Should I or should I not finish college?
July 18, 2007 12:32 PM   Subscribe

Should I or should I not finish college?

Ever since I was a little kid I’ve lived in a turbulent household with a verbally abusive, yelling father. I also had a bipolar brother who didn’t make things easy. My mom just ignored everything. When I was 19 my mom finally separated from my dad and I lived with her in her new home. She began dating people and going out with friends constantly and soon it didn’t feel like I was living with my mother but with some younger sister who constantly bitched at me. We fought a lot over ridiculous things that she would start (ex- my 15 minute showers are too long), and she wanted me to move back in with my dad. So when I was 20 I moved in with my dad who I have never had a good relationship or any relationship with. In the beginning we were just two people living together and we didn’t have conversations or anything but we were cordial to each other. I still kept trying to spend time with my mom and go over to her house a lot. She never invited me over or out with her and the only time I saw her was when I went over there myself. Her boyfriend’s daughter who is a few years older than me became really close to her and then my mom started referring to her as her “other daughter” around me. She would talk to her on the phone everyday and invite her over. Things she never did with me. I really started just feeling left out and pushed away and some other things happened that made it feel worse so I just stopped contact with my mother.

I’ve gone through depression on and off since I was 15. Just until January I started getting depressed again. In March it became so bad that I stopped going to school and went back on medication. I’ve been on medication for months and it’s not working like it did before. The depression I have now is different than before. This time I can’t stop thinking about just bad memories from my childhood and my past relating to my family. It’s just thousands of thoughts cycling through my head 24/7. I’ll be cleaning the dishes and then start crying uncontrollably thinking about a moment when my dad was screaming at me. I started seeing a psychiatrist and he said that I am having post-traumatic stress from my childhood. He also said I have major depressive disorder.

Later in the week I was having another crying episode alone in my room and I felt so alone because I had no one in my family or any friends to help me (even though my dad was just downstairs). I drove myself to the hospital and checked in for depression. I talked to a social worker and she asked if I wanted her to call my dad. I said that he really wouldn’t care because he just doesn’t care that I’m depressed. She called him and he came and he acted like nothing was wrong and didn’t say anything. I said that I was feeling really depressed and that no one in the family was trying to help or talk to me. He said “we all have a lot on our plate.”

I went home and he didn’t say anything to me and then the next morning he started vacuuming the carpet outside my room. I asked if he could stop doing that because of the noise right now and he just ignored me. Later that day I said that I felt really offended about the way he acted in the hospital and the next day after I told him I am depressed. I also said that the psychiatrist said I’m suffering trauma from my childhood. He interrupted me and starting saying “oh poor you! when I was a kid I was kicked out of the house and on and on.......” Then he went on about how he is financially supporting me in school and everything and I said this has nothing to do with material possessions, and then he said I was egotistical and “poor me.” I was really so stunned after that because I had no idea he had been thinking that way all along.

I told him that I’m going to move out and I don’t need him to support me financially because I will take out student loans and get a job. I just need to get out of this house. I feel like being in this house that I grew up in with bad memories and with the man who gave these memories is not helping me get through this depression, but only worsening it. A few days after I had that talk with my dad, my much older sister emailed me saying that I need to “get over it and take responsibility for my life” and that no parent is perfect and that I still have a good life despite the past. Yes materially I do have a good life, but in my head I cannot stop being so sad and depressed. That is another thing that is hard is everyone around me is saying I have no reason to be depressed and I’m being dramatic. But I feel like this and I can’t stop so it makes me feel like I’m going crazy.

