Most people probably know someone who has an advanced degree. It's a tough, long road that might allow you better opportunities to work in your field and, hopefully, better pay. So, wouldn't it be safe to say that quitting grad school would be a bad idea?
Well, no, not exactly.
I'm not sure how many folks have dropped out of graduate programs, but those I know who have, they are some of the most brilliant and driven people ever. I know few who have openly talked about what it is like to drop out of graduate school and hell, why would you WANT to? You don't want to be embarrassed, you're unsure of how others will react and deep down, you're petrified because leaving it means you failed. You may envision a cocktail of horrible outcomes. But this conversation is important, and I am here to offer my experience of quitting grad school–the untold story if you will–and it doesn't end with a bleak and hopeless future.
Last year, I relocated to Middle Tennessee State University from South Carolina, my home state, the only home I had ever known. My pursuit was a Master's degree, a foot into the doorway of PhDs and my ticket to finally becoming Dr. Gatch. Needless to say, I was in for a huge surprise, but not in the ways you may expect. I was prepared for it to be hard (which it was), to be time-consuming (oh yeah) and to have a profound impact on my day-to-day life (and you don't really have a life in graduate school). I was ready for all of that, but it was still a process. It took trial and error to figure it all out. I was good with that.
I wasn't good with the lackluster environment I soon found myself encompassed by every single day. I was miserable. I was working towards an advanced degree in a field that just honestly disappointed me. I saw what the real world picture looked like and, eventually, just wanted to run away from it. I even got to the point where I just stopped trying. I stopped trying to do grad school. Although most others would rejoice after getting an "A" or a positive note from a professor, I didn't feel anything. I felt no real sense of accomplishment and I wasn't struggling to get the grades. I had a modest G.P.A. and overall solid performance.
But my constant disappointment would not subside. I was frustrated by the lack of regulation, annoyed by the superficial agenda and honestly disheartened by the dismantled ideology. Over the course of a year and some change, I went from an excited young professional, eager to complete the education that would allow me to impact so many with such beneficial measures, to a bitter and unhappy 20-something with what felt like no goals and nothing to show for a years' hard work.
So, I decided it was fair to feel sorry for myself for a couple of weeks after I officially withdrew from the program. I cried and I was worried about others finding out. I pondered what the future would hold, given this vast and unfamiliar new space that opened up in my life. But even in those days right after dropping out, I felt a peace that I had not felt in a very long time. It was terrifying and exhilarating, all at once.
So what did I do? Well, I am fortunate to have a really kickass job and they were not only gracious enough to let me work for them while in school, but they were awesome enough to welcome me back full time. I was in a good position to take some really awesome opportunities as a result, and I am entirely stoked for where this new road will lead. I'm lucky - not just because I had a good job (although that certainly is a blessing), but also because I had the courage to stop doing something that I hated. I quit something that didn't make me feel good about the work I produced. I dropped out of a program that underserved those who wanted to enact real change and overindulged narcissistic buffoons who only knew how to look good on paper.
My point is simply this: life is short and it's wacky and we don't really get all of the time we think we do to do the things we love. Do what makes you feel alive. Do whatever you believe gives your life purpose. Do not just "stick it out." Don't settle. If you chased your dream and it turned out not to be exactly what you expected, know that is it okay to build a new dream. Even if you're unsure about going into grad school right after undergraduate–wait. Get a job, have a boss that yells at you, learn how to work on a team. Develop strong and professional communication skills. Mature. Grow. Find yourself. And if you're afraid to quit, don't be. It could just be the most liberating damn thing you ever do.