Academic Purgatory

Athena ScalziBack in January, I briefly returned to the site to post a piece on how I did at community college during my semester away from the blog (not well, in case you missed it). And since I am once again returning to the blog after yet another semester, I thought I’d update y’all on how spring semester went in comparison to fall semester.

Honestly, not much better.

I was taking Intro to Anthropology, as well as Physical Geology, with anthropology being online and geology being in person on Tuesdays and Thursdays. It seemed so manageable, so much easier than every previous semester I had ever been through, and yet I only passed one out of the two. Much to my surprise, the one I ended up passing was geology, which was honestly a lot harder than anthropology (in my opinion).

The semester started out the same as any other; with me in sixth gear, showing up to every class, completing every assignment to the absolute best of my ability, and I even made flashcards! I was managing to do everything I was supposed to be doing, and on time no less, even though I hated doing it.

I had an A in both classes until the middle of March, the halfway point of the semester. And then they both started slipping, as they always do. As per usual, I just got so tired of doing weekly assignments, watching video after video, completing lab after lab. I was just fed up with the never-ending onslaught of shit I didn’t care about.

And it’s not that I don’t find anthropology or geology interesting, or that I don’t like learning about some of the content, I just don’t want to write papers or be tested over it. It seems so meaningless to be tested on whether or not I can identify diorite or muscovite. Are they cool rocks? Sure. Do I think it’s essential to learn their chemical composition and then be graded over it? Not really.

I eventually stopped logging onto my anthropology class entirely, and watched from afar as my grade plummeted from an A to an F, simply because I didn’t do any of the assignments. I didn’t even bother to look at what the assignments were! I just knew I didn’t want to do them, so I didn’t.

As for geology, I only slid to a C before I realized I should maybe try to pass at least one class out of the entire year of failure, so I have something, anything, to show for the past year.

So how did I manage to pass geology? Well, every test was open book, and every lab was group work. I never really learned anything. I just scraped by on what info I could find in the book and the hard work of my fellow classmates. If it hadn’t been for the girl sitting next to me, and the entire textbook at my fingertips, I genuinely don’t think I would’ve come even remotely close to passing.

I have nothing to show for my semester of geology, other than knowing that olivine crystallizes at 1200 degrees, whilst quartz crystallizes at 600 degrees. Truly remarkable.

On the bright side, I wasn’t the only one that had no idea what the hell was going on in class. In fact, before every class, all ten of my classmates and I would talk about how we didn’t understand a single thing, how we just bullshitted every question, squeaked by on answers we found online, none of it truly made any sense to us. We just needed to pass, that doesn’t mean we actually had to learn anything.

And that’s how all of college is, actually. You just need an A. You don’t need to know what the fuck is going on, as long as you pass, and then you get your little paper. That’s all that matters in the end. That damn piece of fucking paper. The bane of my existence and the object of all my desires (anyone watching Bridgerton?).

I’m so sick of striving for something that says “I’m worthy”. Because without that thing, I feel worthless. And the longer it takes me to get it, the more semesters I waste, the more F’s I get along the way, the worse I feel.

Who am I without that paper? A failure? A waste of space? It feels that way.

If it hurts so bad, why don’t I just pass? Why can’t I just do what needs to be done? Why can’t I do the one thing that would make this feeling go away forever? I just want it to be over, and it feels like it never will be. There’s always more. After my associates, I’ll need a bachelors, because lord knows there’s nothing you can do with just an associates nowadays. And honestly, is a bachelors even worth anything anymore? You practically need a masters to make a decent salary at this point.

In my farewell post back in August, I said all I had to do was pass eight classes. Four in the fall, four in the spring, and I would finally have my associates. But I only passed one. One fucking class out of what was supposed to be eight. I was supposed to be done right now. But there’s still seven classes to go. And five of those classes are ones I already took that I failed that I now have to retake! So that feels very not good.

So, I passed one class, making it the first I’ve passed since Fall Semester 2019 at Miami. So at least that’s something.

Currently, I’m debating whether or not to go back in the fall. Originally, I was supposed to do classes over the summer, but I think I might go insane if I do, so instead I am going to do lots of fun things this summer and try to enjoy life a little!

But, yeah, that’s where I’m at right now, in degree-less limbo. A purgatory of the same courses over and over again. A vast expanse of transcripts filled with F’s and W’s.

We’ll see how long I remain there.


136 Comments on “Academic Purgatory”

  1. Hey Athena,

    I just want to comment as a dad who has a daughter who has struggled with school as you are. I really just want to say that it gets better. You’re still growing and are in a world that is far more chaotic than what your dad and I grew up in (I grew up outside of Dayton). It’s hard to know what is important and what is just ticking boxes. So cut yourself some slack ( a very 80s concept) and be compassionate with yourself.

    With lots of empathy. A fan.

  2. I am so sorry to read that you’re feeling like a failure — but it’s just a square peg in a round hole situation. Clearly an academic situation is not for you right now — and may never be. That’s OK as your worth as a human being is not whether you have an AA or a BA or even a PhD, but whether you are a kind soul and are making the world a better place. I let my son drop out of high school because it was such a bad fit. He is a very happy 25 year old musician now. Focus on doing what you love and maybe just leave the whole academia thing alone for now. It really is not for everyone.

  3. Reading your travails with college, Athena, sounds a lot to me like the experiences Profoundly Gifted kids have dealing with the meaningless grind of schoolwork meant for average children. Tammy and I volunteered for a PG organization for several years back in the Nineties/early Aughts, which is why your story sounds much like ones we heard quite a bit.

    I’m not up on college, but it sounds to me like you might be better off taking or or two intensive shorter classes at at time rather than the regular carrying 12-18 credits a semester. There has to be a college program that runs more along those lines which might get you over the hump of feeling you just keep failing.

    Actually, I Googled it, and there is! It’s called a “quarter system” and only lasts ten weeks rather than a semester’s fifteen. Have you considered looking into something like that?

  4. Your writing and clear self-analysis proclaim your intelligence and analytical skills. Why not figure out what you want to do in the world and then only take classes that help you do that? I have two computer science degrees, but who cares about that? Most of what I studied turned out to be useless other than as resume filler. I think you figured it out sooner than I did. Good luck!!

  5. Do you have an exercise routine? I did my masters primarily online (like three or four in-person classes out of 10), and while there are definitely disadvantages to the format the big advantage is that (at least in my program) lectures were recorded. So I would just download them all to my iPhone and instead of listening to music while on the treadmill (or whatever) I’d learn about international tax law and other such riveting subjects.

    It seems like one of the major sticking points is an overwhelming desire to be doing something else whenever you’re doing schoolwork (and believe me, I sympathize). But maybe you can actually do something else at the same time.

  6. Athena,

    Hi. 38 year old who had the same problem as you. I’ve gotten associates, but nerfed out on the bachelor’s.
    At this point, I’d be advising you to look into what you can tolerate for a paycheck. My passions were music and baking. Got a music Associate’s, and a sociology associate’s as well. Now, I am working for an accountancy practice and enjoy the client contact and data entry. Is it my dream? No. Is it something I’m good at and tolerable long-term? Yep. I’m three classes from a management degree so when Covid lets up a little, I’m going to try to finish it.
    I have another friend who also stopped her music career and now is an insurance agent and loves it.
    I just wanted to tell you that I see you.

  7. Have you heard of HealthyGamerGG? It’s run by a psychiatrist on twitch and youtube. What you’re going through sounds similar to what he went through and the videos might help you. There’s also coaching you can pay for, though I haven’t tried it so I don’t know if it’s any good. It might at least help you understand why this is happening.

  8. I have read a lot of your posts on here. You appear to me to be intelligent, insightful, articulate, and at least focused enough to write a couple thousand words on a regular basis.

    Maybe the problem is with the school, not you? Or maybe school just isn’t your path to success, regardless of what you are “supposed” to do?

    Caveat: I completely identify with your school experience. My first year of college, I was an English major. I love reading and writing. I had already read half of the syllabus. I flunked out. Three years later, I went to art school. I barely made it through two years, and only by taking classes which largely allowed me to buy art supplies and play with them.

    Some people aren’t cut out to be students. Do what you love, and do it well. Measure your success in how happy you are, not in degrees, dollars, or the approval of others.

  9. Hey friend–
    I think you’re doing a great job learning that you don’t want to do geology as a career- well done!! And ditto Anthro. Cool. 2 things sorted. These auditions for future careers are telling you that it’s not a love match.
    Regrouping and figuring out how you want to use your energy and how you want to engage in your community is going to be a useful thing to do now that this semester is over. Hope you find some interesting leads.
    –Your preferred Arisia Auntie and Finder of Boys on Beaches.

  10. From what you’ve written, it sounds to me like you are going to college “just to go to college” — no real goals. Sometimes it’s a good idea to hold off on college for awhile and try other things until you have a better idea of where you want your life to go.

    I see college as quite a valuable resource in that it can expose you to a lot of different areas that you might not have considered before. I went to school for aerospace engineering and made it through my junior year before I realized that I really didn’t want to be an engineer. But I invested the time, got good grades, and finished my degree. My diploma got me in the door for my first job (if nothing else, it’s a great key to opportunities) and from there I worked my way into a variety of non-engineering jobs, some of which didn’t even exist when I first graduated. Most of what I learned in college from books and lectures I’ve never used directly but it exposed me to other things which I could take advantage of later on in life, including perserverance, self discipline, mental organization, and analytical thinking among other things.

    As far as your experience with geology and anthropology go, you never know where the opportunity to learn such things will take you; they can apply to all sorts of things that may not be so directly connected such as art, design, and literature, as well as other technical and scientific fields which may at the moment seem unrelated. (I experienced that with chemistry and now really wish I had paid more attention as it would be useful for one of my outside interest.)

    A final word of advice, don’t go to school for grades, go to school to gain understanding — that makes all the difference. My college roommate was from Hong Kong and was a straight-A student in the electrical engineering program. In a discussing grades with him we covered a number of things but most of it distilled down to that point and it really made a big difference in my final years of college _ even when taking courses I was no longer interested in.

    You are in a stage a life where you have some golden opportunities to explore, try different things, and meet people from other cultures and nationalities; take advantage of that.

    Best wishes to you in the future as you search for what is right for you.

  11. Real live academic, big fan your dads works and always like your posts. I’ve had more students not fail, but vanish the last two semesters, I’t’s not easy right now, but Your blog posts are very well written, If you need any info about college at all, ask your parents to google me, I’m easy to find, feel better and take care.

  12. A degree does not make someone worthy of better. Lack of a degree does not make someone UNworthy of better. I have a degree – and I’m not using it. I have a great job that I love (most of the time). I make a decent wage, and I’m almost guaranteed not to lose my job (healthcare). My husband does not have a degree and he gets paid insane money to do what he loves – drive trains. Why drive yourself crazy for a piece of paper that says nothing about who YOU are, when there are so many options open that don’t require it? My son chose not to go to college – and we supported him in that because that piece of paper, for the majority of people at this time, and in this country, is an over-valued waste.

  13. I feel for you. I don’t have any advice, not because I can’t think of anything, but because I rather doubt that my problems are the same as yours, and what does and doesn’t work for me almost certainly won’t speak to you.

    I’ll just note that I get the impression we share some traits – smart, introspective, a sense of values that comes from somewhere other than the approval of others – and I had a horrible time with school, too.

    It was a different sort of horrible. I would have been the first to graduate from college from my family. I got a free ride (which isn’t a free ride, but, hey) from an elite school. At 18, I had no idea how to relate to elite rich kids. I had not idea what I wanted to be doing. And I was worried about the loans building up.

    I told myself I’d take time off and go back. It never happened. Instead, I moved to California about the time this thing called the web happened. As a smart, nerdy person, I made a carrier out of figuring out how to make computers do what I told them. Now it is 30 years later, and I wish I could say I don’t worry about my career, but I do, because I’m a human. But truth be told, I’m fine. I make a large multiple of what anyone else in my family does. They’re probably happier because I’m just not wired for 2.4 houses and a kid game, and that game is an easy way to find contentment. But that has nothing to do with school.

    Of course now is different, but there are still lots of ways to make your own path. I do wish I had a degree – there are things I wanted to try that were foreclosed by that. But it didn’t doom me shit work and misery.

    There are many, many ways to go through life, and all of us choose against most of them.

  14. Thanks for sharing where you are right now. I think it’s great when people share their fails as well as wins – helps us all feel a little more human. I had a similar spectacular start to higher education. For whatever (ha) it’s worth – what worked for me (eventually) was doing community college 1 class at a time, and deciding up front a C was the goal. For a long time it was just my hobby. Sometimes I even passed, but I had to take calc 3 times. Then when I finally stacked up enough credits for an associates, my lower division work for a BS was done – and most of what was left was upper division courses where I actually cared about subject. Another piece of advice – major in what you love, not what brings a paycheck. Which ended up being math for me – despite said calc failures – and bonus, hardly any upper division papers to write!

  15. Also, I wouldn’t worry too much about the masters: a bachelors still means something. Yeah, the market has been flooded a bit, but it remains The Credential: a piece of paper that says you are allowed to apply to jobs that pay living wages. It’s total bullshit, but it’s been this way for a long time and it’s not going to change in the foreseeable future.

    You are… 23, according to your profile. My brother (actually, I think I mentioned him in another thread) is planning to return to school in fall ’22 to get his associate’s (in construction management, I believe), and he’s 26. Assuming everything goes smoothly, he will be 28 when he gets his AAS, and if he decides to get a bachelors (which I doubt, but he might) he’d be about 30 by the time he graduates. You have plenty of time and nothing to be ashamed of.

