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At a crossroads (drop out? chase a dream? time out?)

  1. Sep 28, 2008 #1

    I think you've seen my kind before, and maybe you've been my kind before. What I want right now is your advice, your wisdom, your perspective to help me un-screw myself. In return, I can offer you my gratitude and hopefully an entertaining story...

    The situation is such:

    I am currently halfway through a mechanical engineering degree...despite having started it three years ago.

    I effectively wasted a full year of money and time. It was more than a waste it was a large step in the direction of self-screwing. If my goal was to make this 23rd year of my life hell, well then...mission accomplished!

    For ease of reading, you may treat the background as optional. I have put a bold line where the background ends...although it does seem pertinent, I'd like to pretend it's optional so that at least 1 person may get through this post

    A little bit of background:

    Throughout high school, I didn't really care about anything but it was a lot harder to skip back then so I would show up to class and I'd pay at least a little bit of attention so that I wouldn't be so bored. I have a pretty good memory and my brain is good at problem solving...so the tests would come around and they would keep my gpa afloat.

    I got through high school doing everything at the last minute, or passing tests without studying just because high school was that easy (I was taking the intermediate courses, I guess that's the default...I don't know).

    In the last year of high school I decided that I wanted to combine my love of problem solving and my love of helping people into a job as an automotive mechanic. I'd get to figure out how these interesting machines went wrong, and fix them so that people can be on their way. Sounded great, and I chose my last year of high school courses so that it would guide me towards this kind of field. In other words, I was put into the basic math and english courses that would prevent me from applying to universities.

    Sometime between the application to auto technician programs and receiving the acceptance letters from the colleges, I realized that the problem solving is pretty much over once you're very familiar with cars in general. At a dealership I watched a 30-something year old man changing a tire and I thought I'd made a huge mistake. Luckily, when I was applying to the community colleges for auto tech, the guidance counselor had refused to accept my application until I had filled out all five choices. I chose four because those were the only ones I was interested in, but the fifth one that I had to search through the book for, seemed interesting as well so I put it down. This fifth choice was Mechanical Engineering Technician.

    When the acceptance letter came, the choice was clear...NOT AUTO TECHNICIAN! So I went into the M.E. Tech program, and I was enjoying it but I did feel like the professors were holding back too much knowledge. They presented enough information for me to make things work, but not really enough to understand why they work. This is the type of person I have always been...taking things apart to see what makes them tick. This bothered me quite a bit and I decided to switch into the 3 year program, Mechanical Engineering Technology. The first year of both programs was basically identical so I didn't waste any time aside from having to take an extra math course to bridge the gap between my technical math and more college-oriented math. This seemed to have worked out...until the second semester of the second year in this program.

    In this semester I was required to take a course in CAM, I absolutely loathed this course, I found it so boring and terrible and I was quite worried about my future as a ME Technologist if this was in my job description.

    As luck would have it, one of the classes I was taking was scheduled right before some of the university classes that were scheduled in the same room (the university was basically on the same campus and sometimes used the classrooms in the community college). This was fortunate, because I got to see the university students walking around in their sweet leather jackets that said "ENGINEERING" on them, and the huge air of superiority was intoxicating. I felt small, I felt useless, I felt that I had to prove I was as smart and capable as anyone else...including these fancy leather jacket people.

    I couldn't imagine having to work under these people and having my ideas rejected because I was not as educated and therefore not as intelligent. So I started my climb for the top.

    I applied to a few universities and found that I was really underqualified for the engineering programs...but the university that shared a campus with this college didn't mind. They were a new university and wanted any tuition money they could get (as well as a bunch of other money they squeezed out...perhaps unjustifiably). That was it, I was in!

    None of the credits would transfer over, so the two years of community college were really just making up for poor decisions in high school. I didn't mind, I was now decently prepared to take on a very rewarding degree.

    With this fresh motivation and desire to make up for lost time, I was kicking *** and taking names. I was still very much a procrastinator...but a procrastinator with good grades and a genuine desire to learn the material well.

    This was working out, things were going well until personal tragedies began to cloud my judgement and re-arrange my perspectives, goals, and motivations. My grades began to slip; along with every positive thought in my mind. I decided that a fresh start was needed, and I used my hate for this shameless money-grubbing university as fuel for my escape.

    Escape I did, to a new city, a new university, a new life. Things were going to be great, it didn't matter how many credits I lost in the transfer, I was more than willing to take an extra semester to finish. Sure, it would sting a little, but the stinging was nothing compared to the skinning and bathing in a vat of alcohol that was taking place before.

