'll be fine if you go when you're ready instead of forcing yourself through school. Defer school for a year. Use it to:
1) Get that 9-5 job to pay for as much tuition, rent, and books as you possibly can. Be very diligent about saving money and doing your work right, even if it's boring. Don't complain or agonize over the situation you've put yourself in. Just accept that this is where you are and put the work in to fix it. This more than anything should show your dad that you've grown up a bit and can be trusted. It will also prepare you for grinding through the parts of college that just need to be done, even though they are boring and seemingly fruitless. Even at the best, most competitive colleges, you may find yourself in these situations.
2) Spend some time learning about other colleges. Visit the campus, talk to alumni, talk to professors, check out the resources they have available for you. Your first choice for a college was a bad fit; so don't jump straight into another one without checking it out carefully first. There are a lot of great little technical colleges out there that aren't as well known (Harvey Mudd jumps to mind, although it's neither cheap nor local), as well as state schools with so-so reputations and awesome engineering departments.
3) I want to mention that even though the party kids are the students you notice first, every school has its share of students who are focused on learning and creating. You might try attending meetings of school clubs to see if you can meet like-minded types.

Finally, after the year is over--you can approach your dad for a small loan. Point to all the research you have done and the responsibility you've developed at your job, and see if he's changed his mind about you. If not, other posters have come in with good suggestions for financial aid.

For what it's worth, I think you're an incredibly fortunate person (and aware of it), not spoiled. Stop beating yourself up over not being grateful enough, for being careless, for messing up. It's understandable; but being angry at yourself won't make things better. Good luck.
posted by millions of peaches at 1:51 PM on June 11, 2010

you've made several inferences about this situation that aren't accurate

I admit that my conclusion may not supported by the evidence--I don't know you, so I'm just going on my gut feeling. But still, maybe the conclusion isn't far off. Or maybe its just wrong. My main concern is that you've presented the situation to us as a logistical problem of how to further your goals, eliding most of the emotional factors. That you are framing the situation this way is potentially significant, it could be a sign that you are avoiding the raw emotional relationship stuff. Maybe the reason you are avoiding it is because you can't swallow your pride. (Although let me be clear that I think any knee-jerk stigmatizing of that is counter-productive. Let's just accept that we're all horrific monsters in one ghastly form or another.) Or maybe that's completely off and there's some other reason. In the opinion of this internet stranger who doesn't know you, whatever the reason, you need to deal with the real issue.

You don't need to deal with his emotions so you can get your money. You need to get the money because that will be a sign that you have dealt with his emotions. In an interesting reversal, doing the "responsible thing" of accepting the consequences and going your own way is the exact opposite of what it appears.
posted by AlsoMike at 3:02 PM on June 11, 2010 [2 favorites]

I was intending to see how everything played out with the business, and then enroll in another college with those funds. Those funds dramatically decreased after week 3, and here I am.

Week...three? And you were going to transfer to another good college just like that, after eating a bunch of Ws on your transcript without warning? Look, you're obviously a smart guy, and your passion will eventually put you ahead of your peers, no doubt about it. But you need to step back and plan so that you have more padding when risks don't pan out. A little bit of slow-and-steady-wins-the-race will help you out and help out your business ventures.

You are who you are, but you need to ground your life in something very conservative and reliable, like a 9-5, like night classes, like saving money. You have to do this so that you can play with the other end of your barbell: your high risk ventures.
posted by Sticherbeast at 4:10 PM on June 11, 2010

There are a number of really good suggestions here that you would do well to consider. I will add only a small bit. About that car: that's going to continue to be an issue. I would consider selling it. You probably want to bring this up in the talk with dad, feeling out his reaction. If you replaced it with (say) a Honda, or (gasp!) even a Kia or a Dodge or something of the same year, it's going to be arguably just as safe, and (importantly) less expensive to own. The difference in price alone might be at least $10k, which is not chump change to someone looking for money.

You could put your money where your mouth is and tell dad you're downgrading because you don't need that expensive of a car. You could then pay for school or pay back dad.

You've got to float this by dad first, though. If he continues to place restrictions on your use of the car, you may want to reconsider that arrangement. Or not, you make the call. But at that point it's not you owning the car, it's you borrowing the car. If the restrictions are worth it, then keep it; otherwise, give it back. Obviously this might have relationship implications; you don't want to give the impression you're ungrateful because you're clearly not.