  16. Yup. This is the college experience in a nutshell. Keep jumping through hoops for years even though you don’t give a shit. The way people are educated in a topic bores them so bad that they don’t want to keep learning even in stuff they ARE interested in. Art history is the most pointless because they make you memorize and regurgitate all this detailed shit about paintings that you literally will never remember again. WHAT IS THE POINT? As you said, “we just needed to pass, that doesn’t mean we actually had to learn anything.” Do I remember most of what my degrees are about (two bachelor’s)? OF COURSE NOT. Who does?!

    I really enjoyed the rant of this, actually, it was very eloquent. I’m pretty sick of college myself because I work at one and see how the sausage is made. I am the provider of “the damn piece of fucking paper” and I’m really tired of them.

    Though I do note that adult life is pretty much a “never-ending onslaught of shit I don’t care about.” My job definitely is. I think college is to inure you to putting up with that stuff for the rest of your life. And the “damned piece of paper” is unfortunately used to rule you out of jobs these days, so it feels like a mandatory hell that doesn’t end.

    Don’t go back to school this summer or fall. I don’t think you are going to end up in dire straits if you don’t. It’s so clearly NOT WORKING for you to slog through BS you can’t make yourself care about it, and it’s just a waste of time and making you feel guilty about it. I don’t think your parents are going to force the issue or kick you out if you don’t go, thank goodness, so that’s not an issue. Traditional college is not working, so… don’t.

    Maybe this place might be more your speed? I don’t know anything about them really, but I know there’s the occasional super unusual college out there that might not be as irritating as traditional colleges are.

  17. Athena, I wish you could talk to my 18 year old self 60 years ago. I had a Navy ROTC scholarship to the University of Washington and my future was assured. But instead I was tossed out of school with a 1.91 after my freshman year and lost my scholarship. I hated math and I had taken anthropology as well, as an “easy credit” and flunked it. I didn’t care about any of my classes and in classes with tiers of seats ascending into the ceiling there was no way for there to be any personal interaction that would stir up some interest. So off to community college for a year where I found a typing instructor I loved and a social science instructor who thought I had potential. I had worked at a pea cannery in the interim summer and knew that this kind of work was not my dream. I applied to Oregon State U in the fall of 1963 and was admitted and got my scholarship back because Richard Nixon’s kid brother, Ed, was my freshman Navy ROTC instructor at UW and he thought i had potential too so he weighed in for me. 60 years later I have retired from the USMC as a colonel, gotten a law degree, and had a rich and rewarding life. I think the lesson I learned is that few of us are gripped by a passion as teens and young adults. So we have to just saw the wood in front of us until we find out what it is. There will come a time when you discover your direction but unless you want to start over at zero when that happens you have to build the foundation now. I thought i was a failure at 18 and I wasn’t – and you aren’t. You are on a journey of discovery and neither the successes or failures on that journey define who you are. PS. Every class I took in college left me with information or analytic procedures that I have used throughout my life. Even those I flunked.

  18. If it helps any, you are still smarter than most of the people I deal with at college. You can actually write coherently and frankly, most of my clientele CANNOT. I’m talking can’t write a coherent email, don’t know where they live, can’t spell their degree name right (and it was economics). I had someone harassing me about their law degree and they misspelled every third word. How the hell my big shot “prestigious” college employer lets these people graduate, I have NO idea.

    So even if you can’t jump through the hoops for the piece of paper, you’re still smarter than THOSE people.

  19. I dropped out of college twice, and it was totally the right thing to do. When I stopped trying to be in a “good” major and did what I truly wanted, it worked out so much better. Got my bachelor’s nine years after I started, no regrets. (If I’d known about ADHD at the time – the 80’s – it might have helped too.)

    Something isn’t fitting for you. Trying to change yourself through sheer willpower doesn’t work – or at least it never has for me, and I’ve tried it a LOT. Happy is better!

    I feel kind of bossy giving advice, but it’s just so hard to watch Sisyphus pushing a rock up a hill….

  20. You are doing fine. College just isn’t for you right now. The people I know who did the best at college are the ones who waited a long time to go. Until they knew why they were going.
    You are spending so much time and energy trying to do this thing you don’t even want to do.
    In the meantime, figure out what type of life makes you happy and how to make a living while you live that life.

  21. FWIW, I don’t see why you should keep trying to Do College when it is such a poor fit for you, unless or until you know you definitely want to do something for which it’s definitely essential to have the degree. And you should stop beating yourself up about it not being for you!

  22. I know there’s a lot of pressure to go to college and get a degree, especially when you’re actually smart (which I’ve always thought of you that way). And it seems like that’s the only path. It’s not. And if you feel the need, maybe it’s not the right path now. No that’s perfectly fine. You can live a happy, full, exciting life crammed to the bring with success without ever getting a degree. And let me disabuse you of the notion that “a higher degree = more money.” That’s also bullshit. I hold a bachelors in Fine Arts for graphic design, and I’ve been relatively successful for 32 years. But when I was 45 I got and Associate to work as an X-ray tech, which I’ve been doing over 7 years AND I MAKE MORE PER HOUR taking x-rays. My wife has 2 bachelors, a masters, and I PhD, and except for 2 years in the 90s I have made more than her every year. So anyway, my advice is to find what you want to do, and then find a way to do that. Taking 1 class a semester is perfectly fine. And don’t take online classes. They’re harder, and you don’t get as much. And if you do continue with classes, identify how YOU learn best (not always what the school thinks is best, ie. I probably would have failed if I joined study groups). But honestly, as someone with multiple degrees married to someone with more degrees, “you need college to be successful” is a pernicious lie.

  23. And one of these days I will successfully edit my posts first and eliminate the typos and horrendous crimes against grammar. See, I r a college gradiet.

  24. Hi Athena, I’m a college professor and my heart just aches for you. So many of my students — especially in the last 3 years — have gone through similar experiences, and I struggle to think of how to help them. There’s no easy answer, and no suggestion will work for every individual. What I worry about most are students who believe that a poor grade means THEY’RE a failure, which is a damn lie that our culture tells us! The main thing, I’ve observed, is to quiet that critical voice in your head that yells at you about what you OUGHT to be doing, and find that voice in your heart that tells you what you really WANT to do. It’s not as easy to hear as some people think. Wishing you the best.

  25. I went back to college after a divorce. Although I studied hard, I clutched on math tests, getting B’s on them until I took a seminar in the Experimental College called “Fear of Success.” What I discovered there was that my clutching was about being afraid I’d become a macho-pig math person like the profs if I did really well in math.
    So, maybe you might find it productive to consider your trials in school from another angle: what are the consequences if you succeed? Are you resisting success for some subconscious reason you haven’t recognized yet?
    (After taking lots more math, I considered getting a degree in math, until I checked out the job openings on the department bulletin board. They were all for actuaries, and I couldn’t picture myself making book on other people’s accidents and deaths at an insurance company for a living.)

  26. So… I loved college. My first 3 semesters I just took classes I wanted to take. Then I sat down and figured out which major would get me the most credit for the classes I had already taken. (In the end, two majors and a minor later, plus 2 classes away from a minor in dance but I didn’t respect the teacher so I decided not to, I graduated with a BA from a small liberal arts school in Ohio that isn’t Kent). I think I may be one of the last generations who were told that getting a degree wasn’t about getting a job; it was about getting an education, and that was an end in itself. But also, my college debt wasn’t crippling. After a year doing AmeriCorps and some luck, it was paid off by the time I was 24.

    My little sister, at 38, still hasn’t finished her associates degree. Her school experience sounds a lot like what you’ve shared. She starts well, and then…. nah.

    I wanted to affirm that there is life without a Bachelor degree …. you need luck (and passing as white and middle class helps)… but my sister worked her way up from working 3 jobs at once (one was a pizza place where she worked for tips and dinner) to being the district manager for a chain of upscale boutiques in New York City.

    I’m sad that higher education is turning into just another service industry; I don’t think it is inevitable in this late stage capitalism world. I’m hoping it will transform again before it dies.

  27. That’s a tough spot. You are probably getting all kinds of advice. My two cents: I got out of my becalmed place when I did actual physical work. Banging boards together with a hammer, cutting wood, watching a structure come together. Learning through doing might come to your rescue now. Hugs, daughter of a guy whose writing I like. Also, when all else fails, I love a good road trip.

  28. Hi Athena, I can relate. Screw college. Have you ever thought about an apprenticeship program, or just finding someone willing to give you on-the-job training? You might be surprised what trade or career you find an interest in, and not every good-paying job requires a college education. Even literary agents don’t have a required educational track they must follow in order to be successful. Other possibilities are out there.

  29. You might be at the wrong institution. The thing I loved about college was that I didn’t have busy work. Even in classes with homework exercises, the homework was optional. I was great at Hebrew and so I didn’t need to do a worksheet to practice. The work should lead to something. I’m guessing the difference in crystallization temps relates to where and how they form. Was that conveyed to you? Was the importance of that conveyed to you?
    Have you ever been evaluated for ADHD? I don’t recall reading about it in any of your academic related pieces. Highly intelligent people with ADHD often cruise through high school and then stumble in college. After all, high school is highly organized for you and things are urgent.
    There’s always self study. I know a lot about a lot (though I claim expertise only in a couple narrow fields). I read all the time about things that interest me, enough that I can at least ask intelligent questions of experts so I can learn more. I won’t say degrees don’t matter. They do. But they matter less than they used to.

  30. College is not a goal. It is a means to an end. So, what is your actual goal? Do you need college to get there? If not, why do something you hate? It is clear that you have the skills and talent to excel, so what is lacking is the will. In my experience, when the will is lacking, there is a reason-often, a good one.

    College is not for everyone, despite the extensive marketing campaigns that make it seem that way. There have even been a few successful people who dropped out of college. Like Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, and Elon Musk. And my friend’s 26-year-old son.

    Your goal should be to earn a living, preferably doing what you love, or at least enjoy. If you can’t do that, then earn a living to support what you love. Don’t guilt yourself into doing what you hate.

  31. “I just don’t want to write papers or be tested over it.”

    That sounds like the point. Given that, and the very solid evidence that it’s not just a mood, I think I’d drop college indefinitely and take another route.

    It doesn’t really matter what the “rational” approach is if it is isn’t working for you.

  32. The fact that you’re doing stuff you hate is a sign that you’re not in the right place. You may want to look at different majors, or you may want to look at things that aren’t college. But you will never do well when you hate what you’re doing. You don’t have to love it, but you shouldn’t hate it.

    As a general rule, I recommend working a basic McJob for a while, just to learn how hard one has to work to be poor. But in your particular case, I both don’t really know you nor your true situation, so that’s just generic advice.

    As far as degrees go, a master’s is vastly overrated. Employers use your BS/BA mostly to prove that you are capable of working on larger projects with limited direction. Most academic fields are PhD or nothing, and the masters is just a step. And for the few fields where you actually are expected to directly apply your diploma (mostly engineering and technical fields), employers tend to treat a master’s as equivalent to 1-2 extra years of job experience – good to have but not critical. Extremely technical positions usually require PhDs or direct prior experience. There may be areas I’m not aware of, but in general a masters shouldn’t be a goal, just a step on a planned path.

    And before I forget – welcome back! It’s good to hear your voice again. Not that your father can’t be amusing, but you see things differently and that’s refreshing.

  33. Hey, Athena. It takes a lot of guts to publicly share your struggles so good on you. Like a lot of people here said, getting an F doesn’t mean you’re a failure. Instead, for you, F just stands for “Fuck this!”. From someone who also struggled in college (A’s in the classes I loved, D’s and F’s in the classes I didn’t care about) and eventually dropped out, it’s entirely possible to have a great life without a degree.

    I’m just some random old guy on the internet so I’m certainly not qualified to give you advice. But I will say I hope you don’t beat yourself up over something that might not be a good fit for you right now.

  34. Fuck school. Go do something now. Like write for the blog, get a miserable low wage job slinging fries, become a TikTok influencer, whatever. Just do it. Don’t wait.

    Maybe school will happen some day, maybe it won’t. It doesn’t matter. You are still you, and you can do things.

    I vote for living your life now, not waiting until school is over to do it. That’s what a counselor at my school said to me forty years ago, and I’ve tried to do that ever since. It’s been ok.

  35. If you aren’t actually learning anything, there’s really no point in being there. It’s a waste of your money and time. And not everyone learns well in the way a specific college/university presents its material. Do things that teach you things and that you can retain the information.

  36. Welcome back!
    My 2 cents: just keep yourself busy, paid, unpaid, or applying yourself to a new hobby. Put the misery of school in the rearview window. You’ve tortured yourself enough!

  37. Hi Athena. College prof. here. Since you’ve left comments open, I’ll comment. I think it’s always going to be really hard to do work on classes with no point. So you need to find classes with a point. Which probably means taking some time to figure out what you want to do, then figure out classes you need to take in order to do it. If you want to explore different subjects to see if they’re interesting, try the online course platforms like coursera or udacity. You can do as much work as you want to there, without judgement.

  38. The only thing that interferes with my learning is my education….. Albert Einstein.

    Try practicing “curiosity” and learning just for the joy of discovering something new each day. Taking courses at a school is that path to train your mind.

  39. Thank you for your honesty in sharing your life with us. Hang in there. You are obviously smart, you were holding A’s half-way through the semester. Then something clicks, you ask yourself why? This may be a message that this is not for you?

    You’re right, college is the path to a well paying job, but… it’s a path to a job that requires a college degree. There are other paths that can lead to jobs that pay as well. That may be your destiny. Something unique that works for you.

