Dropping Out

It may take me another 2+ years to graduate from college.

I’ve been a bit frustrated for years now. Though doing things I enjoy, I feel like my life and passions have been on hold so I can do the responsible thing. I want to finish what I start, and I want to help people, and I want to do it right. I basically put college on hold for two years to co-lead FnC–I couldn’t take upper-level classes at the time because I didn’t have enough time for more intense study or research. Then I got a full time job so I could afford to get married and subsequently start a family. Throughout it all, I’ve tried to balance school with the goal of getting a degree, and all along the way my writing has been on the back burner. It was what I ultimately wanted to focus on, but these other necessities took precedence.

Now I’m trying to finish my degree so I can move on and do what I want. I thought I just had another semester and a half, another seven months, and then I’d be done. I’d have a Bachelor of Arts in Religious Studies with a minor in Creative Writing at the end of Spring 2010.

I was a double major (RS and CW), but today I dropped my second major down to a minor so I could graduate sooner. At the same time, I really examined my degree audit. For years, I’ve scheduled classes based on the general education and major/minor requirements, making sure I met each one. I took every night class I could that met those requirements because my work really doesn’t like me taking day classes. Since there are no night classes left to take, I began my last four courses before completing my degree, taking them during the day.

But it looks like I don’t just need four more courses. There’s a subsection on my degree audit I missed that states “40 hours upper-division credits required.” I have eighteen, with three more currently in progress. I need nineteen more.

I’ll get six next semester with my last 500-levels. That leaves me still needing thirteen. At six hours a semester, that’s three semesters. Conversely, I could try to take nine hours during one semester (on top of 40 hours of work), but most 300-levels that would satisfy this requirement aren’t offered at night at Missouri State and I don’t think my work would be quite that flexible.

What’s worse, I have no classes left to take that actually matter. They would have to be absolutely random, unrelated 300-level classes.

The thought of being in school for another two years is devastating, primarily because I just don’t think I can do it. I have been in school for so long, and I’ve been wanting to finish something for so long, that the thought of not finishing is heartbreaking. And yet, I can’t see myself putting my true desires on hold for another two years just to get a piece of paper that doesn’t matter.

I have three desires in my life.

  1. Be a father.
  2. Write.
  3. Serve God (which I think will involve learning about and teaching spiritual warfare).

Number 1 is waiting until April’s education is complete and we pay everything off–we can’t afford to have kids until then. I’ve put number 2 on hold for years because there was always something else to do first. And while I’m trying to do number 3 more, it’s hard when I have to work 9-10 hour days because of work+class and then do homework (reading and essays) in the evening.

What does getting a degree do to advance those priorities? After next semester, I will have already taken every class required to get a BA in Religious Studies, I just haven’t taken enough “upper division” classes. I won’t be furthering my education by taking another five classes, I’ll just be paying the University more money and time to give me a piece of paper that doesn’t go towards advancing my priorities.

I have been in school for twenty years at this point. And it has been inarguably valuable. But do I really need to do more?

I do not want to be defined by a college degree.I want to be defined by what I do with my life, and perhaps that’s where my desire for completion comes. I lack definition, and getting a degree would have given me something while also marking the transition to pursuing my passions. So I could spend another two years in college to get a degree that gives me a label, or I can actually do something. I could write the book of poetry I dreamed up in the shower this morning, and return to my scifi novel, and actually finish a fantasy fiction short story. I can start experimenting and learning how to live and write about it. I could take up photography.

In a sense, I don’t want the sense of accomplishment that comes from getting the BA, because I don’t feel it is justified. What does that piece of paper prove? That I stuck it out? That I delayed my life another 1.5 years?

How much longer do I have do walk on this treadmill?

I have been looking forward to the end of next semester for years. Looking forward to finally having time to write, to being more involved with the church, to starting attending a small group again, and to figuring out how to live.

What is there besides school? I’ve been in school since I was four years old–I have no experience outside of it–and I wonder what’s out there. What else could I be doing? What would life be like?

I could live, instead of just waiting to live.