I have never been on my own or supported myself financially. I am already applying for jobs, but I can’t get student loans because I missed the deadline. I only have 2 years of college finished. I could have finished 2 years ago but I have been dragging my feet from the off and on depression. I don’t know whether I should even finish college because first I don’t think I can mentally do it quick enough (the normal 12hr semesters) and secondly I don’t want to take out a ton of student loans and be in debt when I don’t even know if I can finish. I also don’t really need a college degree for the job I want. I just want to teach English as a foreign language abroad. I know it is helpful if you have a degree, but it isn’t required. I don’t think I can stay in this particular city going to school and work 24/7 for 2+ more years like this. Should I just leave and get TESOL certification and start teaching? Am I really going to regret not getting a college degree? Does anyone have any advice on leaving home and being out on their own for the first time?
posted by koshka to Human Relations (36 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Besides all the other stuff you have going on, you've already done 2 years worth, so why not just finish up the last 2 years? Having a college degree, depending on what type of field you get into, can make a huge difference in the chance that you'll get a job.
posted by k8t at 12:45 PM on July 18, 2007

Teaching english abroad is something that most people only do for a few years, and then they come back. Or, if they stay, it's because they have a degree and can get a half-decent teaching job in the country they are in. The non-degree requirement teaching jobs are not 'careers' - they are jobs that people take so that they can go travel and have an adventure.

7/8ths of your question have nothing to do with college. It has to do with your life and your depression. You obviously need someone to talk to, someone better than the strangers on the internet. Please please find that someone. Or find a doctor or counsellor or psychologist. You are right to think that you will have a hard time finishing college if you are suffering from depression. But you will have a much harder life if you don't finish college at all. Struggling to make ends meet will not make your life any mentally easier to handle. Maybe take a year off - get a job with insurance, get a doctor, get your head in a better place, save some money, and then go back to school and finish your degree.
posted by Kololo at 12:45 PM on July 18, 2007 [4 favorites]

Wow. That's a hard case. Honestly, I left home very early for somewhat similar reasons and didn't regret it. Leaving home and fending for myself was one of the hardest things I'd ever done, but I'm glad I did it. If you feel like you need to get out of your current living situation, than get out as soon as you can.

As for college. That's a tough question too. I wasn't able to afford college when I first left home and just got by taking random classes at a local community college. Later (way too late, in some ways) I did finally go back to a four year college and finish my degree.

What I'm trying to say is this: You want to finish college, but you may have to take some time away in order to get yourself properly situated. Try, however, try very hard to go back as soon as possible. The longer one is out of school the harder it is to return and the harder it is to be successful. Once you return you will be working or studying 24/7, but only for a little while and the benefits will be worth it in the end.

And finally, the depression. You may just have to live a life fighting your demons, but you don't have to fight alone. Many colleges have student services, mental health services and programs for people like yourself. One advantage to staying in college is you will have access to a medical infrastructure. Use it.
posted by elwoodwiles at 12:47 PM on July 18, 2007

wow. you have a lot to deal with. so don't finish college now. get away, teach english somewhere. save some money. feel better.

but finish college as soon as you can.
posted by uaudio at 12:59 PM on July 18, 2007

Why not go travel and teach English for a bit, nothing stopping you other than inertia. I taught here for a while and had a great time (you'll have no costs to worry about). You need to get out of the house, and yes you should finish college. Shake things up a bit, get out of the rut, let Dad sit and stew and sort his own life out. Good luck, and sooner or later everything changes so try not to fret...
posted by zeoslap at 1:05 PM on July 18, 2007 [1 favorite]

Your first priority needs to be treating your depression. All the crap your family has put you through, and is still putting you through, may be the trigger for your depression, but unfortunately simply getting away from the trigger doesn't get rid of the depression. Depression is invidious that way.

If staying in college means you have access to psychiatric/psychological/counseling resources you wouldn't otherwise have, I'd say that's a strong argument in favor of staying there. I'd definitely consider part-time schooling for a semester or two to reduce the stress that puts on you, while still allowing yourself to take advantage of the school's resources.

OTOH, if you'll be able to get treatment for your depression if you quit and do something else, then the balance between the options becomes more even.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 1:17 PM on July 18, 2007 [1 favorite]

Everything you wrote about your difficult family life is completely irrelevant to my answer, but for what it's worth, my answer is "Absolutely without-a-shadow-of-doubt you should finish college."