    So yes, your journey will be a bit tougher as you find your way. I’m sure you parents will assist where they can and are your biggest cheerleaders. Take this time to rest up. Then, look again at the landscape and what you may want to try? College courses to explore interests but not for a degree? With that knowledge try and find a way to enter that field?

    I’ll stop there. You’re smart and you’ll get it. So happy you are writing for us, I enjoy your writing. Take care.

  40. Hi Athena –

    With respect to school, I am the absolute opposite of you: I loved school so much that I went ALL THE WAY and September is still my favorite month because that’s when I associate school starting.

    All the way to a PhD. I’ve taught at college level. (Geology, no less :).

    All of the best students I had were older students, coming late to college because they had crap grades/couldn’t hack it/didn’t want to earlier. But when they came – they wanted it. They knew what they wanted to do with it. Maybe not with a geology degree, but they knew what they needed the class credits for.

    I’d recommend letting it go. Take a class here and there only in subjects your are keenly interested in, if you feel like it. If and when you feel ready, interested, and motivated then get back on the college track. You may not ever get there, and that’s more than fine. You have better uses for your time and energy.

  41. Hi Athena. Just chiming in here to reinforce what others have said: college may not be for you right now. Maybe not ever. Who knows, really? Only you can really decide that.
    But you’re also still young. You’re trying things out, figuring out what you like to do, and seeing what works and what doesn’t. College is like that: take all these courses that will probably not have any impact on your future career, and maybe if you’re lucky, you’ll find one that does.
    (95% of the courses I took, including in my major, are irrelevant to my current career.) But you don’t need a degree to figure out what you like to do.
    What you’re experiencing are setbacks, not dead ends. They may be detours to something else. Young folks in Europe and Australia often take a gap year after high school, to travel around, party, see the world and figure out their place in it. You’re obviously very intelligent, a good writer (with undoubtedly a teacher many of us wished we’d had), and a good thinker. The question is what your place in this world is going to be. Figure that out, and if it requires a college degree, you might find more motivation in that you’d be aiming toward something you’re passionate about.
    But not everyone needs, nor should need, a college degree. I’ve worked with a couple of very passionate, very capable people (one in newspapers, one a historian) who didn’t have college degrees. They made it work, and were happy as a result. You can make it work, too, once you figure out what “it” is. And just maybe, the answer to that can’t be found in an anthropology seminar.

  42. Just to share an experience:

    I started college when I was 17. I went to a hoity-toity small private liberal arts college in southern California, and started out as a Russian Studies major (I took Russian all through high school, and spent a semester abroad in Siberia during my Sophomore/Junior year of high school), with an anthropology minor (I was interested in archaeology and linguistics).

    The institution was a poor fit for me. I lacked the maturity to bother going to (or completing) courses which didn’t interest me, and there were way too many social distractions outside of class. By the end of two years, my transcript was made up almost entirely of As and Fs, in about equal number. When my GPA slipped below 2.0, I was invited not to return.

    I spent a summer completing an archaeological field school through the community college where my father taught, and managed to get my overall GPA back up above 2.0 so that I could successfully apply to the state university in Reno. I switched majors to anthropology, with a minor in mathematics (I wanted to study statistics, with an eye toward quantitative techniques in archaeology; UNR, being in a major casino town, has a great math/stats department).

    After another three years of classes, I managed to accumulate almost all of the classes and credits I needed to graduate (though, to be clear, I was still a terrible student—my transcript still consisted mostly of As and Fs, but with enough As to get my GPA back up over a 3.0). Unfortunately, during what should have been my last semester, I had to take a Theory of Anthropology course from an old silverback in the department. He and I did not get along. We clashed personality-wise, and he had a view of anthropological theory which I found really unbearable (I come from an old skool Marxist / structuralist kind of thinking; he was very post-modern). I wrote a lot of papers that he didn’t like, and failed the class (in retrospect, they were kind of immature and ranty; I got what I deserved). I went into his office to discuss this before grades were turned in, he called me arrogant, I made comment about pots and kettles, and he kicked me out of his office.

    At this point, I dropped out of college and went to work for the school district running an elementary school computer lab. I liked that work, but it paid poorly, so, after three years of that, I made another run at college, this time majoring in mathematics with a minor in education (so that I could go back to the school district and teach mathematics at the high school level).

    This time, it finally took.

    I had matured to the point that I was able to convince myself to complete the work I didn’t want to do, and had a better handle on my own mental health. While it was still a little rocky, I did managed to finish my bachelors in mathematics (which I think is quite impressive, given that I failed college calculus the first time I took it). And now (about 15 years later), I have a PhD in mathematics, and teach at a community college.

    My point, insofar as I think I have one, is that the American education system is such that you can fail hard, but still come back from it. American higher ed is replete with second-chances. Failures or struggles that you are having right now are not the end of the world, and I am certain that you will find a path forward.

    As an addendum, a couple of observations:

    The last two academic years have been awful, and I think that this year has been worse than the 20/21 academic year. My students have been struggling more this year than last, and last year was hard. I have never had so many students just disappear as in the last two semesters. As an instructor, this has been demoralizing. I imagine that it has been similarly difficult for my students. We are all struggling—you are not alone here.
    I think that you are making a good decision to work through community college. When / if you complete an associates degree, you will have cheaply completed most (if not all) of your gen ed requirements, and will be in a good position to complete a bachelors degree (if that is your path). The American community college system is excellent: classes are typically small, and are taught by highly qualified faculty (rather than grad students). Kudos to you.
    You are also doing something very smart in sharing your experiences, though hopefully you are also sharing with folk who are actually qualified to help, and not just writing here. When I was struggling as an undergraduate, I didn’t tell anyone about it; I very much kept it to myself. In retrospect, I was probably experiencing a major depressive episode, and should have been talking to someone about it. It turns out that there are a lot of people out there who can help. You just have to ask.

  43. I’m a couple years older than your parents and have 2 sons, one who is only a couple years older than you. I have sympathy for your problem and honestly, no particular solution. I had 2 thoughts, and they may or may not be of use to you.

    Possibly you’d work out better in an academic environment that was more independent study-based. That may not always be possible, but there may be opportunities to take a class where you are given a reading list, then go in and discuss the reading with the professor, rather than the sit-in-class-take-tests-write-papers approach.

    The second is more my perspective as a full-time freelance writer and editor. Your dad certainly has a similar perspective on this. Which I would think, have you tried getting some paid freelance writing gigs? You would already have some quasi-published clips from the variety of writing you’ve done here that you could use to show to publications you can write. Just a thought. Otherwise, good luck.

  44. Athena, I’m seeing a lot of great advice up above. I put two daughters through college – one a four year program for a bachelor’s program, another a two year program for an associate degree. The first never used her degree at all, the second (with only an associate) is doing spectacularly twenty years on. In fact, she’s now a teacher in the program she graduated from.

    I think you need to focus away from a traditional school to either a more focused environment, or no college at all but another path altogether.

    I hope you’ll make a post soon about what it is you want to do with your life. If you have that as a goal, and not a silly piece of paper that might never do you any good, I think you’ll be happier and, perhaps more ‘successful’ – whatever that means.

    I wish you the best of luck.

  45. Athena, you are so obviously an intelligent and capable person, that if you’re struggling this hard over this many tries, I agree with many others here that it appears that college – at least this particular college, at this time in your life – is not for you.
    It’s unfortunate that our society is being constructed so that a four-year degree is being considered a minimum capacity for success. It’s not entirely true, and it certainly shouldn’t be true. There are many people who are intelligent and capable but are just not built for the academic experience. I’m not a guidance counselor so I have no suggestions as to what you might do instead, except – why not consult one?

  46. Have you considered a trade school? Learning electrical, plumbing, carpentry, or even going to a medical or dental assistant program can get you to an outcome in a shorter amount of time. The prevailing wage for an Electrician in Greene County is $33.25. From your writing, it seems much of your concern is that you are still at the beginning of your educational journey and that the year to get an associates plus the 2 years to get a bachelors plus 2 years to get a masters seems over-whelming. Trade schools have programs that have outcomes that get you better jobs in as little as 6-12 months.

  47. “And that’s how all of college is, actually. You just need an A. You don’t need to know what the fuck is going on, as long as you pass, and then you get your little paper. ”

    That’s the short path to being an educated Uber driver.

    It sounds to me like you don’t really have a goal for your life. I’d suggest spending some time this summer thinking about that, and then you’ll have a better idea what things to do to advance you in that direction. If you’re just marking time, then of course everything is going to seem pointless.

  48. I am so sorry. You sound so much like my older son.

    He was incredibly miserable in college and the only thing he enjoyed was band. He passed his freshman year, barely, and withdrew in October of his sophomore year. He is now an electrician and is doing very well for himself.

    One of his best friends withdrew when failing from his first semester as a freshman. He said he couldn’t see the point of the classes he was taking — could not figure out how they had anything to do with life. He moved out of state, stayed with friends and found a job, then found a better job, then was promoted twice and is now supervising people and making really good money.

    I hope you can let go of your belief that the college degree means something in regard to your value as a person. It’s just not true. Don’t believe everything you think. You don’t have to force yourself to keep trying to do college if it makes you miserable. Plenty of successful happy financially comfortable people do not go to college.

    Also, writers do not need a college degree. At all.

    Wishing you all the best.

  49. BTW, doesn’t have to be the end goal of your life. Goals are a starting point, not a destination, and they’ll change over the course of your life. Just figure out what you want your life to be now.

  50. Hi Athena. Former college prof and academic-advising-award-winner here. I’d first like to amplify a point Heather raised – many of my best advisees were “nontraditional” adults who came in with a bunch of life experience and some very clear goals. Most of the rest of my best advisees were also characterized by having some very clear goals.

    To anyone who was present because “college is just what you do” or “to get a degree”, my advice was often to consider spending the time and expenses of college at a later point. Not because they wouldn’t get anything out of it /now/ – whatever you do, you learn&train /something/ – but because for the same investment they could get a lot more out of later relevant to what they cared about. And because it’s possible that college might /never/ be what they need to get to a good place in life for them.

    Taking a “nontraditional” route certainly has a bunch of obstacles that aren’t put in the way of people taking the mainstream default, but given how many obstacles you’re already encountering along the traditional route you might not find it worse off the beaten path, and could even find it better.

    And, FWIW, I can personally vouch for the existence of people without any post-HS degree who have a pretty good life, a job they’re happy with, and are well-respected.

  51. Athena
    Having read your writing, it is clear to me that you are an intelligent person and that for a variety of reasons, college education as it is currently, is a struggle for you.

    I certainly don’t have any definitive answers, only some suggestions which of course you can take or ignore as you wish

    I saw above comments for a trade school and I do think that is an option you could explore.

    Another option to consider if possible is to audit a course, some places allow you to do this as a way of exploring options without the overhang of passing / failing

    Above all else, you should not feel this defines you as it doesn’t nor should it

    I wish you the best of things as you go forewatd

  52. Athena
    Having read your writing, it is clear to me that you are an intelligent person and that for a variety of reasons, college education as it is currently, is a struggle for you.

    I certainly don’t have any definitive answers, only some suggestions which of course you can take or ignore as you wish

    I saw above comments for a trade school and I do think that is an option you could explore.

    Another option to consider if possible is to audit a course, some places allow you to do this as a way of exploring options without the overhang of passing / failing

    Above all else, you should not feel this defines you as it doesn’t nor should it

    I wish you the best of things as you go forward

  53. Sincere thanks for you confessional which strongly mirrors my own undergraduate experience. At times like these I like to whip out my tattered copy of Beneath The Wheel and morosely ponder the vagaries of fate. Then I’ll cheer myself up by re-reading The Phoenix Guards or perhaps Jack Vance’s Planet Of Adventure series. Enjoy your summer!

  54. I haven’t read every comment above, but many that I skimmed seems to say be yourself first, and if that means changing your perception of what degree you do, or even if you do a degree at all, so be it. I support this wholeheartedly. My son is your age, and while he was passing his degree, he was frankly miserable. He dropped out of that with 6 months to go, and is now at a music academy and doing live, paid gigs and as a dad, I couldn’t be more proud of him!

    I took real guts to look hard at himself and change his viscerally held notions of himself and see what he really wanted to do. For me, seeing him move mentally from a place where every day seemed to be a painful slog to every day being another chance to do something he clearly loves is astoundingly awesome.

    And then there’s my nephew, who was having a lot of trouble with high school. What he did was NOT to drop out, but instead to find an alternative way of learning. There are alternative schools that are run in very different ways than the expected “normal”, but with the same certification at the end. I feel very strongly that if you look at any aspect of learning – be it iq, learning style, physical ability, personality, interest etc, you will find that while a particular way of doing things works for the 98% of people in the middle of the bell curve, the other 2% – who, remember, are on BOTH ends of the bell curve, meaning that it includes your HIGHEST potential – need something different – and it is super hard for the 98% to see that. (Also, personally I am aware that I am within that 98% for most things, and not immune to the effect.)

    So, to be a bit crude, there’s no point trying to push shit uphill with a stick. Not saying you’re shit in this analogy; if anything you’re the stick holder, and also it is from the POV of a dung beetle, the shit is the good stuff. Find a way to combine it with some leaves and dirt and make a nice ball and roll it across the flat or even downhill instead. When you find the way you’re meant to go, you will know.

    All the best

  55. Yeah, that’s the spirit! Fuck education! What’s it good for anyway?

  56. I seem to recall Athena wants to be a writer. Maybe just…write, then? Can’t hurt to focus on that for a change instead of banging against the academic wall of sheer boredom.