I realize that the car is a minor part of this saga, but it could help solve your problems and demonstrate to your dad what you're willing to sacrifice to make things right.
posted by RikiTikiTavi at 4:33 PM on June 11, 2010

Wow, kid, I thought about you all the way home. I wish I could sit you down and lecture you properly but I'll just add a few thoughts. First off, the fact that you think that laughing and making memories with your fellow sons and daughters of privilege at Rich Kid U is of no value to your entrepreneurial dreams shows that you know exactly shit about how the world works. I don't know much about business, but I do know that the lifetime benefits of a network like that is one of the reasons that the children of wealthy people wind up wealthy themselves - there's a little marketing class for free and you're welcome.

Obviously, the refusal to loan me money is an emotional issue for him rather than a purely financial one.

It breaks my heart that you're so in the mire of your psychodrama with your dad that you can't see the forest for the trees. Your dad trying to control you and feeling hurt when you shut him out of your decision making and go against his wishes? Your shame at hurting him and anger at him for making you feel ashamed? You're just having a really bad case of the ordinary growing pains of a parent/child relationship and all of your scheming to pay him back is symptomatic of your main problem. He doesn't want your money, he wants you to straighten up and fly right. He wants to pay exorbitant tuition bills and buy you BMWs so given that, your obsession with paying him back isn't coming from a place of filial piety, it's coming from a place of fuck you old man I don't need your help. This is an age appropriate instinct! But given that your dad is a good one, albeit imperfect and with the same baggage around money and family that everyone has, why don't you just apologize and ask him for help? You need help, he can help you, you want him to help you, he wants to provide - this whole thing is so ridiculous I could shake you.
posted by moxiedoll at 5:00 PM on June 11, 2010 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: "He doesn't want your money, he wants you to straighten up and fly right."

I really want to believe that, but given past episodes I don't think it works out that way. He has blamed me for keeping him from retirement many years before this college episode unfolded. When I was in middle school, he was the one who first floated the idea that I could attend a boarding school in the area, and helped me put together my application. He now claims that he could have been in retirement by now if he hadn't had to pay the boarding school tuition. Maybe that's true, but I don't understand why he would have introduced me to the idea in the first place if he didn't want to pay. There is a lot of gift-giving followed by guilt-tripping that goes on here, and maybe, subconsciously, I was over-eager to escape that vicious cycle once it looked like I might be able to make it on my own, when a business I launched started making me money.

This is a slightly less important point, but I want to address your networking idea: I have had that argument leveled against me before - that the networking opportunities alone could have been valuable. I'm younger than you and know enough to understand that I know nothing, but my view of networking is much different than yours. This past week, I found out that a CTO of a Web service that I use daily was living in the same town as I am. I found his blog, shot him an e-mail, and am meeting with him next week. I am meeting with him not necessarily out of professional interest, but just because I want to hear his story and poke his brain. I am genuinely interested in meeting him. Networking isn't about going to a conference center and adding to your collection of business cards, it's about developing real relationships with people. I still go to most of the entrepreneurship and startup events in the Boston area whenever I can, but that's only about 1% of my networking time.
posted by gacxllr9 at 6:05 PM on June 11, 2010

Response by poster: @moxiedoll I just read over your post, and I realized how inaccurate my assessment of your 'networking' point was. Partying =/ trading business cards. I guess I just viewed partying with these people as a less effective form of networking than seeking out interesting people.
posted by gacxllr9 at 6:26 PM on June 11, 2010

I agree that you need to reassess why you made an insensible decision. Not the reasons, exactly, but why you thought they were sufficient reasons when objectively they aren't. Humans aren't good at making perfect decisions, but you can still improve. Until you get that sorted out, you're bailing a raft that has a hole in it.

I think you should also reconsider your feelings toward your father. He doesn't owe you money. Some of his money may some day come to you, but it's not yours right now, and it may not ever be yours (he could spend it all, he could burn it). He didn't have an obligation to send you through college, you're not entitled to any money that you're "saving him" by not going to an expensive school! Honestly he sounds like a normal person who's just muddling through life as best he can, just like the rest of us. He also wouldn't be the first person to regret making a generous decision when the result of that generosity wasn't what he hoped for.