    I presented my case as well as I could, and managed to get almost all the credits to transfer. I thought that this must be the right way, cause everything is just working out perfectly.

    One of the reasons I had transferred to this university was the added challenge of getting a degree from a more established university. The degree would carry more weight and would open more doors. The more difficult ways of evaluating the students would prepare me to handle anything. I never passed up a real challenge, especially not under these circumstances.

    I thought this was the best choice I ever made in my academic career...but I was only one semester away from finding out how wrong I was.

    The first semester was relatively challenging, one of the biggest differences was the fact that the professors did not always make the lecture notes available online. My preferred method of passing courses (skip lectures, read notes on my own time and solve problems right before tests/exams) was not working. All the habits from my days as a terrible student did not affect me at the other university because all the information was made available to me...I could figure it all out the night before ____. Aside from this, I did not take into account the humongous difference between 2nd and 3rd year courses. The gloves came off and the 3rd year courses were not my training partners anymore, they were trying to hurt me...they were going for the KO.

    This difference was clearly reflected in my grades from first semester. There was a nice big F on my transcript, I had actually failed a course. The only other time this had happened in my life was the CAM course at the college (seems my procrastination knows no bounds and I missed the deadline to drop this course). Whatever I didn't fail, I might as well have because those grades weren't doing much for my gpa either.

    Alright, it was just one semester, I have to get used to the different learning style required at this university and I have to get serious about doing things on time!

    Simple enough, I know I have the brain power, I just need to use it more efficiently...

    Exams roll around again and my GPA has not slipped anymore, it had nothing to slip on, it just fell right through the foundation of whatever it is that holds GPAs up. I failed two courses this semester, and it was very nearly three. One of those three was a repeat course from last semester. I learned nothing knew, I just had better luck with the exam this time, I skipped as many lectures as I did the first time, and I handed in about the same amount of assignments/labs....something around 30-40%.

    Throughout this year I had lost sight of my reasons for being an engineer. I no longer wanted to save the world, I didn't even want to play this stupid game of life...but there isn't really a menu you can quit from without crashing other programs that don't necessarily want to be crashed. This, along with my absolute love of music, kept me hanging on. I probably spent more time learning about the music industry and honing my skills in songwriting/guitar/singing than I did learning or practicing any of the material in my program.

    I couldn't be a starving artist, not when I feel I owe so much to my mother who paid for my two years at the community college. I also have a dog to feed and shelter and he is completely innocent in this...so I must go on and I must have money, not for me but for those who deserve it. It just isn't practical to run away from this much time and effort with this much debt...

    I thought I just needed some time off and I would come back with a renewed sense of purpose.

    The summer would answer all my questions and remove all doubts. The summer would fix my world. The summer would be absolute hell in one of the most difficult jobs known to student-kind. I was going to plant trees all summer in the woods of northern B.C.

    Imagine a nice hike through a mountain trail...imagine you woke up for that hike at about 3:50am...imagine that the 30-40lbs on your back represent the money you will make in the next few hours a couple ounces at a time. Suppose the trail was not a trail at all...in fact, it was as if someone was trying to prevent you from moving this way. They thought you'd be able to handle this by itself though, so they shipped in a tropical country's supply of mosquitoes just for you. No, this wouldn't be enough, they gather the clouds and make it rain for you, hail even, why not? By the way, try not to wander too far from anyone else because the wildlife isn't too friendly....and it's also much bigger than you (bears, elk, who knows). So you're wet, and miserable, and every part of you hurts from bending over for a few cents at a time in a very hostile environment. Welcome to the next 12-13 hours of your life! 4 days in a row, yes! 1 day no....then 4 days yes...no wait, wait....why not 10 days yes? sometimes YES!!! The person driving you through these incredibly dangerous, skinny dirt paths with huge logging trucks flying both ways....yes, they are out there with you and are just as ready to sleep as you are. Another near miss and everyone is too tired to care, or is actually welcoming this fate. Does anyone care that I no longer have any feeling in my right hand? No, they don't because they lost the feeling in their toes at around the same time (two weeks in). Also, is it normal to have to 'unlock' your fingers from a painful position that they seem to snap into while you're sleeping or when you try to use more than about 50% of your natural range of motion? Did I mention that, in my current state, most 80yr olds can absolutely destroy me in fisticuffs or a race down any flight of stairs? and somehow I have another 12-13 hrs of brutal labour the next day.

