In praise of dropping out

Martin Patrick Lennon

I dropped out of Glasgow University in October 2009, a few weeks into my second year and it was the best decision I have made to date. I came back a year later to do the same course and I would have had a totally different experience had I not left. Leaving your course is something little discussed and never encouraged in student media. In this article I hope I can shed a little light on something that is more common than most students realise.

I left Glasgow University because I was going through entire days here without speaking to another student. I felt totally isolated and because I hated being here so much I wasn’t actually learning anything. Tellingly – I didn’t let anyone from any of my classes know I was leaving, because I didn’t know any of their names.

This is a pretty common experience for students at Glasgow. Especially for those, who like me, grew up in and around Glasgow. Of the six people from my Lanarkshire high school that came to the Glasgow, I was the fourth to drop out. When you’re not living in a block of a hundred or so other Freshers’, when your daily commute means you can’t hang around for hours after lectures to go to clubs or societies or when you have suddenly come from a school where everyone knew your name to a place where you can’t pick a friendly face out of the crowd, it is very easy to feel like you’re lost.

This isn’t to say that everyone in halls is having the time of their lives. Halls means the flatmate lottery. For everyone that ends up with a Ross for their Chandler, the Murano Street gods pair some unsuspecting soul with a flat of un-washables, borderline psychopaths and outright bullies. This is the first time most people in halls of residence have been left to their own devices and it turns into Lord of the Flies as easily as it can turn into The Hangover. This isn’t the image of the student lifestyle that anyone expects and when you look around campus, it’s not the image that you see wherever you look.

After a few weeks of second year I decided I’d had enough. This wasn’t what I wanted out of university and nothing was going to change if I didn’t change it myself. Bizarrely, it is the simplest piece of administration you will ever undertake at Glasgow. I spoke to my advisor (whose words of advice were to tick “temporary” over “permanent”), walked over to the Fraser Building and filled out a half page form. That is all that it takes to leave.

Some people leave and they get full time jobs. Others having tried higher education realise it’s not for them. Some dropouts leave without any plan because they realised that university was never their plan in the first place. They had only gone in the first place because that is what everyone expected of them.

My plan was to work, pay down what was already a healthy overdraft and apply to somewhere, anywhere, other than Glasgow. Regardless of what you go on to do there is an incredible sense of freedom that comes with leaving on your own volition. Taking ownership of your life in that way can be a very liberating experience.

For me this liberation came with my first real dose of responsibility. It meant that for the first time I was really responsible for my own future. Over the course of the next few months I looked at other courses, I worked a variety of jobs, but more than anything I started to really ask what I wanted from university.

Having had a bad experience it became incumbent to figure out what a good experience would mean. I wanted to study a subject that I loved. I wanted to meet new people. I wanted to study a broad range of things. I wanted new experiences. I wanted to play a part in clubs and societies.  I wanted to write for the student paper. (He succeeded – Ed.)

By the summer I had had a reasonably successful year out. The overdraft was gone. I had got into my first choice on UCAS. I had saved some money. I knew what I wanted my education to be and, after a year working unskilled for minimum wage, I was motivated to make it a reality. I knew that wherever I studied the next year would be different; so I came back (which was just another bizarrely simple half page form).

More than anything what I learned from dropping out is that if you are unhappy, you need to make a change. Most dropouts change university, change course or change their life plans. For me it was more a change of mentality, but all the same it was one I couldn’t have done without leaving. I came back to the same course at the same place, but I have had a totally different experience. The last two years flew past and I am sad to think this will be my last year.

So if this is the only thing you read about dropping out, you should take this away: it’s not always a bad idea. In fact, it was the best decision I ever made.


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