Once you've got yourself on a track to not sounding like a brat (sorry), then you can find a full time job (or two) so that you can pay your debts and start saving. This will eventually result in you being financially able to attend college, and may have the nice side effect of showing your father that you are serious about life and money, so that he'll be less pissed.

In summary: You make things right by fixing yourself, not trying to find an imaginary easy way out, and then trying to fix things with your family.
posted by anaelith at 6:27 PM on June 11, 2010

he was the one who first floated the idea that I could attend a boarding school in the area, and helped me put together my application. He now claims that he could have been in retirement by now if he hadn't had to pay the boarding school tuition. Maybe that's true, but I don't understand why he would have introduced me to the idea in the first place if he didn't want to pay. There is a lot of gift-giving followed by guilt-tripping that goes on here[...]

Possibly somewhat off-topic, but perhaps not: does anything about the diagnostic criteria of Narcissistic Personality Disorder ring a bell in terms of your dad? I've personally found that people on the NPD spectrum often use money, gifts, etc. specifically to create obligation, guilt, shame, Catch-22 scenarios, etc. down the road. I'm not saying this to diagnose your dad (I have no means to do so, and AskMe isn't the place for diagnoses of any kind), but just to suggest that there may be a way of viewing your dad that might demystify some of what you say he habitually does, and thus might help you begin to step out of the dynamic that seems to exist between you. (In other words: you have no power to change him, but you do have the power to start changing your own behavior and reactions in relation to him.)

posted by scody at 6:46 PM on June 11, 2010

Response by poster: @anaelith: "he doesn't owe you money." I don't think I was clear enough about this in my original post, so let me clarify: in the past five years, I've asked for things from him on precisely two annual occasions: Christmas and my birthday. My 20th birthday's in five days and I'm not asking for anything, in light of everything.

It's really frustrating when you're born into a family that has some money, and no matter how you act or how hard you work, you still hear "silver-spoon," "spoiled" and "brat" wherever you go, because things are bought for you that you never asked for. I've had some lapses in judgment, but I am incredibly grateful for everything I have or had.

It seems like you think I'm some Sweet Sixteen head case who just shook down my parents for tuition, and now wants more.

Years before I was born, he was in a relationship with this woman who had children. He regularly tells a story about having to bail one of those children out of credit card debt. He paid for this same pseudo-daughter's airfare for a recent vacation, sends her a large Christmas gift every year, et cetera. When she went on vacation with us and had him buy her groceries, I told him later that it made me uncomfortable to see her rely on him financially at her age.
posted by gacxllr9 at 6:56 PM on June 11, 2010

To reiterate: Therapy.

You're in a somewhat unique situation that a majority of people might be unable to understand. A good therapist will have seen this before and can reassure you that you're not the only one, even though it may seem like it.

Again, kill your guilt. This is not about the money. This is about your relationship with your father. We don't get to choose our birth families, for richer or poorer, better or worse. But cutting off all contact is probably a worse move than just getting all of the emotional issues out in the open now and using this "mistake" to bid for more control over your own life.
posted by Nixy at 7:15 PM on June 11, 2010 [1 favorite]

Amen to your 6:05 pm comment!

I question the comments here that put the father's trust at the top of the priority list. Why is gacxllr9 so ashamed at the thought of making a mistake? Why did he hesitate to call his parents? .... Probably not because of the never-ending kindness, understanding, and compassion of poor old trusting dad. I'm not saying the dad is "bad;" he's probably very good in many ways, loves gacxllr9 the best he knows how, suffers from his own whatever, and is deserving of compassion for all of that. However. I'm not sure that we can say "given that [his] dad is a good one."

Sure, his dad wants him to Fly Right, as the dad defines it, but how does his dad define it? Did gacxllr9 learn to trust his instincts, go after happiness however he defines it, and make honest mistakes? Was there a compassionate willingness to let him experience failure and learn that every decision carries its own good and bad consequences, but that no matter what, they'd still love him and be on his side? No, it sounds like he learned certain paths were right and others were very wrong. It sounds like when he chose "wrong," he might've gotten bailed out, but he may have been shamed, berated even?, punished, reminded later of his mistakes, guilt-tripped (even for non-mistakes), and sometimes controlled arbitrarily. Maybe not. We don't know all that much and his dad, but I think we know enough to say that "please your parents! prove yourself to them! don't screw up again!" is a path back to the hell he's been living, not a path to freedom.