    Ah yes, some much needed perspective...if this is what life is like without an education, I will get a freakin' PhD in whatever you want me to...to make sure I never have to go through this again!

    I get home from my out west adventure and I am laughing at how incredibly easy school will be. You mean to tell me, that all I have to do is wake up at a super early 8am and just go to listen to some guy talk? In a nice comfortable air conditioned environment with no flies that bite chunks of your flesh off of you, no mosquitoes, no threat of bears? And if I'm hungry, I can just go eat? If my feet really really hurt....I can just sit? If I can't take it anymore, I can just go home to the comfort of a hot shower and a warm bed?

    YES!! YES, school YES!

    (end of background)

    Armed with this awesome perspective I tackled the first two weeks of school fiercely. For the first time in my life, I reviewed a lecture after class. I worked on suggested problem sets, I worked on assignments more than a few hours before it was due.

    ...and yes, I said 'the first two weeks.'

    So here I am...more than two weeks in and there's a very important deadline coming up, it's actually about to slap me in the face in less than 24 hours. Does that surprise anyone really?

    The deadline is for getting a 100% refund after withdrawing from all courses, and I am seriously considering it.

    There are many things due, many things to work on, and I just can't be bothered to start it. I try, oh how I try, but instead I reach for my guitar instead and a few hours later I've gotten better at playing some of my favourite songs, I've practiced my music theory, and maybe I've written/recorded another song.

    Can I actually get a degree with this stuff instead? I would spend hours each night with my nose in a textbook about music. I would spend the rest of the hours in the day singing and strumming my guitar to reach the level of aptitude required for success (as a studio musician?) or just for pleasure...but this isn't practical.

    the competition is fierce and I'd love to take a chance, but not with this debt and not with these responsibilities.

    Unfortunately, my passion for music truly began the year before I transferred to my current university, and I am seriously underqualified to apply for the music program here.

    I would teach myself everything I'd need to qualify, but I can't quite do that right now, because all the time it would take, is all the time I need in order not to fail at the program and courses that I am currently enrolled in.

    What can I do? What should I do? What would you do?

    WHAT WHAT WHAT WHAT!?@#!@#?@!?$#O@5p8eusfio'hdj;ahsfjad

    it's almost 1am, there are things due tomorrow, and i have done 0% of the things that would have helped me catch up on my school work...and here i am looking for a way out

    the score:

    age: 23
    degrees/diplomas: none
    progress in current degree: ~55%
    desire to finish: ~5%
    alternative (REALISTIC) options: ??? 0 ???
    loans/debt: ~$50,000
    status: SCREWED

    please help me
    Last edited: Sep 29, 2008
  2. jcsd
  3. Sep 29, 2008 #2
    I'm in a similar position.

    Shat around during high school, actually ended up dropping out, only got a GED at the insistence of everyone around me, worked for a while. I entered the local college as a philosophy major and hated it and stopped after the first semester. All this time I was making music, because that's something I really love. Problem is that I really hate playing music for people in most cases. I don't like feeling like a music box/entertainer and I really couldn't care less about entertaining people. That puts a degree in music out of the question since performance, even if it's just for a bunch of elementary school kids, is a part of the deal. So the next thing I thought was: what would help me to be good at music AND would be interesting to me in its own right. The answer, in my case, was physics. Unfortunately, the university I am currently attending (still a freshman) does not have a physics degree, so I am currently enrolled as a Mathematics major. This since they won't accept me into the engineering program until I have more math than I currently do.

    That was some rambly background. Sorry. Here's my advice which should be taken with all due consideration since I'm two years younger than you and all this might still go to hell for me: if you can transfer credit, switch to Electrical Engineering. A subdiscipline of EE is Audio Engineering, something that'll come in really handy if you ever decide to become a studio musician. Speaking for myself, I know that I have to study something beyond music, even if I was more into performance. I think that it's important to do things that are hard for you to do; if everything's easy and pleasant for you throughout your life, your brain and body will both turn to mush. I look at the things I went through when I wasn't going to school as life lessons. Now that I'm back I want to keep doing it, and I'm not going to stop until I've at least got a bachelor's under my belt.

