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Drop out

The first day of my Leaving Cert coincided with my 17th birthday.

Having started school at four-years-old and skipped Transition Year, I was one of the youngest people in my year and spent all of 6th year as an awkward 16-year-old.

This fact coupled with my compulsion to throw sickies and bunk off at every possible opportunity meant that my parents (and my teachers) weren’t exactly confident in my capabilities.

Would I even show up? Or would I do what I did in previous years and decide to opt out of summer exams ‘due to an ear infection’ or sidestep the Mocks with a bout of Bronchitis?

13 years on, I can confirm that I showed up and was then accepted into my first-choice course.

And didn't go.

Instead, I deferred my place and as my friends began their first semester, I worked in retail.

But as my first year in university approached twelve months later, I began my degree with an air of trepidation.

And then promptly dropped out.

I wasn’t ready for university. That’s right, after a year out and more than half way through my first ’deferred’ semester, I still wasn’t ready.

For a teenager who barely managed to make it to class when it was mandatory, setting me free in an environment that allows you to create your own schedule was playing with fire.

And I was positively ablaze.

So, I left.

After spending another year working, I returned to the same university and decided to choose three different subjects.

Having originally opted for English, Psychology and Sociology, I decided to wildcard it and go with German, Anthropology and Biology.

Having done French all through school, I decided to ‘challenge’ myself with German.

Having never heard of Anthropology, I decided to ‘enlighten’ myself with the Humanities subject.

And having gotten the lowest grade in Biology in my Leaving Cert, I decided to… well… I don’t actually know what I was thinking with that one.

I know; who leaves me in charge of my own life?

And yet, after deferring my place the first time around, dropping out the second time around, and forcing myself out of my comfort zone the third time around, I spent the next four years learning a new language and discovering a real interest in Anthropology.

(The less said about Biology the better, but hey, I got to drop that sucker after the first year.)

My undergraduate degree lasted four years, with one spent in Vienna.

Now, I’d be lying if I said changing direction meant I became one of those students who established societies, initiated study groups or even showed up every day.

I still regularly skipped lectures, often found myself wandering into the SU only to leave two days later, once got 4 per cent in a German exam, and was forced on more than one occasion to introduce myself to a lecturer, but there was a certain drive which simply wasn’t there the first time around.

I was older, more confident in myself and knew that the onus lay with me, and me only. We all know college isn’t for everyone, but it’s also important to remember that college mightn’t be for everyone at that particular time.

I mean, my friends were going into their final year when I was being brought on orientation around a college I had registered at twice before, but I mosied on.

Such was my interest in Cultural Anthropology, I decided to do a two-year MA after graduating, spending another year in Vienna.

I graduated with a 1st, and was advised to look into pursuing a PhD.

True to form, and despite the fact I thoroughly enjoyed my MA, I decided that I had taken the wrong route entirely, and eight years after completing the Leaving Cert lamented the fact I hadn't done a course in journalism.

Why didn't I think of that back when I was filling out my CAO? Why do I do everything arseways? What is life?

After spending a worrying amount of time glaring at my graduation photo, I decided to use my research in contemporary media and women in modern society to navigate my way into a writing career.

And I managed it.

Look, I’m (obviously) by no means a Steve ’I dropped out of college at 19’ Jobs, not lest because… what is a computer?

But while I spent years agonising over my decision to first defer, then drop out and finally return, ultimately my haphazard, ‘what in the name of Jaysus am I doing?' approach worked for me.

Yes, I graduated long after my friends, yes I entered the workforce years after them as well, and yes, the kids doing their Leaving Cert today were in Junior Infants when I was doing mine, but the advice still stands.

Your future isn't determined by your Leaving Cert, nor is it even determined by the first course you choose, or even the second.

You'll get where you're meant to be eventually… even if your chosen poet didn't come up today.



The transition from secondary school to third-level can be overwhelming on so many levels.

While some people take to the new environment like a duck to water, countless others struggle massively with the process, and often feel out of step with the rest of the student body.

From adjusting to independent learning to adapting to changeable timetables, college is a far cry from your days in the local comprehensive, and for some, it's a transition which impacts on their mental and emotional wellbeing.

As you face into the second semester of this academic year, you may have toyed with the idea of jacking it all in, and if that's the case, you may want to consider some of the following questions.

1. Are you unhappy with your subjects?

Identifying the source of your upset is the first step towards taking positive action.

If you are unhappy with your subjects or degree, you need to approach the university and ask for guidance on the matter.

The staff and faculty of any university are employed to guide and support students, so they'll be more than happy to advise you on your options.

And remember, they've heard it all before, so lay it out for them, and it could be as simple as swapping subjects for one you're more interested in.

2. Are you unhappy with your university?

If you don't feel your choice of degree at this particular university is what you were expecting, that's not a reason to drop out of education altogether.

Seek guidance from the staff at your current university, and communicate your concerns.

It's always possible to start again, but doing it by yourself is where it gets tricky, so reach out and give yourself a voice.

No one knows the system better than those working within it, so there's a high chance there are options available to you which you haven't even considered.

3. Are you unhappy with the social element of third-level?

TV and movies would have us believe that college is where you make life-long friends, but for many, college is spent floating between various classes, unable to make a proper connection with fellow students.

After groups forge in the first week, those who didn't make the cut are often left looking in – a sensation which makes for a wholly unpleasant third-level experience.

In this instance, you need to bite the bullet and join some societies. College is chock-full of clubs which don't require a passion for philosophy or history, so join the trampoline club or movie society, and start making pals.

But listen…

College isn't for everyone, and maybe it's just not your time yet.

If you have addressed all of the above issues, and still know that you would benefit from some time away from education, there's no harm in taking a year out or deferring your place.

Everybody is on a separate journey, and there is no rule that says you have to do everything in the same sequence as everyone else.

But before you simply turn off your alarm, and refuse to step foot on campus ever again, make sure you talk through your options with the experts.