I think this message board is full of good, loving, fairly mellow parents (or people with parents like that). But search your contact lists and see if you can find someone traumatized by their rich, powerful, highly critical, anger-prone dads or by growing up in families where you had to be perfect. That's a possibility here, based on what we've heard so far. I know two people with childhoods like that, who went to some Rich Kid U, and this pattern sounds familiar. Both found happiness by making a conscious decision to deviate from the ideals of perfection and achievement, and instead live life on their own terms.
posted by salvia at 7:38 PM on June 11, 2010

My parents are good and loving but mellow? No. Most definitely if I'd come to them at 20 and said "BTW I dropped out of school because I thought I was Bill Gates for a second, sorry guys!" they would have shit. OMG. And rightly so, I think - I'd blow my stack if I were this kid's mom and I think most human parents fall somewhere on the emotional spectrum between Narcissistic Monster and The Buddha. Parents are people, as the song goes. The real difference, though, is in the follow up and that's where compassion comes in. If I had made that choice and followed up with I just was so unhappy at school and I wasn't making any friends and felt so alienated and lonely that I jumped at the chance to get straight to work but that was stupid and I really fucked up.... they'd react one way. But if I'd said anyhow college is a waste of time and everyone else was stupid and I've got a much better plan anyway because I fancy myself an entrepreneur and it's much better to go to night school than to that fancy college it'd be entirely different. They probably would have made me see a therapist or something, and I agree that that's good advice for starters. My point is, if I were the OP's parents, I'd be worried about my kid, and frustrated by his to-ing and fro-ing between I made a terrible, shameful mistake and here are all the reasons why I was right. Until he settles on one or the other, he's clearly coming from a place of really high, confused emotion and it's reasonable for his dad to be wary of supporting any of his new plans.
posted by moxiedoll at 8:31 PM on June 11, 2010 [2 favorites]

Altogether (tuition, food, books and train fare for three years), I am going to need 60k. If I had stayed at the college I dropped out of, the remaining three years would have cost him $150,000. Obviously, the refusal to loan me money is an emotional issue for him rather than a purely financial one.
That's from your original post. Objectively? It makes better financial sense for him to not loan you the money. You already say that you owe him about 20k, you've been financially irresponsible. The emotional decision would be for him to give you another chance.
Similarly, I know that he's leaving me a trust fund and have asked him to consider taking the money out from there.
Again, this money may be yours at some point, but it's not yours now.

I don't think it was in any way wrong of you to enjoy the things you've had. I just think it's not so great to expect a loan from your family in the immediate future. Anyway, I think you really, really need to sort that out (and all these other emotional issues), so that you can make good decisions before you solidify all these life changing decisions.

It seems to me (IANAShrink, IANYS) that if you had no expectations of what he would give you, then you wouldn't be so upset over him not giving you things, or him giving things to other people. I also think some expectations of his behavior are what gives the guilt tripping* so much power and makes it so emotionally charged.

*Although, really, I think all parents do this. My family is pretty freakin' great, and I still get "oh, you know, we could have taken this trip but we got you stuff instead, grumble grumble grumble, get off my lawn you damn kids". Hell, every single person feels resentment at some time. Just being a dependent means you're racking up resentment points (beyond your control) and if all your family does is grump a little then it's pretty standard. Just try to have some empathy.
posted by anaelith at 8:57 PM on June 11, 2010

The one thing I know for sure is that whoever pays the bills makes the rules. Take that into account in your plans. Good luck, I hope that the advice you're getting here helps you.
posted by lemniskate at 9:17 PM on June 11, 2010

My parents are good and loving but mellow? No.

You're right. I take that back. I've read far too much AskMe to make that assumption or to think that's the case.
posted by salvia at 9:34 PM on June 11, 2010

It's like you half feel bad about the $20K and then part of you feel entitled to money because you're his kid and you had to put up with his crap, and that all you need is him believing in you again enough to fund Harvard Extension School (which is not a secret and is just a back door into getting brand affiliation with Harvard without having to have top SAT scores and a great application for students who want to treat it like a regular college).