    You ought to do the same. Understanding acoustics would likely be a big help in getting your foot in the door in the music industry. You've already got the motivation to learn music. Slow down, budget your time, and make yourself learn something that isn't quite so gratifying right off the bat. It's good for you.
  4. Sep 29, 2008 #3
    You've been given quite a few chances and what I think you really need is a kick up the arse. You are clever enough to get a degree and make something of your life, it isn't really that bad to have to put the effort in for a year or 2 is it?
  5. Sep 29, 2008 #4
    It requires effort. Not showing up, not doing the work, and not making sacrifices in your life to obtain something worth-while leads to failure in those endeavors. Having the appetite or interest in something doesn't mean squat by itself. You need direction (which you have through instructors), and passion/energy. Wanting to do something and actually doing it are totally different things.

    Given that you are reaching loan limits for undergraduates, it looks like you're going to have to do one of two things if you want to finish your degree.

    1. Quit. Get a couple jobs and work 70-80hrs/week to pay off your school loans and save some money. Go back to school when you're 26 or 27 and finish. Use your own time to study/learn things you are not strong with.

    2. Get a night job that allows you to do schoolwork (such as front-desk work at a motel). Get another job or two for Saturday/Sunday. Use this money to pay your tuition as you go.
  6. Sep 29, 2008 #5
    You write well and your post is very compelling.

    With regards to your lack of motivation: the reasons that people pursue a subject change as they mature and learn more about the field. Don't let this make you anxious. Just keep trying to make your classes interesting for yourself. Certainly you can't claim that you're lacking a challenge now!

    I think you should give yourself another chance to succeed in university this year. Do all the assignments for all the courses you are taking. You seem like a smart guy and I think you can pull it off.

    You can still pick up your guitar. But put it far enough away from the place where you do your homework that you're not tempted to procrastinate with it. I also played a lot of music during undergrad, but I always made my coursework a priority.

    Jobs in the oil industry pay a lot better than forestry. If you decide to take a year off to work and pay down your debts then go to Alberta. If you decide after this semester that university isn't for you then you can work for a bit and straighten out your finances - and get better at the guitar.

    There are college programs in audio engineering which might be worth looking into. But it's a long shot to make money as a musician. (I tried it and I just barely broke even.)

    Keep on keeping on.
  7. Sep 29, 2008 #6


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    I think, to be honest, you just need to pull your finger out and do some work. Sailing through classes only having to do a bare minimum of work to still get As only lasts a finite amount of time: that is, at some point, everyone has to start working hard. Most people manage to adjust and realise that the work is not simple for them anymore, but a small handful don't. If you really believe you're in the handful that just can't do the work, then you should think seriously about which career path is suitable for you. After all, 23 is quite old to be starting out in the job market with no degree.

    However, I think you should just try working. Put to guitar down, turn the computer off. Be tough on yourself, and make yourself work. University isn't meant to be easy, so if you want a degree you need to work hard for it.
  8. Sep 29, 2008 #7
    From my perspective you have two options.

    1. Accept that you are not the uber genius that you think you are and that the next seven months of your life will be complete hell. You will lock your guitar away at someone else's house. You will completely forget about anything to do with music and focus completely on your school work. To study? Don't even go home, take only the things you need to study to the library and don't move except to go to the bathroom. You will become accustomed to this relatively quickly. You have to study basics along with what you are learning now, ANY slight bit of confusion should be followed up by referring back to the earlier textbook and nailing it down. I think a lot of people that are intelligent (but have misread the world) go through a similar reluctant and unrealistic phase that they will somehow pull off advanced college material will their brilliance. Sorry, it doesn't happen. The only way you become good at this stuff is being constantly exposed to it.

    2. Completely disregard number 1. Continue to believe that you are special, that your superior creativity will pull you through. My prediction is that this path will feel good for about 2-12 months. After the estimated amount of time, you will start to wonder 'What am I doing?'. It's been x months and I haven't produced anything that has given me the success that I want. Everything seems so worthless, everyone is worthless, I'm too good for this, etc. Then you'll get roped into some crappy job that pays well enough for you to live, but you hate. You'll spend hours thinking about how worthless the job is but how it isn't your fault, it is the world's fault.....etc. Maybe you'll come around in a few years and go back to school, actually rejuvenated, and ready for the commitment involved in doing well in a challenging degree.