There are many schools overseas who won't even look at you twice if you don't have a college degree. Those that take you will be lower paying, in less attractive areas, with fewer resources. A college degree is something that you will always have and will always open doors for you. A college degree today is like a high school diploma 20 years ago. Does it mean you can't succeed without one? No, but it will be a lot harder to do.

You've put in two years of work. Suck it up, put in another two, and then travel the world as you like. The debt will be worth it, and you can pay it down relatively quickly once you are working abroad.
posted by modernnomad at 1:18 PM on July 18, 2007

I left early for similar reasons and regretted it quite a lot. There just isn't much in the town where I grew up for someone who doesn't have a college education -- actually, there isn't that much there for someone who DOES, but at least with my degree I was able to get away. In the short run, dropping out of school may seem like a good idea...but the kind of work that tends to be available to people without degrees starts taking a pretty heavy toll by the time you hit your late twenties (if not sooner). That was about the time I decided I needed to finish. But I think I could have spared myself a great deal of hardship and bullshit had I finished some years sooner. And speaking as someone else who has dealt with depression and other such personal demons, I have to say that grueling wage slavery and the abject poverty that comes with rarely made me feel any better about things. Money and security doesn't make those feelings go away; but really, it's a lot more pleasant to be emotionally tormented in physical comfort and relative luxury than not. Believe me. There's just no comparison.

I agree, though, that you should speak to a professional about your depression and PTSD, as well as how best to finish school without having to stay in your present circumstances while doing it. I don't think it'll be as tough as you may fear.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 1:26 PM on July 18, 2007 [1 favorite]

You should consider finishing college, given your job aspirations.

Have you checked out the forums at ESL Cafe? Some discussions about finding ESL teaching positions without a degree here and here.
posted by needled at 1:28 PM on July 18, 2007

Finish school.
posted by OmieWise at 1:34 PM on July 18, 2007

Personally, I would get out of the house and finish up college as quickly as possible, financial consequences be damned. But then, I paid off $40K in student loans after I finished and found it entirely manageable. You could take a year off, during which you either work to earn up money or go abroad and teach. During that time, research what you need to do to get the best financial aid possible. You probably have to wait till the next deadline. It may be best to officially declare financial independence from your family. Transfer to a state school for the most affordable education and get loans for the rest. Move out of the family home into an apartment with as many roommates as possible, ideally somewhere close to lots of jobs and public transportation. During summers and vacations, work as many jobs as you can (9-5 during the day, catering or bar or restaurant or childcare at night/weekends). During the school year, work at least 20 hours a week, unless that would mess up your financial package.
posted by xo at 1:36 PM on July 18, 2007

Wow. Much empathy. Battling depression is tough, especially with no support from your family.

Do not buy into their bullshit about how you're egotistical and to just get over it.

You have a life-threatening illness, and getting that illness under control is your most important job right now.

I strongly advise against heading off to teach in a foreign country, with all the stress and dislocation that entails, in the state you're in right now.

I think you should take a year off school and make getting help for your depression your highest priority. As soon as you can manage it, move out of your dad's place and become financially independent.

Once you have established a life of your own and are getting some relief from your depression, then you can decide whether to go back to school or travel for a while first.

Luck, strength, and support to you, koshka. Please get the help you need.
posted by ottereroticist at 1:37 PM on July 18, 2007 [2 favorites]

Finish college now. The longer you wait, the harder it is to go back. It sounds like part of your problem is that you're not happy where you are in life. A college degree will help alleviate some of those problems and allow you to focus on fixing the rest.
posted by fusinski at 1:42 PM on July 18, 2007

Also, the answer to "Am I really going to regret not getting a college degree?" is an extremely likely and resounding YES. Not having a college degree seriously limits your career options, and what you want to do now vs. what you want to do later are probably going to be vastly different.
posted by fusinski at 1:45 PM on July 18, 2007

It's not unreasonable to expect your parents to treat you well. Don't let your parents make you feel bad for wanting to feel loved. Maybe your Dad did have it tough as a kid -- but that's not a good reason for him to treat you badly. It may well be a cause, in a way, but you're within your rights to hope for better, and to go looking for other people who will treat you better.

