How did a straight-A go-getter with ambition decide to drop out of college after 1 year?
It seems a bit bizarre, right? For an only child who dreamed of getting far, far away from her seemingly-boring life in San Diego, to be an achiever, to become the first in the family to attend university…my future all pointed to graduating with a degree in hand. But that’s not what happened to me. After graduating high school with honors, I was lucky to attend Pace University in New York City. I secured more than a dozen private scholarships after spending all my lunch breaks my senior year filling out applications and writing essay after essay in the library. The librarians knew me by name, and my teachers were probably sick of me asking if I could use them as a reference. I was the girl that would go to college. I was the type-A perfectionist that would make myself proud and get a degree. I would leave California, I would go do.
So, let’s get to the point, Helena: what exactly happened?
Besides the fact that I was an aspiring Broadway actress, skipping class everyday to go work at an Off-Broadway theatre and sing at Broadway open calls in Manhattan, I felt…burned out. Doesn’t every high school kid who is pressured to pick a major and life-long career at the age of 18? I didn’t succumb to the idea that we were supposed to know what we wanted to do with our lives. That we should force ourselves to take classes in subjects we had no interest learning. I rolled my eyes at our hustling, hard-working culture who told us going to college was the way to be successful in life. I told myself I would be successful no matter what I did, even if that meant starting a business and creating something myself. I wanted to be happy, and I simply wasn’t happy taking tests and sitting in barren classrooms. I wanted to go do things. I wanted to learn in the real world. So, I went out and booked myself a few shows, traveled extensively, and worked as a production assistant for a few years. With all my private scholarships used up after the first year, I couldn’t pay 40,000 for the following year of school. And with no financial help from my family and my focus on becoming an actress, I dropped out.
It was the easiest, best decision I had ever made.
But that doesn’t mean my year at college was by any means, bad. My first semester of college, I discovered Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg. I made life-long friends and met people who inspired me to be a better version of myself. I spent my days auditioning, renting rehearsal rooms to sing and dance, I showed up to late-night acting classes on the upper west side. I spent afternoons and evenings at the Strand bookstore, reading every book on psychology and Barbra Streisand I could get my hands on. I studied astrology, taught myself photography and learned how to deal with money. I performed in underground music venues, belted my face off in cabarets, and dated guys who were way too old for me. I wrote poetry and worked a million odd-jobs that I saved to backpack Europe. I expanded my skill-set, and I spent so much time alone, that I met myself for the first time. It was the most wonderful year. And get this: most of it wasn’t spent in a classroom. It was out in the world and I wrote down many of my adventures and thoughts on a little blog.
To Anyone in High School Who Might Be Reading This…
I often wish I had left college sooner than I had, but this isn’t a post about regrets. This is a post to inspire others who may be in the same predicament. If you feel in your heart that college isn’t in the best timing for you right now, or even at all, don’t go. It’s as simple as that. Make the choice to be happy. If you’re struggling to stay sane in a place that makes you miserable, consider what is the best path for you. Not what society thinks you should do, or what your parents urge you to do. Because more than likely, your roommate will think you’re crazy, your friends will think you’re weird, and your parents may disown you. But so what? At the end of the day, you have yourself. You will always only have yourself. And you will have to live with yourself, with the choices you make. You. And that includes where you spend 4 years of your time and money.
You’ll be surprised to learn, that at almost 24 years old, I am feeling ready to go back to school. Yep, you heard that right! I still will always be an entrepreneur and a a self-starter. I’m sure I will always choose to be my own boss, to be a freelance creative, and to abhor society’s rules and traditions of what people should or shouldn’t do in order to be successful. But I will say that I’m eager to learn in a classroom setting again. I’m giddy just thinking about spending my days in the library writing papers and studying for mid-terms. (Am I crazy for saying that?!?) At this point in my life, I know who I am and I know what I want, and I am eager to study, learn, and excel in an academic setting. At 18, I wasn’t sure.
For parents, teachers, and counselors…
Allowing young people to make the choice to attend college, as opposed to assuming that they will automatically go or forcing them to go to college right upon graduating, is a step we haven’t quite accepted in our western culture. Giving 18 year olds a bit of time to figure it out – who they are and what they want to pursue with their life – takes time. And we need to start encouraging young people to follow their intuition and not the opinions of others. We need to give teenagers freedom to choose and freedom to be who they really are.
And that starts before high school.