The reality is that you're broke and you owe your dad $20K. Whether or not he's rich, it's his $20K and he values money differently than you for whatever reason that you think is legitimate or illegitimate. You are $20K in the hole. If you don't respect or like him that much (based on your description of him in your original posting -- though I'm sure you love him), don't take his money.

I realize you're young, you're making mistakes, and you regret that you dropped out in the way you did. I'm getting a little vibe that you're proud of what you did because you think you're being real and true and finding yourself. The thing is though, you dropped out because you thought you had a "Come to Jesus" moment over a class, because you didn't feel like you wanted to write anymore papers and it wasn't what you wanted to do. That's what it looks like to everyone on the outside who works for a living and would love $20K to put away for a rainy day or pay for their kid's operation or whatever. Rather than just get a W for that class, you went and just dropped everything. You didn't consider finishing the semester and asking to go to summer school for whatever you were really interested in. You didn't decide you were going to transfer or spend the next year working and doing transfer apps. You didn't go to a therapist or counselor. You went to an English professor who you knew would be nice and understanding (and maybe he was glad it wasn't his money and felt sorry for you). You went with an impulse.

Your plan to continue college sounds good. But everything you say in your follow up plans sounds slightly like you're in a scramble to get back into school now now now. I think your dad might lend you money to see a therapist. He's investing in you. He may be a terrible person and may have hurt you in a lot of ways, but he's not perfect and you're not perfect, and it's his money that he earned that could be invested in a better way than a no or low interest loan for someone who doesn't seem to fully grasp how hard it is to make $20K or $60K. A lot of people are stressed over money, even the people who have a lot of it. He doesn't sound like a great parent, but he is what he is and he's the guy with the checkbook.

Take next year and use your money for community college. Also, see a therapist. Work some crappy job or just get into the habit of trying to find a crappy job or a great job and internship. It's good that you scheduled the meeting with the CEO and you are so genuine about the field. It sounds like you're planning on impressing him. Good for you. But you know when you have a real job, you won't just be interacting with the CEO. You might end up interacting with people who spent their whole college life going out and just getting along with each other and they can't even spell Proust. No matter how smart and talented you are in the working world, in order to achieve success, you need to make sure you can rally people to have your back and put in a good word for you. And the people you need on your side will want you to be accessible and appear to identify with them.

So go to a cc and keep making money. You're on your own now unless your dad has a change of heart.

Good luck to you.
posted by anniecat at 11:19 PM on June 11, 2010 [2 favorites]

I think this message board is full of good, loving, fairly mellow parents (or people with parents like that).

Actually, this dad sounds a lot like my dad, with the same kinds of issues around money, and gacxllr9 reminds me a bit of my brother--although this may be a reason to ignore my advice since I might be projecting my own experiences. Still, my impression of the gift-giving followed by guilt-tripping is that a man like this often became wealthy in large part to give it and all the advantages to his children, but he's afraid that he's just being used for his money and that's all anyone ever wants from him. He's trapped in a role that reduces him to a pure function, a machine who provides for his family, and which is dehumanizing and traumatizing and generates all kinds of dysfunctional behavior. This is why gacxllr9 has to take the first step--hopefully he is not as strongly identified with that ideal of masculinity, and why I stress that his father is hurt. The dad's method of communicating his feelings is heavily coded, partially expressed to avoid signaling vulnerability. The trick is to see through that.

That's the way it is with guilt, a lot of the time. You're right to say kill the guilt, but how to do that? I think we have to examine our own complicity in feeling guilty, why do we need someone else there to define us? The experience of guilt is a feeling that the other person sees exactly who you are, knows you and judges you to be bad. Somehow, they can see more than you, even see what you can't see, see more of you than you even know of yourself. This is the position of the omniscient father figure. Often we need there, someone who really knows, and we feel guilty to cover up the truth that no-one is there. Everyone is operating from a limited, partial lens on the world, struggling to know what's going on just like you, even those who make you feel guilty, those you cast into the role of omniscient father. We don't want to accept this, because knowing it plunges us into an abyss of freedom, makes us fully responsible for who we are which is a crushing, unbearable burden. Rather than accept it, we posit the existence of an all-knowing other who can bear it for us, who ultimately makes us feel guilty. We'd prefer to feel like we're bad, than to feel that our identity is radically open and undefined.
posted by AlsoMike at 11:27 PM on June 11, 2010 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: A couple of things: I didn't want to raise this point in the original post, because this sounds a little crazy, but I'm not sure that I really lost him $20,000:

The $20,000 was going towards 5 classes in tuition, a meal plan and a room. I got the room and the meal plan, but didn't get credit for those 5 classes.