Good luck. I hope there's someone at your school who can help you figure out the practicalities of finishing school later.
posted by amtho at 1:49 PM on July 18, 2007

#1 Get help for your depression - you can make good decisions with your thinking messed up by depression. You need a therapist you can talk with, not just meds.

#2 Do not go to a foreign country until you have resolved your depression - you will be more alone and with fewer resources available.

#3 Talk to someone at your school - either the counseling center or the academic advising about your choices.

#4 Your family has no clue what you are going through and they do not understand the very real effects of depression. However, your father cares about you enough to let you live in his home, pay for your expenses and show up at the hospital when he calls. He is not the perfect parent and it may not be appropriate to live with him right now. However, if you can see that he is doing the best he can given what he grew up with, maybe there is way you can get his cooperation. Perhaps if you move you, you pay for living expenses and he still pays for tuition.
posted by metahawk at 1:56 PM on July 18, 2007

From someone who did not finish college (yet, I start again after I retire from the military in 19 months): Finish college.

It may help to set your goal as leaving THE DAY you get your diploma and never coming back. Look forward to that day. Plan for it, set it up so on that day you have plane tickets in hand, a place to go, and some job leads in the place you're going. Just knowing the end has a definite date may help immensely. In the meantime see if you can see a counselor, either your own or a school-provided one.
posted by ctmf at 2:18 PM on July 18, 2007

Depression is a morale killer. It will stalk you down and make you think that you are incapable, that everything is too challenging, and all you want to do is pull the covers up over your head.

Or run away.

Your home life is awful. I can so understand why you want to get away. But the depression will stay with you unless you get treatment.

Slow down on the schooling, if you need to, but don't give it up. You WILL regret it if you don't get your degree. And people who stop and go back...well, the vast majority of them never DO go back. So don't overload yourself with credit hours, but hang in there. You've missed the student loans for this year, but that doesn't mean you can't get them next year.

So what can you do right now?

1. Have you actually talked to your Dad about living on campus? Is it a possibility? Being around others who are working toward the same goal will help keep you motivated. And the positive benefits of being in an encouraging environment will make an enormous difference. If he talks about your sense of entitlement, etc., walk away. You don't need that right now. If this doesn't work, go to 2.

2. Talk to the psychiatrist who diagnosed you about your problems at home in a very specific way: "I AM suffering from PTSD, and I need to remove myself from this negative environment, but the process of doing it on my own is overwhelming right now." You are not the only one who has ever been in this situation. There must be some practical advice he/she can give you. If you are not on medication for your depression, you should discuss that, too.

3. Also, set some short-term goals with the help of your psychiatrist. If you can't move out right now, stay out of the house as much as possible. Find a support group. Get out in the fresh air and exercise if you can; this isn't trite "put a smile on your face" advice: exercise and sunlight help raise serotonin levels.

Be really honest with your answer to this: do you "just want to teach ESOL" because you feel that is all you could do? Do you lack confidence? Or is teaching something that you are really passionate about?

If you are doubting yourself, which is certainly understandable after all the verbal abuse and the home situation you describe, and you are in the middle of a major depressive episode, this is NOT the right time to make a life-altering decision on such a huge scale as moving to another country completely. Impulsive decisions are also a very common side effect of depression--people burn all their bridges behind them, and then regret it later when they have to pick up the pieces and start over.

If you want to talk to someone who has been through similar depressive episodes, email me. It's in my profile, and I don't care if you vent a little.