  57. Athena, I am glad you shared because then others could dig inside and generate a philosophy before giving advice, which probably did them good.

    I have no advice but I can’t resist sharing trivia, as I am on holiday in London England, Churchill’s old stomping ground. I myself happen to be very clearly an oral learner: I learn by talking to myself or others.

    Sir Winston Churchill went on to get a Nobel prize in writing, but back in school he struggled. Turns out that, unlike the other kids, he was neither a reading learner nor a listening learner. As an adult he was a writing learner, he learned by writing. I think: Wow, that must be rare.

  58. A personal story. We have two children, both now in their late 30s. They are wildly different personalities. One did well in a good school, went to college, veered wildly from an interest in international politics to school psychology. She is now a happy school psychologist in an inner city system. The other had a terrible time, so we pulled him from a traditional middle school and homeschooled him through high school. He tried college, found it a poor fit, and exited. He is now a pharmacy tech, married, owns a home and is very happy. Moral – find out what matters to YOU, not what you think everyone else expects of you. Then follow the most logical path to that dream, whatever it turns out to be. And don’t give yourself an artificial timeline – only you can grade yourself on your life.

  59. As people have said here, college isn’t for everyone; look into a trade school. My daughter graduated cum laude in a field she hates and is going to learn how to be a nail tech. But if you do insist on college, consider Landmark, which deals with your sort of situation.

  60. @pjcamp
    In fairness (and I say this as someone who teaches that most hated required subject, mathematics) an awful lot of “teaching” consists of plowing through “material” instead of providing an educational experience. And there are no consequences for that, because–despite the lip service–every other signal we send to students reinforces the idea that the point of school is the grade and the diploma. It’s possible to get an education in school, but we don’t make it easy.

  61. You are not alone, Athena. I’m a year older than your dad. (We went to high school together.) When we were young, you needed a bachelor’s degree to even get a decent job. During my third year in college, I realized that I didn’t want to work in the field that I was studying. It was too late to change my major, so I finished it up to get that piece of paper. I struggled with what I wanted to do with my life. I eventually settled on going back to school for a teaching credential at my mother’s suggestion, mostly because I couldn’t think of anything better to do.

    Luckily the world has changed, and a lot of companies are realizing that a bachelor’s degree really isn’t necessary after all. They are starting to redefine their hiring practices and have begun to train employees themselves. That still means that you will have to figure out what you want to do (which can be even harder), but you may not need a degree to get started working.

    Perhaps deciding what you would like to do as a job is a good place to start. Then you can look into ways to get started in your chosen field without having to get a degree first.

    As for me, I left teaching after climbing the school district ladder for 11 years. I took a 40% pay cut to do what I had actually wanted to do, train guide dogs. I don’t regret it at all. After 18 years I have had to give it up due to injuries. It’s a job designed for people in their 20’s and 30’s … not their 50’s.

    I’m back in the same old boat, trying to figure out what to do with my life. Things don’t always turn out the way we planned. That is the nature of life. If I may offer a bit of advice: Do something that makes you happy. Nothing will please you, or your parents, more.

  62. As someone who received her BA in Linguistics 17 years after graduating from high school, trust me when I say college is what YOU bring to it. I was overwhelmed, undermotivated, and failing classes right and left (and was too inexperienced to drop classes when I saw where they were going) right out of HS.

    When I returned to university many many years later, after living in several states, marrying, divorcing, having a child, I was one of the more, ahem, mature students in any class. I could see my classmates groaning through the lectures (this was before cell phones, so they had nothing to distract them), skipping the assignments, and basically being bored to death. I, on the other hand, was fascinated by the richness of perspective brought by my own life experience. I loved the challenge of having to actually THINK in my more challenging major seminars. In other words, I was finally ready to learn, and very little of it was wasted effort on my part, or that of my professors.

    Consider this: Is there a non-college pursuit that you love, such as cooking, crafting, art/music/etc. that you could pursue RIGHT NOW, rather than returning to something that has already proven to be Not For You At This Time? Not everyone needs college, not even an associates degree. But you do need something you love to do, that people will pay you for. Might be your writing. Have you considered taking journalism classes? Mine were quite a revelation and a superb teaching/learning experience.

    Don’t keep repeating what you’re failing at now. Failure = learning, or it should. Try things until you find something that engages you. Then do that for a while. It took me 17 years, but I did find my expertise and ability to make a living for myself. If you do return to college when you are older, it will be an entirely different experience, because you will be an entirely different person, modified by life.

    And good luck. You’ll find your One True Thing, or Many True Things, really you will.

  63. “And it’s not that I don’t find anthropology or geology interesting, or that I don’t like learning about some of the content, I just don’t want to write papers or be tested over it. It seems so meaningless to be tested on whether or not I can identify diorite or muscovite. Are they cool rocks? Sure. Do I think it’s essential to learn their chemical composition and then be graded over it? Not really.”

    That’s the thing though. There are a lot of requirements in a college degree that exist for no other reason than some administrator decided it would be good for everyone to spend some time learning about geology in order to get their fancy piece of paper. Then the professor decided that the way to determine if a student had learned a sufficient quantity of introductory geology was to test if they could spot diorite and muscovite from a mile away. Nobody finds every bit of their introductory courses meaningful to them. A lot of it is arbitrary, and exposing people to a breadth of subjects means that everyone will find a few that don’t speak to them. That’s the nature of the schooling.

    In a sense that’s why so many jobs require a university degree even though the subject you studied isn’t immediately relevant to the task at hand. They know that many of the things they’ll ask you to do on your job may seem pointless or boring to you. The diploma is proof that you have successfully gone into depth on a large number of pointless and boring topics before. Are you the type of person who is capable of sitting down to cram a bunch of characteristics about minerals into their head simply because that’s what they’ve been asked to do in order to get a degree (or a paycheck), or are you not? That’s what they’re looking for when they ask you for a degree in order to apply.

    I wish you all the best in finding your niche. Perhaps college is not the path forward for you, at least not now. You write well, and surely have many other talents. Find a way to use them in a way that doesn’t set off the internal BS detector that is standing in the way of your academic success.

  64. College isn’t for everybody, and a degree isn’t everything. If your good with your hands there’s always the trades, a career where you are always needed.

  65. @Sean Crawford: “As an adult he was a writing learner, he learned by writing. I think: Wow, that must be rare.”

    I’m not so sure. It’s said that one of the best ways to learn something is to teach it to someone else. Writing about a subject could be considered a variant of teaching it.

  66. I am so f’ing envious of you, I am spitting (and I’m 50 years out of college). Envious because your parents and the commenters here are so very supportive of where you are and/or suggesting non-college options. But I do understand that you are suffering.

    I don’t recommend you follow in my footsteps for a college degree. I was very book smart and my parents were a teacher & a corporate executive. I was absolutely expected to do college, and do it well. When my brother flunked out of college after one year, I watched my Dad break into sobs for the only time ever. And the parents stopped supporting him financially (as threatened, despite their affluence).

    So I went to the college they were willing to pay for and also worked part-time (no needs-based financial aid for the rich kid!) I got two bachelors degrees — by literally gritting my teeth through my then-undiagnosed anxiety disorder. I was truly miserable there and then at my big corporate jobs. I realized I could change paths at about age 27, a few years after my dad, ahem, died of a heart attack at his office at age 46.

    When reading your posts, I sometimes slip up and channel my parents, mentally suggesting that you try to support yourself without parental help for a while and then see if you are still “unwilling to do busy work.” But I’m not that person any more.

    I am now in my 60s and my poor abused teeth have had countless crowns replacing crowns replacing fillings. These are now replaced by implants (5 so far) or just gaps. My mouth has cost well over $100,000, possibly more than any earnings differential provided by my college degrees.

    But hey, at least I never made my Dad cry.

    Bitter and envious, me?

  67. Former academic here. I’ll second the advice to not go back to school until you have a better idea what you’re going for. Right now you’re teaching yourself how to fail school, and that’s more utterly useless than passing the classes. Stop learning and practicing how to fail classes. You need to learn the opposite and practice that instead. It’s more fun anyway.

    Second thing: dump the game metaphor. That obviously won’t get you through the middle of the term, and the “piece of paper” goal doesn’t seem to sufficiently motivate you to go. So don’t do it that way.

    I’ll tell you how I got straight A’s in grad school, and I can even tell you how to do it when your roommate commits suicide and when a parent dies. But you probably don’t want to know any of that?

    First part is, you guessed it, motivation. The reason I got A’s after my roommate committed suicide was that I needed something to distract myself, and studying filled that too-silent hole. It’s not the best way to cope, but it’s a way when there’s no other way. Wanting to learn something because it’s interesting and you’re naturally good at it is a better reason to learn.

    The real trick to getting an A is to get inside the head of your teacher. That old soul is someone who loves a subject enough to suffer through teaching intro classes to people who don’t care. WHAT IS IT THEY SEE IN THAT FIELD THAT KEEPS THEM WANTING TO BRING MORE PEOPLE IN? There’s something really cool in there, and they’re using the lessons they teach to try see if you get why it’s cool. If you can learn to see the world as they do, see what makes it cool, the class will get a heck of a lot easier, because that’s always the lesson they’re trying to teach. So if you want to be a writer (for example) use classes as a way to get into the heads of people you’d use in your stories. Why would a geologist be fascinated by the biggest thing humans ever touch? Why would an anthropologist want to spend their lives talking to people who see the world differently and whose stories don’t get told? Why would someone love K-Dramas so much they learn Korean and then teach it to others? The more you can get inside the teachers’ heads, the better you will do. Now nobody is omnipotent–I suck at most things–so the trick to graduating is finding that parcel of human experience where you can slip inside the teachers’ heads and enjoy developing their world, instead of just giving up because it makes no sense.

    Finally, a note about foundation courses: they’re like the foundations of houses: ugly and functional, although they’re also supposed to lure students into a field. One good way to do well in a foundation course is to look at the advanced courses it leads into, and realize those are fascinating enough that you want to build the foundation to understand them. Upper level courses are easy, once you’ve built a solid foundation. If you want a degree, you’ve just got to figure out what will motivate you to build that initial foundation and go on from there.

    Hope this helps, either you or someone else reading it. Good luck!

  68. Why go back to college in the fall when it’s pure misery for you? You’re setting yourself up for failure, and then you’ll feel even more worthless when you feel again. Oh, and your entire summer will be filled with a sense of impending doom and anxiety. Take a pass on that. Enjoy yourself and figure it out. Lots of great suggestions already posted above. Maybe try the aforementioned freelancing, or write some articles on Medium. Go take a baking class in France. Who knows? Just do whatever on your terms, not what you think society requires.

  69. You’re a worthwhile person, period. Your worth is in no way connected to whether you have a particular level of formal schooling or the pieces of paper that acknowledge that.

    Everyone gets to find their own route to happiness in the world. If you are personally committed to continuing your formal education, I hope it’ll be because there is something you really, really WANT to study. And if there’s something you want to do, I hope that you find a way to do that thing, whether through on-the-job training, apprenticeship, or formal schooling.

    It looks as though there’s plenty of sympathy and recounting of experience in the preceding comments. I hope that you find the comments comforting.

    Wishing you the best, regardless of what path you decide to follow.

  70. An idea for finding stuff you might be interested in – get the community (or any, really) college course listing and thumb through every page, reading the class descriptions. Circle ones that seem interesting. If you circle a bunch in the math or biology or textiles section, that can be a clue.

    But really, you can figure stuff out later. I agree with lots of folks above that though this feels huge and insurmountable, it isn’t. We get the feeling, really, but we don’t judge you that harshly. Promise.

    (I liked summer school because classes were 6 weeks. Finally passed a chem without having to take it twice.)

  71. De-lurking to say: Good to see you again!

    The hardheaded, practical reality is that one’s gender has at least as much effect on life outcomes as one’s level of education. It shouldn’t matter, but it does.

    Wishing you happiness, whatever happens.

  72. I feel for you both as a parent and as someone who struggled with school. After 9 years of my wife dragging me through it, I got a bachelor’s by the skin of my teeth. Seriously, if not for my wife I wouldn’t have made it.

    My daughter similarly struggles with school as well. (As did my older sister and both of my parents.) It’s hard to see your child struggle like you did but frankly my experience has no wisdom to offer her.

    School shouldn’t define you. It can be helpful in opening doors and getting a foot in the door but frankly I use almost nothing I learned in school for my job. (A job in the same field as my degree I might add)

    So… Don’t beat yourself up about it. My older sister went back to school after a decade and now has a master’s degree.

    Maybe it’s not for you, maybe it’s not the right time but you’ll work something out eventually.


    Random internet stranger

  73. I dropped out after my 2nd term of university (Winter term, 1980) Like you, I was bored and thought it was irrelevant. It took me 16 years to go back. Along the way, I started working at the university, and discovered I didn’t want to make my living writing code, but in assisting students. 20+ years later, I am still at my university, still assisting students.’

    If you were my student, I’d be recommending that you leave school now and do other things. Work, write, explore the world. College will still be there if you decide to return in ten or twenty or more years.

  74. Hmmm … I think I wrote that in 1973 …

    Two things: Do not give up. And try summer school, it’s often different teachers and a better learning experience.

    Good luck. I dropped out. Regretted it every day since. That’s a lot of regret. Just do it. It’s really not what you learn, it’s the experience of discovering what kind of learner you are, and how to get the education you want out of a ‘one size fits all’ system of education.

