Why I don't regret dropping out of grad school
It’s safe to say that a lot happened last year, and of all the crappy happenings that could compete for the title of “Most Crappy Part of 2016,” I never thought that dropping out of my dream graduate school would actually be one of the lighter moments. Nor did I imagine that I would suddenly have something in common with the bubble-gum haired character, Frenchie, from my not-so-secret favorite musical Grease.
I may not have dropped out of beauty school, per se, but dropping out of school for fashion design is close enough.
I had been pining for a New York adventure since the first time I watched Sex and the City at the tender age of 12 (sorry mom). The tender spot in my heart that I had reserved for NYC only grew bigger after I committed Miranda Priestly’s prolific quote to memory: “Florals for spring? Groundbreaking.” I guess I could blame the movies for my misconceptions about New York City — the same way Disney made me believe in fairy tales.
Needless to say, The City That Never Sleeps definitely kept me feeling restless. I had to worry about turning $50 bucks a week into enough money for two weeks’ worth of food and transportation — tired and hungry became my permanent mood. I thought — after two years pining for acceptance into this prestigious fashion studies program and being the first in my family to move out-of-state — I was suddenly one big step closer to escaping the monotonous life of 9 to 5.
Instead, I spent most of my time calling family and friends multiple times a day, desperately trying to snuff out the homesickness sprouting in my chest.
I often sat among peers while they traded stories about watching well-off roommates eat whole meals, while the rest of us tried figuring out how to make ramen 10 different ways. I dreaded the daily panic I felt whenever I had to get on another crowded subway, triggering anxiety I didn’t even know I had. I spent much of my time working as a personal assistant — doing fun tasks like returning purchases worth more than I what made in a month.
I didn’t reach some grand epiphany that made me decide to withdraw from the graduate program — I think it was a slow battle that I realized I couldn’t win.
I tried to ignore the little voice telling me that I was unhappy. I didn’t want to admit defeat.
I tried to convince myself that I was put on antidepressants because maybe my sadness had always been lying dormant. I truly enjoyed working as part of the Sex and Body positivity collectives on campus, and I had one great professor in my corner. But the idea of staying in the program just because I knew other people would love this opportunity — or because people thought me and fashion went together like avocado and toast — wasn’t enough.
They do say that if you can make it in New York, then you can make it anywhere.
But no one told me that I would have to sit in classrooms where I would be one of only three students who looked like me, or that I would have to choose between getting to work or getting dinner.
Or that I would have to develop a tolerance for being nearly knocked down on sidewalks because everyone is in a rush. The city was a daily grind, and it felt like everyone was in a mad dash to the top of a rickety and already overcrowded ladder.
A month later and I’m back on my dad’s couch — no just kidding, back in my old room. At first, I felt like I let myself down, and more than that, it felt like I had failed those who encouraged me to go to grad school in the first place. I had to give myself permission to change direction, and not feel ashamed because of it.
It turns out that leaving grad school was the most solid decision I’ve made in my short life, because I made it for me.
I chose not to “stick it out” for the glittering glamour of the big city that turned out to not be so shiny.
I chose not to get another degree for the hell of it, or just to be able to say that I went to a prestigious school. For all of the name-dropping that came with being a student at such a respected art school, I knew that I would never be academically or professionally supported there — not in the way that I needed to be. I didn’t know what I would do with that second degree, and the stakes were higher as a grad student than as an undergrad. I couldn’t justify another hundred thousand dollars in student loan debt in the hopes of maybe being able to fully support myself afterwards.
Stepping away from an opportunity that I thought would bring me lasting happiness — and navigating what it meant to leave a highly praised academic program as a woman of color — was hard to do.
But I had to make the decision for my own well-being. Had I stayed, it could have been the start of a cycle of where I spent my life settling for things I felt like I should want — or worse, settling for what other people thought I should want.
So for now, I’m jobless with no idea where my life is headed. But I do know that I’ve made one good decision so far, so maybe the rest of my decisions will be okay.