Good luck! Hang in there. You will get through this.
posted by misha at 2:45 PM on July 18, 2007 [1 favorite]

Yes, please finish college. It will give you a platform for moving beyond your past.

I wish you the best of luck.
posted by spec80 at 3:03 PM on July 18, 2007

One more thought: keep in mind that your dad's rationale is "I was treated like crap and turned out fine, so you can deal with it too." Only, he didn't turn out fine: he turned into someone who is an abuser. Don't let him shame you into beleiving that your depression is your fault, or that it's selfish or babyish or whatever. I agree with the posters above that say you should get away from your dad. (Would it be possible to go live with your mom again, if money is truly going to be what prevents you from leaving him? She sounds crappy, but like the lesser of two evils, perhaps.)
posted by Kololo at 3:06 PM on July 18, 2007 [2 favorites]

If these people were not related by blood would you still associate with them? If not, there's really no reason to stick around in such a painful situation. While I agree that dealing with the depression should be a top priority, getting out from under the boot of your abusers is a very good first step in that direction.

It can be near impossible for you to develop your own identity while around your family. Everyone has their image of who your are in their heads and they will keep projecting that image onto you. Get away and figure out who you are when nobody is telling you who you are.
posted by trinity8-director at 3:17 PM on July 18, 2007

Dropping out of school will only make you feel worse, that you have failed to accomplish an important goal. Take a semester or a year off and find a job. Make some money, apply for loans next year, get help for your depression, get a feeling for what it is like working and living on your own. Then go back to school.
posted by sophist at 3:28 PM on July 18, 2007

Thanks for the responses. To answer some questions: I do want to make teaching English a career because this is what I’ve always wanted to do. I’m from Russia originally but I live in the US. I really want to go back to Russia to be with my friends and I can teach English there, too. Maybe if I don’t like it there then I can go somewhere else to teach English. But I do want to get my degree badly, I just often feel like it’s impossible. I think I will take a semester off to work fulltime and then go back to school while still working. I am seeing a therapist also. She is really helpful but I’ve only been seeing her for a few weeks. I tried talking to my dad again but it didn’t go anywhere, so I am going to live with a friend until I find a place to rent.

Thanks again everyone.
posted by koshka at 4:10 PM on July 18, 2007

Have you talked with the people in the financial aid office at your school? You should. I don't remember the rules on submitting a late FAFSA, but they will know if it's possible. They may also know about other options that will help you be able to stay in school. I wouldn't worry about the debt issue (though others would disagree). Odds are that your degree will turn out to have been worth borrowing money for.

My advice is to stay in school...don't take time off! I went through severe and suicidal depressions throughout all of my college years, but I knew one thing for certain - being in school wasn't helping, but I wasn't going to let depression stop me from getting that degree. And you know you need to finish the degree. Just in case you're not convinced, You. Need. To. Finish. College.

Like others have mentioned, being in school has the added benefit of ensuring you have access to some sort of mental health providers. Absolutely take advantage of this.

I don't have experience with the family/household issues you are going through, but one of my parents went through similar stuff. Based on that, I would suggest that you figure out how to live on your own, whether that's on campus or off. I think that would be a huge help to you. I don't think you're "post-trauma"'re in the thick of it. Get out, so you have more control over how much stress you're facing every day.

Trust yourself to know how you feel, and don't let anyone tell you otherwise (even if it's someone whose job is to help you with the depression...). Spend your energy fighting the depression, rather than trying to figure out if it's real.

I know your instinct is to stick your head in the sand, or run away (from school and family both). Avail yourself of the resources you have, make a plan, and don't get too down on yourself when you mess up. Make up your mind about what is non-negotiable for you (for example, finishing your degree, living away from your parents). And, as ctmf mentioned, college isn't going to last forever (I know it seems that way right now). Do whatever you have to do to finish without taking a complete break from 2 short years, you'll be glad you forged ahead.