5 classes at a community college or Harvard Extension might cost something like $3000-5000. So really, instead of paying $20,000 for 5 classes, I would be paying $23,000-$25,000.

I think I might only have lost him as much as the next 5 courses I take will cost. I'm not so trapped in my own psychosis that I entirely believe that, but it's something I've thought about.

If my family gave me $20,000 to buy a cow and I turned around and bought magic beans, it would look like they were out $20,000. But if I then found the same or a better cow for $5,000, wouldn't they only be losing $5,000? Just something to think about.
posted by gacxllr9 at 4:37 AM on June 12, 2010

If my family gave me $20,000 to buy a cow and I turned around and bought magic beans, it would look like they were out $20,000. But if I then found the same or a better cow for $5,000, wouldn't they only be losing $5,000? Just something to think about.

This is more like, you bought the cow, gave the cow away, then turned around and asked your dad for a $5000 magic squirrel.

Plus $15000 to pay the squirrel's living expenses.

It seems like you're going to great lengths to justify this to yourself. I understand the urge; it's a self-protective measure. But your father invested that $20000 in you with the understanding that it was going to help contribute to your degree. It's no longer clear that you're capable of putting the hard work necessary into finishing any degree at all, because you've shown yourself to be a flight risk. He's out that initial $20000 no matter what. And now you want more. It's not an either/or situation--it's an also/more situation.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 6:56 AM on June 12, 2010 [2 favorites]

If my family gave me $20,000 to buy a cow and I turned around and bought magic beans, it would look like they were out $20,000. But if I then found the same or a better cow for $5,000, wouldn't they only be losing $5,000? Just something to think about.

Please don't go there. You're not doing yourself any favors by either wallowing in guilt or rationalizing like this. Yes, you can make up for the one wasted semester in one sense by getting through the rest of college cheaper, but you haven't done that yet.

And please don't express this kind of reasoning to your father! I'm one of those people who told you that this isn't nearly as bad as you think, but I can also tell you that it will almost certainly make things worse between you if you tell him that what you just wrote. Don't try to tell him how to think about this; that's just insulting. Decide what the truth about the situation is, and act accordingly.

I don't know if this applies to you, but I was one of those kids whose well-off parents paid for college, and I think in the beginning I thought I was going to college partly for my parents. Colleges are full of people who think more or less like this. It may be partly true; there are parents who will pay the tuition for pre-med but stop paying if you switch to dance. But, within that, I strongly suggest you find a reason why you really want to go to college and then arrange the money-- and pick the right college within the proce range you can afford. I say this because it sort of sounds like you're still thinking in terms of getting "a college education" for x amount of money. That could be a recipe for wasting another three years.
posted by BibiRose at 7:26 AM on June 12, 2010

There are many people who pay for their own education, you may have just become one of them. If you cannot afford to pay for it, ask yourself if it is really worth it. (Go read all the articles floating around lately that question the value of a degree, especially one that doesn't get you into a field making decent money.)

I was 18. I was going to a local state school (SUNY SB) and dropped out mid-semester. My parents told me I was cut off. I was already paying for my car (a Honda, I wasn't going to own anything fancy like a BMW on a high school student's salary), my cell phone and my auto insurance (which was north of $300 thanks to being in metro NY). So there wasn't much left for them to stop paying for aside from the student loans. (Thankfully a state school is only a few thousand per semester.)

I got a job. I worked there for a while and once I was on my feet, realized I should go back to school since I could no longer get any further promotions. I saved up for it myself and went to school at night after work. I'm now in a position where my employer will pay for my education, this saves me $5200 a year. I'll graduate in another year.

I'm certain you can do the same. Good luck!
posted by Brian Puccio at 8:04 AM on June 12, 2010

Yeah, I don't think the cow/magic beans mental gymnastics is doing you any favors, and it will most certainly not do you any favors with your dad.