  75. People learn differently and experience learning differently. The pressure of having a college degree should not define you nor should you let it define you. Especially during this COVID pandemic I can’t begin to imagine what you or anyone is going through trying to get a degree.
    I hope you’ve talked to your instructors as well as other college support staff. Doing so helps set up a support network. If you’re struggling with meeting expectations, both yours and staff’s, then letting people who can help is important. Having a support network can really help. It can also keep you from expecting the worst which is one of those self fulling prophecies.

    Very sure I’m not the only one who has missed your column. It’s so nice to have you back. Thank you for opening up to us. Keep writing and welcome back.

  76. Not sure if it helps any but I did the same thing. The truth was I wasn’t really passionate about any one thing until almost 30 when I went back to college for a degree in music engineering. I flew through it and made good grades because I enjoyed it. There were some drudge classes, but I had the other passion classes to keep me engaged.

    In my earlier attempts, I had also bought into the whole “Oh god what am I doing with my life if I don’t do this” thing, but in truth it’s a bit of a con. We assume grownups (especially parents) have their shit together. We meet them when they have already established careers and relationships and we assume they just sprang from the womb on a direct path to greatness.

    In reality, it’s a messy process, but if you do the things that bring you joy, you have a much better chance of making that connection with yourself — The one that says “This is what I am.”

  77. Oh, dear heart. I am so sorry that you are going through this.

    Your college record closely matches the one I accumulated between the ages of 18 and 21, and your feelings about NEEDING that damned piece of paper but not WANTING to sit through all the crap to get it are so very familiar.

    In my (admittedly very subjective) opinion, the idea that 18 is the point when a human magically becomes fully adult and knows every detail about what they want to do in life is a purely arbitrary construct. Sure, some people reach that point at 18, some even younger, but a sizeable percentage of people hit that moment years after 18. Or decades after, in my case.

    Another comment that I’d respectfully make is that the “damned piece of paper” is not really the only pathway to happiness and success. There are many, many others – apprenticeships and trades, just to name two – that are entirely worthwhile, remunerative paths that can be followed, and in fact there are some skilled trades where an entry-level person makes more than a surprising number of degree-holders do with their credentials. I completely understand that your upbringing brought you to the conclusion that Only A College Degree could give you the life you want – my upbringing did, too – but that is not entirely true.

    Having highly capable parents is great when you’re a child, but trying to live up to their example when you are an adult is a recipe for frustration. I don’t mean to imply that either of your parents is saying or implying that you need to do so, please note. I am referring to that insidious voice in the brain that is so good at whispering things we don’t need to hear. I’ve got one, and I suspect that you do, too.

    I strongly endorse other commenters (e.g. Pam Adams) who urged you to leave school for the present, and focus your formidable energies and skills on other endeavors. Stop beating yourself up over what’s past, stop letting the prospect of going back to school hang over you and poison every waking moment, and turn your focus to finding something you truly love to do. Even if you only do that something for a few hours a week, even if it’s a volunteer gig instead of paying work, you’ll be harnessing your intellect in the goal of something you enjoy, and I suspect that will get you out of the school-related doldrums faster than anything else.

    If you are meant to get a Bachelor’s degree, you will do so. Some day. It doesn’t have to be this year, or even this decade. Being a lifelong learner is a great way to keep your mind limber and young, and if you wake up one morning when you’re 43 and decide that you’re ready to go for the degree (which is what I did), there is NOT A DAMNED THING WRONG with you.

    You are enough, Athena, just as you are.

    You are worthy, Athena, just as you are.

    You are loved, Athena, just as you are.

  78. Athena – my brother was like you . He didn’t get anything out of two years of college, dropped out and worked for several years. When he finally went back it was because he wanted to be there, not because society or anyone else expected it of him, and he did very well and graduated at age 30. Another relative was the opposite – got through the first two years then found work he liked and basically did one or two courses a year until he eventually finished. Both got through life quite well. Then there’s my nephew who will probably never finish college because he’s doing just fine without the degree and felt like you do about classes. And one of my best friends dropped out of high school and then graduated college at the same time as her daughter.

    What I’m trying to say is that there are more people than you think who take the scenic route. Your worth is not measured by your ability to push through college and get a degree. Many worthwhile people need to find their own way outside of academia. It sounds like that may be true for you. I hope you have some good times this summer.

  79. Well there are now jobs paying 15 bucks an hour to stand around and look busy. Gotta be better than school for some. Good luck.

  80. A nearby college offers just one course at a time, for three weeks in nine blocks, with breaks between each. For one month, you are a geologist and have more ability to deep-dive into something interesting. Then the next month, you are a photographer, then a historian about Brazil. Perhaps this approach would better suit your learning style, as you seem to regularly hit a wall of “My brain is full, I no longer care”.
    Beyond a degree, what do you want to do? Many jobs have many paths to get there.

  81. At this point I would agree with so many here by saying don’t go back to school – at least not now. A B.A. is hard work, even if you are madly in love with the subject you major in. It ain’t working for you, try to understand why.

    Do other things – you may find a number of things you hate even more, but the variety may help refine your future choices. Ideally you find something for you. Happiness is vital.

    A lot of business or computer stuff you just have to be good at it, the piece of paper is optional and I know some computer geeks who do not have that piece of paper and make serious bucks.

    Are you non-traditional? If so, maybe non-traditional work would work better. There are non-traditional schools too. You can do a lot online now for work that allows non-traditional work.

    Much of the stuff that will get you a real job is just as boring as you described as your college experience. I should know I studied accounting seriously and just hated it. Too much of professional education is memorizing and regurgitating the info, and woe to anyone who has anything beyond the preferred interpretations or perspectives.

    I went back to university in my thirties and majored in history. I loved it. I sometimes insulted some of my profs [they deserved it] and made a few of my profs almost fall out of their chairs laughing, but I liked being outspoken. I am now a few years from retiring and intend to go back and study more history for fun, and will be even more outspoken, because I am crankier now.

    You seem to like writing and are good at it. One tip for that is do NOT study English at college, especially if you like science-fiction. Many English departments sneer openly at SF.

    When I was your age I realized I was not very experienced in life, so I resolved to go out investigate, try new things and gain experience, it was quite a ride. Just be somewhat careful, “experience” is not always fun. Try different jobs, meet people, travel, write, read, and most of all, think. Enjoy.

  82. @Eric
    I would argue that it’s a bug and not a feature that completing a degree is evidence that you are able to push through pointless boring tasks just because an authority figure tells you to. I have no doubt that employers value this, but inuring students to boring pointlessness should not be a goal of any experience that calls itself education.

  83. Oh honey. I feel you. But it’s not just college (or university as we call it here). I got to work every day a fake knowing anything. I go to work every day and fake giving a shot about any of it. But then they pay me, and I get to do the things I do care about.
    I thought things were going to contain so much more meaning… but they don’t.

  84. STOP trying to make college happen. Nothing about it motivates you. I’ve kind of followed your posts and don’t remember a single one that talks about your deeply held interests. Maybe you don’t have any. Find a job at a nice Department store and maybe work you way up to manager. Along the way you might finally find something that interests you enough.

  85. I’ve been teaching college a long time, and have seen this. It sounds like you don’t want to be going to college. It’s not something you’re going to be able to force yourself to do. Maybe given time, your attitude will change, but for now, it’s not going to work. Take a break, it’s better than piling up F’s.

  86. Community college faculty here. If you were my advisee I would recommend looking in the healthcare fields. Physical Therapist Assistant and Registered Nursing look like good options.

    One of our nursing faculty told me that nurses are making $100 per hour or more these days. My college had two nursing faculty quit mid-semester. They could easily make twice as much.

    Don’t interpret this as a suggestion you can’t cut it. These are not easy options. Healthcare is competitive. I call Anatomy and Physiology “Calculus for nurses.” At the same time, you can start working clinicals soon and get active. You will know quickly why you are taking these courses.

    Also, Hemmingway drove an ambulance in WWI. A few years working in an ER would give you plenty to write about.

  87. I had a really great Geology teacher. My question to you is, do you feel like you understand plate tectonics now? How the continents move? If so, then you learned something that you will think about every time you go to the ocean or see the mountains. If not, then your teacher was not that great.

  88. Just wanted to chime in and say…..the visitors and people on this website and comments section are the nicest, most polite people in the world. It’s like the anti-Reddit. It’s the strangest thing to be scrolling the comments online a d. It read anything mean spirited or negative. Just astonishing.

  89. It doesn’t sound like you’re getting much out of your education right now. I was one of those people who loved to learn in whatever environment I was in so I don’t have alot to relate to personally.

    But I also have two brothers: one was a straight-A student who graduated with honors and a full scholarship to a state school, and then decided to join a cult where he spent the next 6-8 years following the whims of a religious “prophet”. He met his wife there and started a family and then went back to University in his early 30s with this intense need to make up for lost time. He’s going for a second degree now and doing pretty good overall.

    My other brother hated school, dropped out and got a GED at 14 and works in warehouses. He drives a forklift, makes a decent wage (hurray for unions) and still reads and learns about new things at his own pace.

    The reality is that there is no time limit on life (other than the final one). If you’re not feeling it right now try and find something that works for you. Or just get a job of some kind, find new experiences / hobbies and figure out what’s bothering you. The sunken cost fallacy is real, but getting your “D for diploma” isn’t going to help you figure out what comes after school. Whether you stick with the degree or not, that’s what you need to work on more than anything, IMO.

  90. I feel you so much here. My post high school attempts at community college failed miserably. I wound up going to work instead. Decades of all the sorts of jobs you get without a degree. During that time I went to school at night, changed my major several times, and finally got my bachelors degree eighteen years after graduating high school. It took me lots of years and life experience to decide what I wanted to do, and found a degree that would guarantee work – nursing in my case. Part of getting that degree was absolutely slogging through classes I hated. Overcoming the classes designed to weed out the weak. And many semesters of taking a single class, or of dropping before the deadline to maintain my gpa. Playing the game to get your paper is part of it. And getting through all the general Ed stuff before you get to your degree specific content. Once you are doing that – especially when you have made the investment and are self motivated – you will be demanding that content be relevant. Ultimately, you have to find what it is that lights the fire in your belly. Sometimes you find it in college, sometimes you find it when working. Life and employment experience made both nursing school and nursing practice much easier and better for me on many levels. The world is a wondrous place, and you are not broken because this one path is not working for you. My hope for you is that you find the thing that lights that fire in you, along whatever path you choose to explore in your search.

  91. Do you have depression? I’ve known people with depression who could never finish anything. They’d even undo things that got too close to completion. They didn’t feel down or sad, but eventually the depression started to eat their lives as they could finish doing less and less. Others have mentioned ADHD. Have you spoken to anyone about these possibilities?

    It’s rather obvious that you can complete some things. You cranked out a bit over a thousand words for this post with a beginning, middle and end. Not everyone can do that. You reviewed a whole year of Japanese snack foods. That’s what, 500-1000 words a month for a whole year, and a good number of those snacks weren’t exactly prize winners. You can deal with adversity.

    To be ridiculous, you could be a snack food reviewer, or you could become a taste and texture expert for some outfit like IFF or Quest. Maybe that’s not so ridiculous, but that would take some training including some chemistry and biology. How much do you care about snack food?

    Still, there’s probably something you’d like to do. Others here have asked this. Do you have any enthusiasms? Are you curious about anything? You are in a privileged position. You don’t have to make rent at the end of the month which is a big deal for a lot of people. Take advantage of it. Don’t waste time with college until you figure out if you want college and what you want college for.

    People often follow strange routes in finding their niche. Buy a $50 truck to haul vegetables instead of going to college and wind up a vintner with his own winery. Get promoted in your accounting career and realize that you really wanted to be a doctor. Play enough Warhammer and decide you want to be a soldier; become a master sergeant. Train as a geologist, get a job climbing telephone poles and wind up a noted comics book executive. Biology to linguistics to programmer to management. As the airlines say, wherever your destination takes you.

    Surely, there is something you want to do. You don’t have to force it. Just indulge it.

    P.S. Now I’m stuck with it, olivine crystalizes at 1200 degrees and quartz at 600. No wonder I find a lot more quartz than olivine when I bother looking. I had never even heard of olivine until the moon landing when they found olivine on the moon. Then again, I went to a weird school where enthusiasm was a major entry criterion. Did you know that there are people who passionately care about what minerals are in the inner mantle? Is there a treatment for that? You obviously don’t, nor should you. What do you care about?

  92. Thank you very much for this honesty and insight. As a higher education professor for over a decade, I find a story like this extremely valuable.

    Now time for the unsolicited advice that any highly educated person will always also post as a comment to such stories: The academic grind you mention as the main de-motivator sounds like a pedagogical problem that is closely related to the Anglo Saxon system. I would suggest looking into other countries and thinking about studying abroad, if higher education is an absolute must. The Scandinavian pedagogical traditions have a much more holistic focus for example.

    All the best, whatever is best for you!

  93. I know how you feel

    Life is what happens when you have other plans

    TL;RD Is it time to consider other options?

    I cannot fix things for you, but I can give you another perspective

    Due to circumstances beyond my control, I had to drop out my last semester before a full scholarship, four year, Bachelors degree

    Spoiler, still no degree even though several teachers and staff wanted me in their PHd programs

    After I got married I tried to finish the last TWO classes I needed for my Bachelors degree

    Spoiler, still no degree even though my birth parents and spouse’s parents both helped financially for several years

    I, and my birth family, have been in therapy since I was little until I stopped trying to get my degree ( family, couples, group, individual )

    Spoiler, still no degree even though my family, and various therapists, said I was a model patient, very smart and had insider knowledge that could help as therapy coordinator ( AKA help patients and different professionals coordinate and effectively treat patients )

    I am so sick of trying to find a solution

    For whatever reasons, I may never get my degree

    I hate admitting it, but that route is currently blocked for me. Those last TWO classes

    I have to improve myself, my marriage and my social economic status before I can even consider trying for those last TWO
    classes. And maybe not getting that degree is actually the better route.