Be strong, and be kind to yourself.

posted by splendid animal at 4:36 PM on July 18, 2007

I agree with DevilsAdvocate. The college should provide you with support. You probably need to slow down with college for a semester while you get some talking treatment (keep taking the meds if you are though). As someone else said, finishing college will give you the platform to move beyond your past.
posted by singingfish at 4:47 PM on July 18, 2007

I suggest continuing school if it is at all possible. I wish so much every day that I had just taken the loans 7 years ago and finished then. In that time tuition has jumped significantly, while the amount of loan and grant money available has not. Rents have increased, and so has the cost of gas.

Besides all the money I would have "saved" by finishing then, there's also just the factor of time. I'm only 25 now, but I'll finish my undergrad at 27 and I will probably finish a PhD between 34 and 40. I also want to have kids in the nearer future. So. Do it.

1. Deal with the depression via professional help.
2. Stay in school. Accept your father's financial help if that is possible, but don't be ashamed of loans if it's not.

Feel free to email me.
posted by bilabial at 4:52 PM on July 18, 2007

I was in pretty much your situation - living with crazy people who didn't much care about my problems, while trying to go to school. I left the house and worked shitty jobs for awhile. Then I really left - as in, went 1500 miles away - and finished college in another state. It was the best decision I have ever made, and allowed me to become a full person outside of my family. Actually, I wish I'd never moved back, but then I wouldn't have met my fiance blah blah blah.

Take a breather on school. Work a shitty job or two - it won't ruin your life and it builds character. Plus it gives you something to focus on other than your family and depression. Then go back to school when you're ready.
posted by desjardins at 4:52 PM on July 18, 2007

If you move back to Russia, your American degree will be worth more than no degree at all.
posted by k8t at 5:15 PM on July 18, 2007

Also, the "working" part... are you legally allowed to work in the U.S.? If you're a foreign student, you'll have trouble finding a job.
posted by k8t at 5:16 PM on July 18, 2007

Koshka - from your last response, it sounds like you are on your way to making those good choices (seeing a therapist, living with a friend, taking a break but finishing school) a reality. Good luck with everything, you sound like you have a good head on your shoulders!
posted by Kololo at 7:09 PM on July 18, 2007

Plenty of good suggestions above, so I'll give a tiny tip from my experience on this question: "Does anyone have any advice on leaving home and being out on their own for the first time?"

I lived out of home & supported myself the whole way through 5yrs of undergrad Uni, studying full-time & working part-time. In this regard, call centres are your friend!

Because of variations throughout the day in the volume of calls, they are usually set up with shortish shifts of, say, 4hrs, staggered to start at all kinds of hours (day and night!) to align with when the customers are ringing. You can fit these in with your class schedule pretty easily, and because most call centres have a large number of employees, the churn makes it easy to swap shifts when needed, or move your permanent shifts around when a new semester brings a new timetable, etc. You can also easily pick up extra shifts during holidays to build up some savings for term.

Also, the large number of workers means that there's less pressure on you from the boss (not like if you were waiting tables & you get a call that you HAVE to be in tonite becoz Joe is sick...). This also makes it easy to call in sick when you need to finish an essay or study for an exam, without anybody particularly noticing or caring.
posted by UbuRoivas at 7:53 PM on July 18, 2007

This is a tough situation. But whatever you do I would advise against traveling abroad to teach English. Moving to a foreign country and adjusting there is difficult enough for psychologically healthy people. It is extremely possible the stress and initial isolation of the situation will make things worse--then you'll be doing yourself and your students a disservice.
posted by schroedinger at 7:57 PM on July 18, 2007

Huh, eight hours later I read your follow-up and notice you're from Russia. So ignore me!
posted by schroedinger at 4:18 AM on July 19, 2007

I dropped out of college last spring because my depression was out of control and being in school made it a lot worse. I can honestly say it was the best decision I have ever made. If you can't do college right now, there's nothing wrong with that, and there's nothing wrong with you. Taking care of yourself is more important.

