On College (Part 1)

06/11/2022

I’m a two-time college dropout. This post talks about the first time.

My first experience with college was when I arrived in Delaware, Ohio in August of 2016. I’d graduated high school with a subpar GPA and wanted to go somewhere far from home and throw myself into the thick of it. Up until that point, I’d never spent more than a week away from my parents. I knew that eventually I would have to break away and live on my own so going to Ohio was my way of biting the bullet. Ohio Wesleyan University was where I was due to start my post-high school life – my adult life.

To set the scene, OWU (and Ohio in general) was a stark departure from my life in Los Angeles, CA. The university was a very small private liberal arts school in the heart of a tiny town thirty minutes from Columbus. OWU had only a few hundred more students than my high school. Delaware was a primarily conservative town that paled in size compared to Los Angeles. I was in a completely different world. It wasn’t exactly a world I liked much, but I wasn’t surprised; I had done my research and knew what I was getting into.

Fast forward two years and I was home for summer vacation before the beginning of my junior year. I had excelled academically, made wonderful friends, joined a fraternity, and was on track to graduate with a degree in business administration. Unfortunately, I was also $30,000 in debt because of student loans. It was a daunting number made even more so because I wholly expected it to double by the end of my college career. And what about an MBA after I graduated? It certainly made sense, but financially it was a terrifying consideration. Needless to say, I was concerned about my financial future like so many college students of my generation are.

I was also becoming disillusioned with my chosen major and the career path it was tailored to. The choice to study business was not a quick one. I bounced between different options like computer science, history, political science, and accounting. They all interested me in some capacity but I made what I believed to be the logical decision to study business because of one reason: I wanted to be an entrepreneur. Even in the early days of my freshman year, I was trying hard to find a business idea that I could bring to life. So many ideas were floating around in my head and none ever saw the light of day. As most aspiring entrepreneurs will tell you, the hardest part of starting a business is starting. Regardless, even as I junked idea after idea, I consumed content about business, startups, and entrepreneurship like crazy. YouTube videos, books, various courses, everything I could get my hands on. Throughout my two years at OWU, I came to the conclusion that to create a business that would change the world, I needed to think outside the box. (My views on this have changed considerably since then, but that’s a topic for a different day.)

As I was developing my own business philosophy, I began looking at my classes as stagnant, uninteresting, and sometimes downright useless. The further I got into the higher-level courses for my major, the more I felt like I was wasting my time. This certainly wasn’t helped by the fact that I’d chosen the marketing concentration within the business administration major. After all, marketing was a core facet of business and something I was less than good at. But marketing began to seem like a discombobulated mess of opinions and luck. There is, of course, the psychological side of marketing, but that side tended to be talked about in passing and often used as an ex post facto justification for why a certain campaign worked. It looked to me like a mess.

The biggest concern I had to grapple with was what job I was going to get after I graduated. Like any good college student, I researched the job market – open full-time positions, internships, and more. All of the descriptions I read were generalized and I almost never saw any listings with concrete job tasks. It felt like I was working toward a degree in “business” and would then look for a job doing “business” without a real understanding of what any of that actually entailed. Then the “administration” portion of my degree track settled in. I would administer business – meaning I would manage people while being managed myself. And maybe I’d actually do some marketing or accounting or something vaguely analogous to running a business.

I want to take an aside here and admit that I don’t know everything about the world of business. I’ve never actually started a company and probably never will. And I know that my understanding of business administration and marketing is woefully narrow. The things I’ve mentioned so far in this post were my thoughts at the time put to words. These thoughts may have been misguided or even downright wrong, but they shaped my decisions in the past and so I feel I must accurately portray them here. I’d also like to say that OWU was not a bad school by any stretch of the imagination. It, like any other institution, had its pitfalls. Many of these pitfalls are specific to smaller liberal arts schools and are rarely avoidable. It could be that I had simply not chosen the right school for who I was. Perhaps I would’ve been happier somewhere else. Perhaps not. But then again, you can play that game with anything in life. For those that loved their time at OWU, I’m happy for you. I made some of my best memories there as well. But I also believe that my eventual departure was the best choice I could’ve made for me.

Now let’s get back to it.

So, here we are. I’m an incoming junior with a mountain of debt and a disillusioned view of my chosen major. But it was summer, and I wanted to forget about all of this and enjoy myself. My last hurrah for the summer was visiting one of my best friends in Santa Barbara, CA where she went to school. I took a train there, enjoyed most of the day with her and went to sleep. The next morning, I got a call from my mom that changed the course of my life. She told me that my dad had died. That hit me like ton of bricks. The next day I flew to Ohio to begin my junior year of college.

Sometimes in life you can feel yourself spiraling into the abyss. In the first months of my junior year, I saw the signs. I drank almost every day, skipped classes, and neglected my duties to everyone and everything I cared about. My mom was home alone and getting older while I was clinging to my quickly falling GPA in hopes of graduating with my business degree. Then, one morning I woke up and had a realization that brought a kind of peace I can’t very well describe. I was going to drop out of OWU and go back home. And that’s what I did.

To say I was terrified is an understatement. After the initial peace wore off, I came to grips with the reality of what I was going to do: drop out with an incomplete degree, $30,000 of student loan debt, and no job experience to speak of. I was leaving close friends and shirking my responsibility as the treasurer of my fraternity. It was a terrible feeling. Thankfully, the people I care most about supported me wholeheartedly. Most importantly, my mom told me that she believed in me – that she would stand by me if I thought that this was the best decision. I love her for that and many other reasons.

By the time I landed at LAX, I had decided not to question myself on this decision. I made it with a clear mind and could honestly say that I was excited for what life brought next.