Really, the overwhelming advice that you're getting here is pretty simple and straightforward: get a job (and this shitty economy means that that's going to be harder than usual, and you're going to have to consider work that you may think is beneath you) and start figuring out how to pursue your own education with your own money. Your follow-ups suggest that you are still looking for some clever shortcut out of this mess, but what we're all saying is that there really isn't one -- at least, there isn't a good (read: smart, healthy, adult) one. Getting a job and paying for your own education doesn't sound very sexy, I know, but it's almost certainly the best way for you to get on a new path toward positively changing the relationship with your folks (and with their money) that seems to have been making you pretty unhappy all these years.

This is a potentially life-altering moment for you. But the option that looks perhaps the least appealing (maybe because it seems to be the most difficult) is really the one that can pay the biggest dividends down the road, in the form of independence, self-discovery, and self-respect.
posted by scody at 12:08 PM on June 12, 2010 [1 favorite]

Yeah, plus the cow/magic beans is pretty inaccurate. All classes' content is not exactly the same, educationally and in the eyes of others. He wasn't paying that much for room and board just so you could have a vacation in New Haven or wherever, and you didn't reap the full value of it because you left earlier than necessary. At the same time, he was saving food costs for you that he's now paying.

Mathematically, if:
E = High Educational content
P = High Prestige
r = the costs of your room/board at home
R = cost of room & board at school
dR = R - r

Figuring that:
dR is really justified only on the basis of you receiving E + P

So, the value he was supposed to receive for his money was: E + P + (E+P). He would've had to pay for r either way.

Assuming you were there for 75% of the semester (??), you received
.75E + 0P + (.75E +0P) + .75r

So, just for this semester, he's out 2P, 0.5E, you left .25r on the table and he's now paying for that by buying you food at home. All that ignores the fact that this full package was supposed to just be a downpayment on C = career advancement due to the degree, which he now may think is uncertain to come your way. So, yeah, I wouldn't get into a big debate about how much his money was or was not wasted.
posted by salvia at 1:20 PM on June 12, 2010

Sorry you're going through this. I think your plan to work full-time and take a class or two on the side is a good one, for two basic reasons. One is practical: it lets you make progress towards a degree without funding. The second is that it could help mend your relationship with your dad. You say that you've apologized repeatedly, but taking on the responsibilities of work, and of funding your own education, is a much better demonstration that you appreciate your dad's position than an apology could ever be. The lost $20,000 is not just money, it's also a symbol, and I think he probably feels (rightly or wrongly) that it's a sign you don't understand the sacrifices parents make to send their kids to college. For this reason, I think fixating on the precise amount that you owe him is definitely the wrong tack to take here, as is asking for a big loan to start fresh three months from now. This also means, though, that if you are able to swallow your pride, get a regular job, and start repaying him, this might go a long way towards helping you repair your relationship with him to the point where you might be able to ask for his help again.

Practically speaking, if you are going to work and take classes, consider a lighter course load. Four classes at HExt might be out of your price range, but one or two per semester might be totally doable. Also, if you can get a job, ask if they offer any assistance for college classes. It's a long shot but worth asking. Finally, definitely see a counselor -- this sounds like a really stressful situation and you could probably use a little extra support.
posted by en forme de poire at 10:20 PM on June 12, 2010

Yo, your dad=my dad. I put the blame squarely on your dad, and think you need to run, not walk, away from this man. He's poison.

I dropped out of high school, college, and college again for precisely the same reasons. My dad did exactly the same thing with the car he gave me. When I was 16 and in a high school program that allowed me to work full-time (wassup PACE; I got a 4.0 all through high school and college), I went and plunked down $3k on a crappy Buick, took the other car, drove it back to his place, and left the keys on the kitchen counter. Then I packed up my shit and moved in with one of my friends. He couldn't find me for two months, meanwhile I was actually making some money, and then I got into college through the high-school college credit program.

I eventually got back in touch with him because he needed to sign some papers (income tax, apartment rental, cell phone contract - all that stuff needs a parent's signature at 17; the bastard would not emancipate me), and he convinced me that I shouldn't be at work in college, he should be taking care of me. That turned into more guilt-trips and requests to use my car. He caused me to lose a few jobs, and then bailed me out like a hero for it. More guilt trips ensued. I made a few more heroic breaks for independence, but he always found me, and he always dragged me back in with gifts and financial help.