With that said, I have a supportive family who took me in, fed me for free, and never charged rent so I could work 70 hours a week and save up to move out on my own. It's going to be hard without that support network, but most things that are worth it are. Talk to a therapist and get some input, and see what resources are available to you.

Worry about making yourself happy first, and the rest will follow.
posted by madetoheal at 3:38 PM on July 19, 2007

@ k8t - no, I am an immigrant since I was a kid so I can work here.

Thanks Kololo for your responses. I really appreciate it.

And everyone cпасибо большое :)
posted by koshka at 6:27 PM on July 20, 2007

Jumping in rather late, but... two years ago I was basically where you are now. Severely depressed, receiving little to no emotional support from the few people who were supposedly closest to me, and feeling simultaneously desperate to flee and utterly stuck because everyone was telling me that I'd fail because I resisted doing exactly what they told me to do (which, like you, involved "just snapping out of it already", which I'm sincerely hoping you know is a complete crock of shit). Like you, I realized that the only chance I had of getting past my depression was to cut ties of dependence. All of them. And for me this amounted to abandoning school, moving to a tiny rented room, and taking a mind-numbing data entry job while paying off my relatively small school debt to my parents. It had nothing to do, as the bitchier of my acquaintance would suggest, with taking a hard dose of reality- for over half my life, my reality had been harder than they could have imagined- and everything to do with having the time, space, and true freedom to rebuild myself as a human being on my own terms. Congratulations for making it to this point.
It's wonderful that you have a clear idea of what you'd like to do. I think you should do it, but that you would probably be better off easing yourself into it. While I have not taught abroad, I seriously considered it at one point, and spoke with several people who had done it. To me, it seemed as though the more independent a person was before they went to teach, the happier they were while teaching. Those who hadn't lived on their own except at university, or who had never supported themselves, talked much more of isolation and anxiety and homesickness (even when home wasn't that great). I came to the conclusion that while getting several thousand miles away from the places I had been so unhappy sounded marvelous, I shouldn't do it until my main motivation wasn't escape, because I'd been living in a holding pattern long enough. For me, it wouldn't have been possible for me to heal and mend to the extent that I have if I had thrown myself headlong into something that I couldn't honestly have imagined myself doing for more than a few years. It was extremely important to me to plan at least that far ahead because it seemed that otherwise I was just marking time until... something else happened to me. Yeah, not really the way I wanted to live.
It wasn't feasable, however, for me to continue on with school right away. I had no intention of half-assing it further and getting a degree for the sake of having a degree, when (based upon my new experience) I knew that I could survive adequately until I was in a better state of mind on the salary I was getting without one. You're right to have reservations about it in light of potentially racking up a large debt for something to which you aren't sure you have the energy and stability to give your best effort right now. Two years later, I'm working for an employer that provides tuition assistance, and have just been readmitted to school, where I'll be taking classes very slowly and changing majors to a degree that fits with my revised life plan. If I'd stayed, I'd have flunked out or hurt myself, pure and simple. I regret absolutely nothing about taking time off.
I highly, highly recommend this route, or some version of it. There is nothing at all wrong with taking the time to do things in whatever way is right for you. Your idea of a semester off to work is great. Preferably in some sort of teaching or leading capacity (day camps, presenter of exhibits at a museum, test preparation tutoring and the like) or office work. Retail or food service will probably just make you hate people unless you've done it before and really liked it, and if you do decide to stay where you are, it's sort of dead-end. Temping can be a good alternative if you can't find something permanent right away. Also, it's quite possible that there are volunteer opportunities in your city for teaching English as a second language, and that'd be great experience and possibly get you a better placement if you do go abroad.
As one who's been there, I applaud your resolve and your good work so far. Email in profile, if there's anything you feel like asking after my overlong reply!
posted by Gingersnap at 8:12 AM on July 22, 2007

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