    I've been there man and I won't sugarcoat it with how things should be or any of that garbage. This is how it is.
  9. Sep 29, 2008 #8
    I know how you feel. I started college in '99 majoring in Business Administration, mainly because it was easy. I "completed" 2 years of this with a GPA of around 1.8. Bottom line was I wasn't interested in it, so I didn't WANT to do the work. In 2002 I was booted out of my first school, enrolled in my 2nd school with the same major, and got booted out of there too. After this, I decided that maybe college just wasn't for me, so I worked some crappy retail and call center jobs until last year, when I decided that crappy jobs just weren't for me.

    I've always had a strong interest in aircraft/spacecraft, so I looked into going back to school for Mechanical & Aerospace Engineering. In Fall of 2007 I started, and have found that this is my passion. I absolutely love going to school now, and love the challenges that it presents to me on a daily basis.

    The bottom line...if you're going to school for something you're not interested in, you won't do the work. If you do suck it up and do the work, you're sentenced to a life of working a job that you hate. Find what you love. If it takes another few years, then so be it.

    Ask yourself this: do you WANT to be an engineer for the rest of your life? If you can't answer that with a resounding YES!, then cut your losses and pursue something else.
  10. Sep 29, 2008 #9
    Some good advice here -- lock that guitar away and get that degree by working hard. Pop along to the careers office and talk to a careers officer about the difference a degree makes to job prospects. Also ask him what the job prospects are for a career in music, and watch him laugh. I recently read that there's about a 1 in 20 000 chance for a high school jock to make it in a sports career. Haven't seen the figures for a music career, but I guess the chances would be about the same. Realistically, your guitar playing is a nice hobby but will earn you zilch unless you have incredible luck and great talent. Any evidence for the latter? If not, lock that guitar away and get that degree. You can play if for a hobby when you're in the nice white-collar job a degree will get you.
  11. Sep 29, 2008 #10


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    Gold Member

    Music is a hobby, not a career path, sorry. Very few people are able to make a living with music.

    You asking for advice as if you don't know the problem. You do. You need to go to class. You need to do the required work. You obviously don't expect to be able to coast through classes anymore, so why are you trying to do just that?

    Take everyone else's advice. Lock the guitar away and get serious. That is all anyone can tell you to do. I don't know what else you want us to say to you.
  12. Sep 29, 2008 #11
    Don't lock it away....5-10minutes a day just so you don't lose it.
  13. Sep 29, 2008 #12


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    Education Advisor

    It sounds to me like you're looking for permission to drop out. No one here is in a position to give or deny that.

    One observation I have is that you seem stressed because you're 23 and you haven't found your direction yet. As much as possible, try not to let your age influence your decisions. Life is not a race.
  14. Sep 29, 2008 #13
    Wow, thank you for all the great responses

    I guess the problem is obvious. I thought I had beaten the work ethic problem by completing a very difficult summer job, and I was really on top of things for a little while after coming back.

    Unfortunately, I do not handle stress well. It gets me studying enough to pass an exam or finish an essential assignment...but as I found out during last year's exams, there is a point where the stress is so much that I just shut down instead. This year the stress was at this level.

    I am on academic warning and feel an immense pressure to succeed this year, especially after all the talk of how I've changed thanks to this summer's lessons. I even spoke with an academic advisor to talk about my plans for success in this school year.

    Things had changed...until I ran into the first thing that was actually due and found that I couldn't be bothered to start it.

    I don't know why it is so incredibly difficult for me to care about something that is obviously very important to my future and financial/emotional well-being...but it is...

    ...well, ok, I think I know why but that's some irrational thing that I just have to set aside and deal with.

    So I decided to become a part-time student and work near full time hours. I am taking only two courses this semester (it won't change my expected graduation date...it'll only add a course to my summer).

    I feel so much better already, I know I can put the effort in for two courses and succeed. Even though the weight of 4 or 5 courses on my mind can be taken off a bit at a time...the total weight is always resting there and it's too much at this point. Two courses...I can deal, and I also have to deal with the real world due to the reduced funding.

    I still haven't figured that part out, but I do know that there's no chance of getting kicked out of school this year and that is a humongous relief and an enormous load off of my mind. I did create a bunch of problems by switching from full-time to part-time after receiving the full-time funding, but it's ok...cause in any given week I will have only one thing actually due. I can handle this.

    It's kind of like substituting a few courses for a part-time job, hoping that the job will act as 'training wheels' for working hard consistently throughout a semester.

    Again, thank you for your insight and 'tough love'
  15. Sep 30, 2008 #14
    I'm pretty sure if you drop below 12 credits in a semester your 6 month leniency period begins and your loans will go into re-payment when that 6 month period expires.
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