    If you really want the degree, lots of people have given you advice ( god some of that advice reminds me so much of people in my past trying so hard to help me )

    But when I was in my situation, I had to say “Maybe this route is not a great idea”

    I do not want you to give up due to failure, but it might be time to discuss with your friends, found family, and birth family, if this is really in your best interest? Or if another path may be better for your mind and body?

    Some times taking a third option is the best option

    From all my family, to all your family, all the love we can stuff into this post

  94. A lot of folks above have provided advice, so I’m not going to add to that other than to say that your self-worth shouldn’t be tied to your grades/academics as I think that everyone learns differently and finds their own path.

    I am curious about your classes and interactions with your peers where there was so little interest in the class and most were just bullshitting answers, etc. Is there anything that you think your teachers should have done differently to make things more engaging?

    Full disclosure: my interest is absolutely selfish because I just (like 2 days ago) got hired as a part-time adjunct professor at a local college and I am terrified of screwing things up for my future students in the fall. I am a programmer by trade and will be teaching application design which I find interesting, but can obviously be a super dry and boring subject.

    Lastly, I agree with what many others have pointed out – your writing is fresh and interesting and I look forward to reading your contributions to the blog over the summer!

  95. Please be patient and forgiving with yourself. Like many of us (myself included), you seem likely to follow a non-standard path through academics should you choose to pursue degrees.

    My son is your age and has experienced issues similar to those you describe. He (like you) is bright but not really wired for the educational system as it is. Loves learning, tends to dislike the way school works. Has overeducated parents for whom that stuff (in its earlier incarnation) was natural and easy, which can feel demoralizing to him and like an implicit reproach. He gets really irritated with himself when he asks me about something and loses focus mid explanation (or exposition; I can be long-winded). It can be very hard for him to accept truths about different learning and mental styles when he is the one who feels broken and inadequate.

    He recently found taking an intensive half-term course (7 weeks) easier than taking the same material over a full term. 300 level course, multiple papers, section exam each week. The intense sprint worked for him; it might not for you, but trying different approaches is valuable.

    My son also feels free to pursue what delights him, most recently Ceramics. You might wish to consider some studio classes—they engage one in a very different way.

  96. You sound like you might do well in a block plan school maybe in 2023-2024?

    There are 3 I know of: Colorado College in Colorado Springs, Cornell College in Mount Vernon, Iowa, and Tusculum College in Greeneville, TN. It’s 3 weeks on 1 class, a few days off, then on to the next class. I’ve known gifted kids who have learned to sufficiently focus in block plan schools.

    The downside is they’re expensive.

    You might also consider looking at certificate programs that are hands on in something that interests you. See how you do taking 12 weeks to learn how to paint cars or 20 to become a robotics tech?

    It’s hard to learn how to learn when it always came so easily, and the combination of boredom and bafflement don’t go well in brains. So you’re not alone, and it’s okay to be confused.

  97. I’ve been a teacher for 17 years and am currently working on a masters in education. I like what I am learning and don’t mind the papers (much). I have taught a lot of students who went to university and did fine, and a pretty big group who did poorly because they didn’t like what they were studying. There are also quite a few who hated the whole experience and/or quit.
    The education is designed to encourage students to go to university, but most teachers know that isn’t the best choice for everyone. There is nothing wrong with following a different path. I used to be a distance runner, developed knee problems, and don’t job anymore. I am not a failed runner. I just do other things.
    I started by studying marketing, and I would probably be miserable if I had stayed with it. I am much happier with what I do now. The key is finding what you want to do and seeing how to get there. There isn’t a deadline on that. I am sitting next to someone who was an engineer for 10 years, hated it, and became a math teacher in his 30s. Changing his plans was a great thing for him.
    Others had good advice on how to handle stress and try to do better, so I am not adding anything. My advice is to not see it as something you must do so you aren’t a failure. Give yourself time and talk to people who seem happy about how they got to where they are.
    best of luck

  98. Hey, Athena. It’s good to see your writings again. 20 years ago, just after I graduated with my BS in history (which is a whole thing in itself — I made choices then that I wouldn’t now; the biggest of which was taking an extra year to get my degree instead of realizing that I would have the credits to graduate and I was going to be late getting my paperwork turned in so I hurried hurried hurried and graduated in 4 years with all my friends), I went from college student who didn’t look for a job because it happened so fast to a college graduate who didn’t have a job and needed something, so I joined AmeriCorps. The organization I volunteered for with them was located at the university I had just graduated from, and the purpose of it was to promote literacy in younger kids and to also encourage high schoolers to look beyond college for their post-high school plans.

    A four-year degree is not your only option.

    You can:

    Volunteer (with AmeriCorps you are a full-time volunteer and are paid a stipend while you do it, and there are different sorts of programs within AmeriCorps you can choose from. And AmeriCorps can’t be only sort of organization you can volunteer for)
    Go to a trade school
    Get a certificate in something
    Get a job, and take free online courses at websites like Coursera to see what you might like

    Most of all, please don’t feel like a failure. You’re not. You’re really just a victim of the lie that we’ve all been told since we were kids, that in order to be successful you have to go to college, get a job, get married, have kids, but not necessarily in that order. But you don’t. Take some time. Breathe. Think about what you’re passionate about, and then see what you can do within that.

    Chin up. You got this.

  99. 0) Be assured that you are not worthless. No matter how distraught you may feel, and whatever other uncertainties the future may hold, I can assure you of the following with profound certainty: Your worth as a human being does not now depend, nor has it ever depended, on the assessment of your classwork. Failing to meet a particular level of performance on an assessment criteria means only … that you did not demonstrate a particular level of performance with respect to a particular set of expectations for a particular set of assessments. That is, it says remarkably little about you.

    I’ve had more occasions to have some flavor of the above conversation with one of my students or advisees in the past two years than during the rest of my career combined.

    1) Some thoughts on the utility of higher education —
    In my topic area of instruction, most employers expect a specific, technical degree – and it is exceedingly clear that the expected remuneration associated with this is (to my chronic disappointment) the only motivation for many of the students in our degree programs. I say this not because I see the mercenary incentive as inherently negative, but because I find that most people who derive no joy or excitement from the subject matter they pursue sentence themselves to unnecessary suffering by nonetheless pursuing it. It’s good to have a paying job at the end of a degree path, but much better to have a path that takes you through places you wanted to go.

    For non-technical degrees, wherein academia has not been as directly co-opted to serve as a preparatory trade school with vestigial remnants of a classical liberal (little l) education, the value of the degree is more variable. For this, I draw from my father’s experiences in hiring for paper pushing positions, rather than my own experiences in academic recruiting – for the type of jobs he was filling, the specifics of the degree mattered far less than the existence of any degree as a demonstration that they could probably be trusted to attempt to finish the (bureaucracy=often arbitrary!) tasks assigned them and had the necessary tools (both social and intellectual) to seek out what they lacked if they weren’t able to do the task with the knowledge and resources at hand.

    Now, if you aren’t attempting to get a degree as a specific enabler for employment, there’s a rather different perspective to take on general education classes. Namely, if it isn’t interesting to you, it isn’t valuable. Your comments also seemed to indicate that other students seemed to have some disconnect as well. I would therefore hazard a guess that the social environment of such a class is insufficient to compensate (as a value proposition) for the material not drawing you in.

    2) Advice?
    I’m not in a position to give you any actionable advice, so I’ll stick to my simplified, general, high-level framework for how to decide what to pursue next. I like to think about such questions through the lens of a 3-set Venn diagram: A) What are you interested in?; B) What are other people interested in/ascribe value to; C) What are your able to do?

    If it’s not in A, you won’t be happy doing it. Sometimes you have to do this anyway (food on the table and all that), but it’s best to avoid leaving A if your resource situation allows it (which, at present, seems plausible).

    If it’s not in B, no one will pay, praise, or otherwise reward you for it. A without B makes for good hobbies and starving artists. Where A and B intersect are directions worth pursuing, even if they don’t currently intersect C – because C is fungible.

    Choose what to develop in C in order to turn an intersection of A and B into the intersection of all three sets — based on how you prioritize the elements in A.

    Note that this is so meta I could be talking about class selection, whether to pursue a degree, how to pick a thesis topic, how to pick a job, or how to figure out which character class to play in an MMORPG. Nonetheless, I’ve found it to be a useful device over the years, so I hope you (or any other reader) wrings some non-zero utility out of it at some point.

  100. I’m a scientist. I’ve a PhD. I’ve taught at fancy pants schools. But here’s a secret, Athena. I am terrible at passing classes. I’m terrible at them for the same reason you are. Grades are pointless bullshit. I don’t care about them.

    This has caused me many problems. I muddled through, with many fuck ups, because I was going to be a damn scientist—academic bull aside.

    I still feel ridic working alongside people who are so good. Most my friends colleagues have outrageous pedigrees. They never really believe me when I tell them how bad I was at school. How indifferent. How close to failure. But the truth is we all got the same place. I am a good scientist now. You’ll find your place too.

  101. Don’t let it get you down Athena. I am also in the clan-of-didn’t-get-my-paper-on-first-pass. The two things I got from Uni were the ability to teach myself and a grounding of facts in a broad array of subjects. The first allowed me to stay current in software as it went through four cycles of discarding most of how things used to work and replacing it with the next great thing. The second is an anchor against getting carried by the latest conspiracy theory.
    You will find your way. You will find it sooner if you relax.

  102. I read this yesterday when it had about 10 comments. As the father of three daughters I had some opinions, but said to myself, “You are fan of John Scalzi, and that is the total summation of your involvement here. This ain’t your kid. So shaddap.” And now… Holy cats!

    So, opinions:

    I was a terrible student in high school. I barely graduated. I was good at things I liked, and bad at things I didn’t like, mostly because “I couldn’t see the value.” I went into the Navy directly after high school, and the Navy, in its wisdom, sent me to school for another two years. Military training schools aren’t like colleges. Colleges want to produced well rounded people, and that is an admirable and good thing. That’s why they make you learn stuff like geology and anthropology. The military wants to produce razors. They want you to be really, really good at whatever it is they want you to be good at. That is why they made us work at learning for 10 to 12 hours a day, focusing on nothing else. In my case, that was technology. I remember clearly my first day in school thinking to myself “I should have paid attention in math” because it was readily apparent that all that stuff I thought didn’t matter actually did. But I was good at it, generally, and graduated top of my class. But that was mostly because I liked it, and I tended to be good at things I like. The Navy then sent me to an aircraft carrier where I was also good at it.

    One day, my boss came and took me to see the commanding officer so I could explain to him the details of a particular problem we were having with one of the ship’s systems. I’m a 20 year old grunt, and this guy owns his own aircraft carrier, so I was a little nervous. He saw that. He actually asked about it.

    “Petty officer O’Neil, are you nervous?”

    “Yes, sir”


    “Because you’re the CO.”

    And then he said something to me that I have carried with me since that day, and that has served me well ever since.

    “You should look at this as an opportunity to excel.”

    That blew my mind. But I chewed on it and applied it, and over time, it just became who I am. When I got out of the Navy and went to college, I was pretty much a straight A student. Still am. I love going to school. I’m 54 years old and will probably stay enrolled somewhere until I die.

    I think that is what you should do, too, because that is actually what matters. If its worth doing, do it well. You are a smart and capable person. You should be the best at every thing you do. Walking down the street? Excel at it. Baking a pie? Knock it out of the park. Geology? Look out, rocks, here comes Athena. That is an attiude shift for a lot of people, and sometimes that takes time.

    Which segues into the practical portion of my Ted Talk. I think you need to get out of town. I think you need to disrupt your comfort zone and see the world outside of tourism and entertainment destinations. Join the Peace Corps or the Marine Corps or the circus, but just go and experience the world and all its wonders on your own terms. That will help you see the value of those rocks and other cultures.

    The old saw about “Truth being stranger than fiction” gets more true the more you explore our little orbital home. That will turn that course catalog from a dictionary of drudgery into, well, an opportunity to excel. Because, you know, it matters.

  103. The labor market is tight right now. It’s a good time to try out working and a good time to gain experience without needing a degree.

    There will be time later to go back for a degree if you see that you need one, and maybe you won’t ever need one, or maybe you will be motivated enough to get it if you see a reason for it.

  104. Athena, I think it took a lot of courage to write this post. I remember feeling like this myself 50 years ago. Some grandmotherly advice: walk away for now. You will frustrate yourself and punish yourself for what? For not being interested in things you’ll never put to use? It’s a great time to find a job. Go to work for awhile. Meet a lot of people and learn things that way. Of course you won’t stop reading and learning because you’re a smart girl. I had a lot of jobs in my life without a college degree and because I was smart and liked learning, just not tests, I did a lot of interesting things: I worked for a horse trainer (manual labor is good for the mind too), a surveyor drawing maps, made classroom teaching aids for little kids, ran a small printing company, was assistant to Director of Special Education at a major university (with no degree!!)…and more. And made a very good living. Bottom line there are lots of jobs you can do because they have to train you, you can’t learn it in college. Do you like working with your hands? Have artistic skills? Maybe a trade or craft is more your thing. Don’t give up! Maybe just take a break from academia. Oh yeah, and small town life can get you. Maybe time to make a move to someplace with more going on.