After a few years of that shit, I ran away to China when I was 20. I'm 26 now, and I sincerely wonder why I didn't do it sooner. I should have bolted for one of the coasts when I was 18 and worked it out myself. Instead I let him sweet talk me back, every time. And every time he managed to mindfuck me until I felt like I'd ruined everything and wanted to start over.

I taught English for awhile here, which isn't the most fun, but it pays the bills, and after a few years I got the language down, started translating, and that led me to movies. Now I work on Jet Li projects and get asked to lecture film translation classes, and I've got a couple directors with decent name recognition asking if I'd like to collaborate on writing their next pieces. I'm not especially talented or creative, I think, but I'm addicted to cultural tropes and don't feel alive if I don't have access to those. In the States I was a media junkie, and I set out to become the same in China.

More than that, I'm happily married. What's really interesting about that is that I've married into an independently wealthy family that offers their support unconditionally. Rather than saying "We'll buy you a car," and then yelling at us about our irresponsible choices, my wife's parents say "We've got a car here if you need it for the weekend." They demand responsibility and would be on my ass in an instant if I stopped working, but they also say, "Look, we've got your back if you really can't handle yourself. We're always here. Don't be afraid to ask." They also stay clear of criticizing our goals. They've never criticized my wife's choice to become a yoga teacher, or mine to work in the less lucrative cultural industries rather than start an education company or do import/export. All they've asked is that we do a good job at it. My wife and I make a point of not asking, because we haven't needed their help up to now. We live in one of their houses, and it's understood that we pay for upkeep. Forget cultural differences; that is what a healthy family with money acts like.

So where am I going with all this? Well, your dad sounds a lot like mine. The cheating, the gifting, the guilt. You really can't know what an influence that has on your life until you get out from under it! And when you leave someone like that alone, they will find you. They crave the control, the gratitude. That's where they get their meaning. He will track you down and dangle material gifts in your face before you have the time to establish a new life for yourself, and you'll kick yourself every time you don't take them, because it could solve whatever crisis you're having, and you'll feel like shit when you do take them, because he'll have you under his thumb again.

Years before I was born, he was in a relationship with this woman who had children. He regularly tells a story about having to bail one of those children out of credit card debt. He paid for this same pseudo-daughter's airfare for a recent vacation, sends her a large Christmas gift every year, et cetera. When she went on vacation with us and had him buy her groceries, I told him later that it made me uncomfortable to see her rely on him financially at her age.
posted by gacxllr9 at 10:56 AM on June 12 [+] [!]

Emphasis mine. You think he won't give you the money if you ask hard enough? He will. Oh, he will. You just have to dance to his tune. Play his manipulation games, and all is yours for the asking. I've been there.

I know you want to pay him back, but continued involvement with this man will only make your life worse. If you play his passive-aggressive games, you're encouraging him. Get out of that house and out of Boston. Now. Get to the other coast. Work the summer and then get thee to Chicago, Austin, Minneapolis, Seattle. Anywhere you can go where he doesn't have the time or influence to find you and make your life hell. Come to China and teach English for two years while you save and make contacts with people here. You can easily get a job paying $2k a month and live off of $300 of that, and the opportunities for entrepreneurs are many. You can do the same in many other places. Find a friend's couch to crash on, get a kickass job this summer, maybe go work on an oil rig in BC, maybe go shrimping in Alaska. You'll have your $20 and more to spare in just a few months, AND you'll have a whole new perspective on a life without his meddling.

The advice here about going back to college is basically true. You can go back to any school you want, any time you want. I'm probably going to do the same next year, once I get something set up with my contacts in Beijing that will keep the work flowing once I'm in the States. You can also regain his trust anytime you want. But you do it when money is out of the equation. My father and I have an amicable relationship from a distance, he's come to visit me, we're okay. The stuff in the past is in the past, and I don't let him buy me anything anymore. If anything, I pay for him.

Don't be a victim of this kind of parenting. Get out.
posted by saysthis at 5:51 AM on June 13, 2010 [5 favorites]

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