I never graduated from college and that has always made me feel worthless. I’ve lied about it for years because I felt like if I didn’t, everybody I knew would decide that I’m not worth knowing anymore and that I’m not as smart as they thought I was. Obviously, that kind of thing doesn’t matter to me anymore, but it did for a very long time. I dropped out in part because I had no idea what I was doing. High school didn’t prepare me and even though my parents wanted me to go to college, they didn’t prepare me or seek out any resources to help me either.
I had to handle the whole thing alone and it was way too much for me. I had to find out what kind of financial support I needed and how much, and how to go about getting it. My parents didn’t even do me the courtesy of sitting down and explaining to me that they hadn’t saved a nickel and had never even thought about it. I was just thrown out to the financial aid wolves on my own. I was not the first person to go to college in my family, either. My father went, my aunts and uncles on both sides of my family went and nobody offered me any advice at all. I guess everybody just assumed that because I was a resourceful kid that always took care of myself, I’d never need any help.
I made a lot of mistakes academically as well as financially. I try not to beat myself up about that either because a lot of it was related to being undiagnosed in terms of my mental health issues, physical and developmental disabilities. The deck was stacked against me in so many ways and I had absolutely no idea. When it was clear that I wasn’t gonna graduate after five years between one college and one university, I dropped out. In retrospect, going in the first place is something that I deeply regret. I didn’t know myself well enough to decide at seventeen what I wanted to pay money that wasn’t mine to study. I still don’t know enough. I was way too immature and inexperienced to make decisions like that without a support system.
I think it’s ridiculous to expect all high school students, regardless of ability, to know what they want to spend upwards of forty thousand dollars a year and at least four years studying. Especially since a lot of kids don’t come from money or have supportive schools with SAT prep and classes on financial aid and things like that. On top of that there are tons of kids with undiagnosed learning and developmental disabilities as well as mental illnesses that may not know what kind of support they need or can ask for once they get to college. Largely because they weren’t provided with any while they were in high school, or before.
Once I got to junior college and then eventually a big university, I had no idea how anything worked and I paid for it dearly. I didn’t even connect the idea of going to college with choosing an eventual career. It was never framed that way to me, I didn’t know it was a step toward that. It was always framed as higher education, and I took that sentiment literally. I took it as simply the next step in academia. I get that for allistic kids it can be framed as this period of “figuring stuff out” and they can work out what that means, but for me that was such a generalized statement. I didn’t know it meant paying somebody to teach me a thing that I was gonna decide to do for the rest of the foreseeable future. I just thought it was gonna be higher quality, more direct academics. I didn’t have a plan aside from “oh, cool. I get to learn more stuff in a place where the people around me really wanna learn stuff.” I can’t even begin to tell you how wrong I was.
If it was up to me, everybody would benefit from my mistake by reading this as a teen and deciding that they need to take more time to decide. I wish more stories like mine made it out or were repeated. If I had read an experience like this, it would have set a whole bunch of cogs moving in my head that probably would have led to a very different future. I doubt I’d be in the place I am now if I had the kind of support I needed in basically every aspect of my life, but especially in this one. Perhaps if I’d read an account like this while I was struggling I would have felt less like a failure. Even with all the bullshit I went through initially, I think eventually I’ll go back to school. I do want a degree and I want a career but I’m not sure even now what I want to study or have that career in. I have a lot of other more important things to figure out first. And who knows, once I figure those things out I might change my mind.