    For what it’s worth, my daughter teaches high school English and tells me how hard all of her kids are struggling after having no classes or online only classes since 2019. You might be struggling for those same reasons. This school year has been one long therapy session.

  105. I was you 30+ years ago. Feeling like a failure for hating everything but the social aspect of college and therefore not attending classes and barely scraping out a passing grade if I passed. I got to the end of my junior year and realized all I wanted was out. So I changed my major to English lit, because I knew reading was the only thing I enjoyed and writing papers is way better than taking exams. I took 15 English lit courses in 3 semesters and got a piece of paper I could include on a line in my resume. That line on my resume undoubtedly helped me get jobs but had ZERO bearing on how effective I was at them. I suspect that is true in 95% of college degrees. Take a year off. Work a boring menial job that you resent and hate. It will crystallize a lot of your indifference into a focus of interest in school. Hopefully in a subject that excites you. I wish I had done that. I’ve never met anyone who took off a year of school who didn’t have a positive bounceback from it.

  106. Forgive me for asking, but what do you need the degree for?

    Many employers are realizing that degrees aren’t the end-all-be-all of qualifications, and either don’t require them, or are willing to waive the requirement for the right person.

    Freelance work doesn’t require a degree – a portfolio and a compelling proposal are much more important to getting projects.

    What do you want to do, that you can’t do without a degree?

    I wish you all the best – and I feel that when you’re miserable doing something, it’s probably not the best for you…

  107. I’m sorry your not enjoying academics. For what it’s worth, I had a better experience than you but not because I loved academics, I just have a pretty high tolerance for grinding (it works great in MMOs too).

    What I would suggest, if you have any inclination at all, is to look into perhaps following a programming track and not necessarily doing so in an academic environment. With my particular mental make up, I am way better at dealing with algorithms than I am at memorization. To me, it seems pointless to remember details, as any intelligent individual can usually look things up. And while you wouldn’t want that in a medical diagnostician, for programmers, looking things up is usually a matter of developing your google-fu and spending 10 seconds in a search engine. What I remember is the things that I actually use and if I run into something I have no experience with, googling the answer usually gets me there pretty fast and then I remember it for next time.

    There are a lot of training courses for programming that are more “how-to” than an academic exploration of computer science. While I did enjoy a number of my computer science courses and would recommend them at some point if you did go that route, you don’t really need those to get started as a programmer, especially with a lot of modern languages like Java or Go.

    To me programming is equivalent to problem solving, and I love a good puzzle.

  108. Athena: Can I send you a nice box of Shiny Rocks? 50 years ago (!) I got my degree in geology. Did I keep with it? Not “professionally”. I’ve been a computer geek since around ’76. For fun? Always. Forget the academic p’tak and pick out the fun bits. When you realize that with even a rudimentary knowledge of geology EVERYPLACE you wander through is interesting. Even Ohio. Get a copy of one of the “Roadside Geology of ____” (insert state there), relax your eyes, and look at the neat stuff that the hoi polloi miss. You’re a smart lass (kinda runs in your family). You probably picked up more things in that class than you thought.

  109. Sounds like your gut may be telling you, “Do something else right now.” Listening to your gut is a skill that’ll serve you forever.

    Don’t waste a good crisis.

  110. This was a hard post to read because your pain and frustration comes through so clearly. As someone who teaches at a university, I can imagine myself in the shoes of your professors. I hope it’s okay to say I feel for them, too. Teaching intro courses well is one of the hardest things to do!

    Out of curiosity, have you ever read books or articles about the history of American higher education, or about college teaching? As someone who teaches at a university myself, I find that sort of stuff fascinating, and it also serves as a source of motivation and understanding when I don’t want to do something my university requires or don’t understand why something that seems nonsensical is standard practice.

    It seems based on what you’ve said that higher ed is just not for you at this point in your life. Adding to the chorus of voices encouraging you to come back if and when it’s right for you. I’m so impressed by the kindness and wealth of experience of the other commenters. Hopefully their advice resonates and helps you.

    Good luck and be well.

  111. Hi Athena! What you’re dealing with sounds super frustrating. I’ve had a similar struggle in a different area of my life for many years and will likely be working through it for years to come. I’ve had to accept that my failings in that area don’t define me or my worth. I encourage you to look at college similarly!

    A question for you that maybe you covered in a previous post I missed: are there any non-college jobs that interest you? I think it would make for an interesting post! I ask because I work with a number of folks that went into the trades and are living much more satisfying lives than many of my highly-educated colleagues. And I’m not talking just construction-related trades…there are all sorts of special fields like instrumentation technician, xray inspector, park ranger, manufacturing, and more out there that are worth checking out.

  112. College was frustrating for me. I went as a non-traditional student (the “old guy” in the class) and kept dropping most or all of my classes until I finally just quit signing up for them in the first place. By the time I went to college, I had already stumbled into my career simply because I’ve always been good at it. I was going to get a degree to try to prove something to myself which simply did not need proven. All I did was frustrate myself until I realized that the little piece of paper at the end simply wasn’t worth it to me. Once you decide whether it is worth it to you or not, your decision will be clear, and, if it is, I’m sure you’ll have a much easier go of it. Don’t beat yourself up over it either way.

  113. I keep thinking of the mythological definition of insanity. This isn’t working for you right now. Do something different. Anything. Work. Travel. In a couple of years things often look different. I partied my way thru college the first time around but later decided to return to school for another degree and this time worked my ass off. I was a different person. You will be too at some point.

  114. I would add one more thing. No knowledge is bullshit and stop thinking of it as such. Your dad is a bright guy who had to learn a lot about many different things to write his books. W/out that knowledge he likely wouldn’t be much of a writer. Even if you’re just a more interesting dinner guest being able to discourse on a number of different things is a badge of honor and something that will help you in ways unimagined to you right now. Learn for learning’s sake.

  115. Yeah, don’t go back, but … sadly, so many of the other ways of spending a life also involve repetition of boring things. Unless (until?) you can find work that really engages you, any for-pay job involves doing arbitrary things over and over. Even jobs that actually engage your talents can be like that (ask your father what it’s like to be half-way through a novel and looking at a blank screen every morning).

    But still: try out the world of paid work, like, clerk in a grocery store or such; some menial job you can quit after a month without causing comment. At the least it gives you human contacts you’d never otherwise have, and new experiences you could write about here! (Picture it: “My First Month at the A&P”, or “Life as a Barista”.)

    Once upon a time the advice for bored young men was to join the military. Don’t do that! If that turns out to be boring, you can get jail time for quitting. Something that tends to happen to bored young women is pregnancy. Don’t do that, either; or you’ve signed up for 18 years of boring/annoying with literally no way of quitting.

  116. Like so many who have already commented here, I very much relate to your experience, and it saddens me to know that the college experience for some hasn’t changed much since I first attempted it, 30 years ago (what? how did I get that old?) I went to college three times – right after high school in the early 90’s, again when I was in my mid-20s, and then the last time in my early 30s, each time believing it was what I HAD to do in order to Win at Life. It never was the right experience for me. (Nothing takes the fun out of learning something than having to PROVE that I learned it YOUR WAY. Ugh.) I, too, felt like a failure at times, but as a vocationally successful 47 year old (with no degree, in a field with co-workers who all have them), I can look back and see that it was just not the journey for me, which can be difficult when you don’t fit into the same narrative that the majority of society does. (Side note – this is a theme with me, as my husband and I are happily childfree, and that, too, is the ‘road not taken’ by most people.) You’re not a failure, by any definition; you’re one of us who takes a different path. And that’s totally ok. You spend so much of your life working, so finding something that suits you is important, but what I do now for work (which I love) versus what I studied all three times I attempted a degree are vastly different – and I never would have discovered it had I taken the usual route to adulthood. Intelligence, hard work and the ability to learn what’s needed in the moment are skills that will carry you far. Try to enjoy the journey – I wish I had spent less time worrying about where I’d end up. Work is hard – that’s why they pay you for it – but try to create opportunities to experience new things, learn “on the job” and build from there. You sound like someone who learns best from experience, and now is the best time to start racking those up! You’ll find your path. It’s out there. It just may be the road less traveled.

  117. From what I’m reading, it sounds not only like traditional academia might not be for you, but traditional work might not be either. Partially because the same types of things you have trouble getting motivated to do for classes are going to be required of the vast majority of entry to mid-level corporate roles. And while many people might poo-poo diplomas as just being pieces of paper showing you managed to make it through college without necessarily learning anything… that’s actually a pretty good test for whether or not you will be successful in the corporate world. A significant part of success in both our academic system and the office place is quite simply, do you have the work ethic and motivation to do the tasks required of you, regardless of if you find them worthy or interesting.

    There is a reason high school GPA is the single highest predictor of college GPA… because in most educational settings, effort outweighs intelligence when it comes to getting good grades. Until you reach a strategic level of a company, it’s the same thing in the work place. Intelligence can help you rise, but junior-level roles are more about just getting your work done. This is why whenever people talk about how college degrees shouldn’t matter, I always respond that, right or wrong, my base assumption is that someone who does not have a degree (and doesn’t have a resume that justifies not having a degree), is more likely to be someone who doesn’t have the ambition and work ethic I would want in a new hire.

    I don’t mean this to be belittling or unsympathetic… my point is that it’s not just higher education that may not be right for you, but traditional office work is likely not for you either. The primary reason for many to get a degree is to gain entry into the corporate world, and if the corporate world is not for you, maybe a degree is truly not something you need to work for. It might be best to work on figuring out what your passion actually is, and then analyzing what you need to pursue that passion (and if that includes a degree) before deciding next steps.

  118. [Deleted because this fellow didn’t expect his comment to get through moderation, and I hate to disappoint such expectations — JS]

  119. I’m not sure if you noticed, but once again you were honest about a struggle and have so many people relating to you. This feels like a strength for you.
    For myself, in reading what you’ve written here on the blog, I’ve found you intelligent, articulate, and persuasive (your subscription box writing in particular). You have the skills to be in marketing if that’s what you want to do.
    I think what you’re seeing people suggest is that you try on a few options and discard what doesn’t fit so you can find what does. I think figuring out “who you want to be” is so much more fluid and lifelong than the people who ask a two-year-old what they want to be when they grow up understand. I’ve got multiple degrees and enjoy what I’m doing now but I still don’t know if this is my final form. I’ll know what I want to be when I grow up if I ever grow up. But everything I’ve done along the way has shaped this. School, no school, friendships, family, and romantic relationships, things I hate, things I thought I would hate but tried anyway and discovered I liked…all of it. But sometimes you only realize that when you look back on it, which doesn’t feel helpful in the now.
    Musings rather than advice, but hopefully more encouraging than discouraging.

  120. Speaking as someone who regularly makes hiring decisions in the corporate world, I have a little bit of good news. Some of us are working hard to persuade the HR departments that college degrees are NOT actually required for most of the jobs we do. And it is changing. Slowly, sure. But the desperation of our corporations to find good employees (I’m not kidding, it is most companies’ number one problem) is forcing them to get creative about how and where they’re looking. Companies like Microsoft and Ernst & Young have designed hiring processes designed for neuro-divergent people because they’ve realized that the interview process itself is an artificial barrier to some excellent employees. Others have begun to see that their diversity programs require them to recognize that there are large populations of people they’ve been excluding, and they’re slowly beginning to make changes. So I’m going to echo everyone else and say that maybe college isn’t a great idea for you at the moment (maybe never, maybe in a year or two, maybe a very different type of program) – but I’m also going to say that you should not believe that the BA degree, much less a Masters, is going to be necessary to have a good life. If you submitted your writing portfolio from this quiet little corner of the internet, I would hire you in a heartbeat. And then I would ask you to do really complicated things, to solve challenging problems, and to make everyone’s lives easier – because you don’t do boredom well and you don’t do grunt work well, but you’re extremely intelligent. A good manager would love to have you on their team.

    PS My daughter is roughly your age and is also taking time off from college, having struggled badly and been politely invited to stay away. Funny thing? She’s already found significant paid work in the field she loves and is building up a great professional resume. She doesn’t make enough money yet to survive on her own, but guess what? Like you, she has parents who can and will help.

  121. OK, my second comment — and this one isn’t all about me.

    You are such a good writer. Do you like writing stories, too? I’m guessing there are artists who would love to partner with a writer to create a webcomic. And we know you have/had an interest in those.

    Just another brainstorming idea for you to consider.

    Good writer! Portfolio of well-written pieces, proving you aren’t just a wannabe! You are several steps along already if you want to do more in writing.

  122. As rando people on the internet, who have interacted with you solely based on your posts on this site, perhaps our advice is meaningless, but like many others have said: Perhaps college just isn’t for you.

    Or maybe it’s just not for you right now. Maybe it will be someday. No one knows the future.

    But I think at this point you have enough data to know it’s not the right fit, right now.

    And that’s okay! Not everyone should have to go to college! There are many other options out there.

    Maybe you’d do better with hands on work–are there any apprentice type programs that interest you? Or maybe self guided study on something you’re actually interested in? Internships? Or even just job hopping to see what type of work kills your soul vs. makes the job tolerable?

    Life is NOT an escalator! You are in control, and you don’t have to passively follow the route of: high school > college > terrible job(s) you hate > work until retirement > finally enjoy life > die.

    Accept (and dare I even say, embrace?) the fact that you are different. That college isn’t for you right now. Try something else. Please, please please stop punishing yourself for not being able to follow the stereotypical life path. It’s not a mistake. It’s not a problem with you.