I’m not doing anything. I go, I do enough to get the grade, and I wait for them to hand me a piece of paper. Is this what life is supposed to be?

I’m going to meet with my advisor tomorrow to see what she says, but I doubt there’s any way around this 40-hour rule. And if it comes to that, is there any point in pushing myself through another two years?

And for those who are inevitably going to post, “Get your degree! It’s so worth it!” please, tell me why. Why is it worth it? Note that I already have a secure, full time job paying a good amount more than average for Springfield, and I’ve already learned everything the degree is intended to confer. Note that a degree in religious studies has no direct application to anything I want to do. I don’t intend, nor do I foresee, going on to graduate level studies, and if I did enroll for a graduate degree then I think it would have to be as a full-time student, not someone trying to do it while working full time (and if that were the case, I could finish up my undergrad in a semester or two). Note the above priorities.

I can’t help but wonder what life would be like if I were really engaged with what I feel God is calling me to. I can’t see any reason to delay any longer.

What is happiness, peace, and fulfillment worth? Would a degree make me happy? Would I be happy if I let that goal go? I don’t know… I really don’t. Like I said, the thought of not finishing the degree–my thoughts going round and round for the last five hours–are stunning. It’s hard for me to accept the thought of not finishing. But the thought of going for another two years, for having been in college for nine years to get a degree to hang on the wall, and for no other purpose, is even harder to accept.

I’m going to brush my teeth and go to bed. God, be with me. Help this all make sense.

5 thoughts on “Dropping Out

  1. Sorry to hear that.

    I feel your pain, in a way. I discovered recently I should have stuck with the technical writing major and not CW but I won’t start over because I want to get on with my life. I’m finishing college more for my family than for myself, but that’s just me. I haven’t been in for 9 years, but I know that even in 4 1/2 years I’m ready to be done with it so I am just sort of accepting the path I chose a couple semesters ago.

    Best of luck with this Matthew

  2. Matthew,

    You need to know people love you (me included), piece of paper or not. You do what is right for 1) your Lord, 2) your family, and 3) yourself. Anything outside that doesn’t matter. Hopefully, you learned one thing from me, because it’s the only REAL thing I teach (the rest is mambo jahambo): Screw the “system”! The system is designed for one thing, to perpetuate the system. If you “fit” in the system, great, if you don’t your hosed, but only so far as the system goes. I love you, I’ll pray for you. You will do the right thing. You’re a smart man, much smarter than I could ever be, and you will succeed at whatever you do. Success is measured by the system, don’t fall into that trap either. Where’s my swag?!

  3. If you want, I can photo-copy my diploma and put your name on it. For work, for some reason, they needed a copy of my diploma or transcripts, and I don’t know where my transcripts are so I opted to copy my diploma – so I now have multiple copies, if you’re in the market for a creative degree.

    1. Uh-oh, Crystal’s getting in the diploma mill business…I could also cut you a deal on a Masters degree, should you ever need one. 😉

      Most of my friends fall into one category or the other: they either have a degree they never, ever use, or they don’t have a degree at all. My CEO went to school to be a structural engineer; now he runs a publishing house. My husband has about 140-something credits towards a theater degree, and instead he does a job more important and significant than anyone else I know. Even I don’t use my BSEd. at all, although I’m glad I have it.

      My point is, college degrees are fairly often immaterial to the life people end up living, and I suspect we all find that out too late in the game. If getting one has no value to you and your life, well, it’s time to move on and do something that does have value.

  4. Whatever you decide I will be proud of you. As you pointed out neither your mother or I ever finished college, although I did take some courses, I am not sure you were aware of that. I am or was actually 6 hours short of receiving a very minor Associates degree. I never did finish, but that is neither here nor there. You do whatever makes you happy. If you finish and somehow I think that ultimately you will probably decide to, it is entirely up to you. I know my opinion makes not one iota of difference to you but, just for my two cents worth, I think you should just so you can say you did something your mom and dad never could. As you pointed out you can finish whenever you decide, but the longer you put it off, the harder it is to pick it up again. Anyway, talk it over with April and make your decision based on what you want. You will anyway.

    Love you
    Dad

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