  123. I’m gonna agree with everyone who says college may not be the right path for you, at least not right now. Maybe in the future you will develop a passion for a specific subject, or an ambition for a specific career, and that will be enough motivation to carry you through the boring and stupid parts of college education. Or maybe you’ll take a completely different path in life, and that’s fine too! A piece of paper won’t make you into a worthy human being, because you already are a worthy human being; and while some jobs may require it, if you hate college, you’d probably hate those jobs too. Figuring out who you are and what you want to do with your life is much more important than making yourself miserable just because society says it’s what you’re supposed to do.

    I have a PhD. My husband has a high school diploma. We both have careers that we love and are very good at, but his employment history has been much more stable than mine, and he’s more respected in his profession than I ever expect to be in mine.

    You’re smart, young, and have a good support system around you. You can do it, for whatever value of “it” you eventually decide on.

  124. Condolences, again. Seems like the I Should motivation gets overpowered by the I Don’t Want To motivation, indicating that things are not really figured out inside. I grew up with a powerful assumption that I would go to college, so I did, but I have a big tolerance for academic nonsense. Rules I can play by. Others here and elsewhere have said higher education is a waste of time unless you need the credentials. Getting clearer about what you do want will help. Where does your energy want to go? Not your impulsive shopping kind of energy, but the soul affirming, who you really are stuff.

  125. So many comments! And, so far as I can tell, all of them supportive–so, before going any farther, please be aware that you are eminently deserving of love, support, and even admiration just as you are right now. And for who you are, not for what you may (or may not) have accomplished in academia.

    OK, with that out of the way…

    If there are three main themes that seem to run through all these comments (I had to skim some of them to be sure I could get my $0.02 in before comments close), one is that “the traditional BA-MA-Ph.D.” track clearly isn’t for everyone (nor does it guarantee future happiness, or even future financial success). Another is that there are many, many alternative paths to both of those. And, finally, based just on the level of thought and writing in virtually all of the comments–not to mention how much time and effort many of the commenters have obviously put into their contributions–there are many, many of us who’ve started and then dropped (or flunked) out of college and still managed to have happy and fulfilling lives–although perhaps if I’d stuck through a degree, some 50 years ago, I might at least have learned not to write run-on sentences.

    Literature professor and philosopher Joseph Campbell–whose book, “The Hero’s Journey,” was probably George Lucas’s most important inspiration for “Star Wars”–wrote “My general formula for my students is ‘Follow your bliss.’ Find where it is, and don’t be afraid to follow it.”

    I can look at a couple of examples pretty close to home: My grandmother (born 1888) had a hideous childhood, found an initial escape in music, and may well have been, by around 1905, the best harpist in the world–good enough to be the only woman in the Vienna Philharmonic. But from childhood, she’d always yearned to write, and found writing to be her real passion and escape. By the end of WW1, married to a symphony conductor and with two small children, she’d found the harp to be a dead end, given up music, turned to writing, managed to get hired as a magazine contributor and editor, started writing novels that were serialized in magazines, and ultimately ended up as a best-selling novelist (one of her books ended up as an Oscar-winning movie and, later, a very successful Broadway musical). She’d “followed her bliss,” made her own way, had a long and happy life, and brought pleasure to millions. (And, perhaps, genetically transmitted the cacoethes scribendi–the itch to write–to at least one of her descendants.)

    Closer yet to home: In high school, I was inspired to emulate Ed Ricketts, the real-life marine biologist model for the character “Doc” in John Steinbeck’s novel, “Cannery Row,” and chose that as my major in college. Having had severe discipline imposed on me at my (Swiss) high school, I never grew any of my own, and was well on my way to flunking out by the end of my freshman year. (The melodramatic ending of My First Great Love no doubt contributed to this.) On the other hand, there happened to be a glider flying club adjacent to the campus, where the seed was sown that was to grow into a lifelong and deeply satisfying career in aviation–sometimes just flying, at other times as an aviation writer. I mention this last because, clearly, you like to write (and write well)–so perhaps that might be something to keep in mind: not only to “follow your bliss,” but to write about it, perhaps to share it as a possible inspiration to others.

    (Fun fact: at one point in his career, Joseph Campbell worked as a lab assistant for–and may well have been inspired by–Ed Ricketts.)

    Final thoughts re: trades vs degrees:

    Perhaps the idea of “trades” is finally coming more into its own, and “tradespeople” are beginning to get more of the respect they’ve always deserved. (I’ve always looked on flying as a “trade,” and I certainly don’t feel inferior to the degree’d barista making my morning latte–or, for that matter, to the many Ph.Ds over the years who’ve unwittingly put their lives into my hands in an airplane I’ve been flying.)

    I can look at my own nephew–who barely scraped through high school, but then apprenticed to a plumber, and is now a very successful plumbing contractor, providing not only a happy home for his family, but satisfying and well-paid work for his employees. Or when I look at the circumstances of my life in general–the house I live in, the food I eat, the work I do, other things I enjoy–the vast majority of the contributions to all that has come from the work done by tradespeople.

    Not that degrees don’t have their place. I don’t fly for the airlines (and haven’t necessarily wanted to, for various reasons), but until very recently, an airline job required a four-year degree–not even one that had any direct connection with flying, but simply to prove to the airlines that one was “teachable” before they invested the big bucks required to train a pilot to airline standards. (And I’ll point out, proudly, that I hold an airline pilot license that I earned despite my ignominious academic career.)

    What I think can be of great benefit in higher education is that it can teach critical–or, perhaps better, inquisitive and analytical–thinking. Just the ideas that “there are no simple answers,” or “there are more than two sides to many issues,” or even just “there’s no one single right or wrong” seem to be sorely lacking in much of what one sees, hears, or reads–for those who still read–nowadays. It may be that a Liberal Arts degree (if one can still obtain that in the ever-narrowing time window before “liberal” becomes even more a term of opprobrium) can be a path to that kind of thinking–courses that expose students to as wide as possible a range of thought, rather than those more narrowly focused on some particular skill set or area of expertise.

    But you don’t need a degree to learn that (or to prove you’ve learned it). If I may presume to suggest anything to you, “follow your bliss,” find what excites you, what makes you happy, and perhaps what you want to share with others (as you already do)–and then, if you decide you want formal academic instruction in those areas, take classes for the sake of learning what you really want to know. If that might ultimately lead to a degree, fine. If it doesn’t, also fine.

    So: “college…schmollege.” Or maybe not. I’m sure you’ll ultimately do just fine, either way. Best of luck…and please keep writing!

  126. Keep at it. You’re smart and you’ll find a way.

    From someone who experienced similar-seeming frustration in a different field, here’s how I would go about learning if I were to do it my own way:

    • Bootstrap each topic with a short course combining practical with Q&A.
    • Keep doing that at my own pace, with Q&A getting more academic as things progress.
    • Then take the formal academic course, preferably a 6-8 week compressed version.
    • Have a mentor, somebody handy to help me work out the why of things I discover practically, but which aren’t covered academically. A TA was sufficient for secondary subjects, but not for my focus field.

    As it was, I stumbled into a similar pattern by sheer luck. I just got poor grades everywhere I didn’t accidentally get practical experience before academics. I needed some scaffolding to brace the academics on so I didn’t lose interest. Then when the academics would pull a surprise, it was interesting rather than something to sleep through.

    Then I just kept going. No need for academics beyond what I needed for credentialing. Most of what I use day to day wasn’t even covered academically — the basics of why sometimes, but completely without context.

    Incidentally this has worked for me not just in my STEM field, but in “soft” topics like literature, writing, sociology, and anthropology as well. Thank you very much SF and Fantasy novels!

  127. Read your essay with great interest, and two things come to mind…

    There was a TV commercial where a Man is in the Forest talking about whatever the product is, when one of the animals asks him how he learned to talk to animals. He says, “Books.”

    Your library card will always be far more valuable than any degree you seek.

    Secondly, I read your blogs, and you are clearly intelligent, articulate, and well rounded in your thinking and writing… and, there’s a living in that.

    Finally (I know. That’s three things) Go find one of the Scalzi cats, and pet it. Listen to it purrr. Translated, it mean, “You love me. You are a worthy human.” Cats know about these things. Listen to the cat.

  128. I hear a lot of echos of my college years in your post. To some extent, I have to agree “who cares” was my answer as well to a lot of the classes I had no interest in.

    To some extent, you have to find your passion. I barely squeaked by as an undergrad, especially in my non-major classes. I went to class when I felt like it, did the homework occasionally, and my grades showed it. The exception was my CompSci classes, those I aced for the most part, in part because that is what interested me and in part because I had a few amazing instructors who really knew how to teach.

    By comparison, when I continued on in grad school things completely changed. Because all my classes were in my major I loved it! I started going to almost every class, did the homework and turned things in on time. Heck, I even nearly aced my comps.

    As others have said, it is extremely possible that college just isn’t your thing. And there’s nothing wrong with that — it isn’t (and shouldn’t be) for everyone.

  129. over a hundred comments… I got blurry eyes halfway through… well intended and many were specific with advice… I might be about to repeat someone else, if so, apologies…
    you have luxury of a family willing to keep providing you with roof-food-clothes… take a blank sheet of paper and list all the things that would be hellish if you had to do ’em: DMV clerk, cleaning up at hair salon, personal assistant to Elon Musk, fluffer on a porn set, COBOL programmer, editing tell-all books at a major publishing house, divorce lawyer, et al…
    then write a snarky book… each of those horrid jobs is a separate chapter… you apply for each…detailing in the chapter… the required skills, application process, phone screening, salary/benefit package, career advancement… it would be an opportunity to work through your frustrations as well potentially a fun book… and keep in mind how “Sex And The City” was derived from a serial column in a newspaper… your dad for sure knows someone at Netflix looking for non-traditional content…

  130. Without having read all 130 comments at the time I write this, I have a couple of observations to share. You are obviously smart, articulate, and overwhelmed by a system that is designed for the mass of students. You are letting the “system” define whether you are a success or not. That’s wrong on so many levels. Your value is not dependent on college, society, or what others think about you. It depends on you recognizing your unique talents and being perfectly fine with that.

    There is no doubt that you can write beautifully and have the intelligence to be introspective enough to be concerned about your path forward. As others have recommended, look for what really interests you, not what is popular or trendy. Sample as many things as you can until you fine that thing or combination of things that fit you rather than trying to fit “you” into some other category just to make money and fit in. Its tough to go against the popular flow especially when you’re young and society values conformity.

    You don’t have to have it all worked out in the next 2 weeks. Take some classes wildly outside your current college program just to see what you like. Consider some private coaching to help open opportunities for you to consider.

    We aren’t all cut out to fit into same mold. You’ve found that out early enough to not be trapped into having to do something to make enough money just to live. Take advantage of this wonderful lesson and find that thing which makes you whole.

  131. All that mind-numbing busy work sucks, doesn’t it? I found learning about Gretchen Rubin’s Four Tendancies useful in that I now know that being told what to do makes me want to grind my teeth and that’s one reason traditional education doesn’t usually work for me. It also helps explain decisions in non-school areas like exercise or hanging out with friends. She has a quiz and info on her website if you’re interested. (I’m betting you’re a rebel or questioner!)

  132. Chiming in a bit late here. You’ve gotten some really good advice from so many people already, but I wanted to cosign the person above who asked if you might possibly have undiagnosed ADHD. I did okay in college despite having similar feelings towards it, mainly through being terrified of failure as well as the pressure to do well that comes from being a first-generation college student with family expectations. But my grades were average rather than exceptional, and throughout college and then my career afterwards, I’ve always struggled with repetitive tasks that had no immediate payoff or, to my mind at least, no real point.

    I’ve spent a lifetime thinking that I’m just lazy and incompetent, not able to just knuckle down and do the work, or finish a task that I’d started so strongly. The thought of ADHD never even crossed my mind – when I was in school in the 90s, the only kids who got diagnosed with it were the wild hyperactive boys who couldn’t sit still in a chair for 10 minutes. But ADHD can also be the inattentive type – the kind of kid who gets described as “dreamy”, who can’t get their homework turned in on time or remember to finish their chores, but will spend hours in their head creating an imaginary world from scratch. Realizing as a 40-year-old woman that I have been living with inattentive type ADHD my whole life, and getting treatment for it (both medication and therapy) has been an absolute GAMECHANGER for me. It’s like I’ve been trying and trying to keep up with everyone else and wondering why it seems so hard and exhausting for me but not them, only to realize I’ve been in the wrong gear all along.

  133. For me, high school was the soulless slog. I was a C- student, graduated in the bottom half of my class and almost dropped out in my senior year because it could not engage me. College was my salvation because I could study what I wanted to and I became an A student. And I still only have an AA at the age of 60, and I married a PhD astronomer.

    Amongst the many problems with our country today is the all-but requirement that you must have a university degree to get a good job. It’s absolutely ridiculous. Take my current field, librarianship. People are graduating with huge debt and competing for jobs paying burger flipper wages. Meanwhile, there are shortages of plumbers, electricians, carpenters, etc.

    I am not suggesting you should become a plumber or electrician. Unless skilled trades appeals to you. You can make a lot of money in those fields.

    But if you want to be a writer, take a look at EdX. There are lots of free courses – and some you pay for – that are college lectures that will teach you about writing. Will learning about geology help you with writing? Maybe. It could help you with world-building at some point. If you read Neal Stephenson’s Reamde, he talks about geology as a part of world building in an MMO game. Most authors just elide over it.

    It’s easy to say ‘don’t sweat the little shit’ because life is important, but you’re likely to have a lot of different jobs going forward. Remember that.

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