Should I take time off from college?

Trigger warning: mentions of mental illness, suicide

Not to delve too deep into personal issues on a public blog, but I went from an A-average, optimistic high schooler to a D-average, lonely, severely mentally ill college student in the span of a year.

I was unhappy to go to the college I attended (my in-state safety school that ended up being the only one I could afford), but I tried hard to feign excitement and remain positive. My home life wasn’t the best, and I considered college to be a new start for me, regardless of where I went. So, even before the first day on campus, I began reaching out to every new face I could find and joining more clubs than I knew the name of. That initial ambition soon fell flat though, as I found myself not connecting with anyone on campus despite how much I tried to find anyone with my common interests. Coupled with incidents that left me feeling unheard and unimportant by the faculty, as well as a lack of care shown in the departments I wanted to pursue, I began to feel very purposeless and alone. This all came to a head when, towards the middle of my first semester, I tried to take my own life. Everything felt so pointless, and given how isolated and disrespected I felt on campus, I didn’t think there was any other option for me to take. To be fair, I have a history of mental illness, but my mental state deeply plummeted in college in a way that I had never thought possible in high school.

After I spent some much needed time recovering, I went back to college due to my family pressuring me to at least try things out for the year. After all, sometimes you have to give things time before you warm up to them. But, time only made my college experience worsen. The issues I had been dealing with still persisted after my recovery, only they now were paired with the extra work I had to make up from my time away. While professors were accommodating for the most part, my lack of purpose combined by the sheer abundance of work I had to complete burnt me out irreparably, resulting in me just barely scraping by my courses with D’s.

I still tried to remain positive going into the spring semester, but my heart wasn’t in it. Upon returning to campus after winter break, I had a very bad panic attack upon entering my dorm again. The stress and mental exhaustion all came flooding back, resulting in me not leaving my dorm for a good 24 hours after the incident. The remainder of the semester echoed the same sentiments, with me not going to classes, socializing, or even taking care of myself on the most basic of levels. All of my passions faded away, resulting in me not caring about my grades or future in the slightest. It sounds awful, but if it weren’t for COVID hitting the states when it did and altering the rest of the semester, I no doubt would’ve tried to end my life again or put myself in harm’s way.

I think that what I need most right now is some time away from higher education to get better. Mentally, I just can’t handle school right now. I feel like a failure for not being able to do it. But, I’m worried taking time off could harm me very greatly in the long run. I know I’ll need to find a steady full-time job in the meantime, as I need to save up for a new place to stay (my current home situation with my family is not healthy at the moment) and just generally pull my weight. I’m doing online freelance work at the moment, but the pay is very poor and unsustainable for an extended period of time if I’m taking a break from college. However selfish this may seem, I’m just very worried that I’ll get sucked into a cushy, soulless 9 to 5 and never leave. I’ve seen family members of mine fall into the same trap of dropping out of college and never doing anything meaningful with their lives, and I don’t want the same to happen to me.

Regarding transferring, I’m not too optimistic. Going to another 4-year university will sadly be all but impossible, given how money is a key factor in my scenario (and my grades from this year will make just about every university shudder). The community colleges closest to me aren’t ideal, but beggars certainly can’t be choosers. Both these options still concern me due to, in my opinion, how fragile my mental state is, and I’d rather not lose another year’s worth of tuition on more emotional breakdowns. In the case of community college, though, I’m again worried about getting caught up in a mindless, minimum wage job that will eventually take priority over my classes, since I don’t have a particular passion or interest to motivate the classes I take or information I learn.

I feel like a lost cause. Most people I know who are my age are already picking out their majors and making wonderful friends at their universities, while I’m not able to even pass a ten question quiz in my easiest courses. Should I continue attending the college I’ve been attending, or should I call it a day and transfer to a community college? Should I take a year off of all college entirely and find a steady job while I get some help? Do I have any other sustainable options?

Hi Hon–

First, you are not alone. Many have been in your shoes and they’ve gone on to have wonderful, productive, happy lives. You will too.

Second, taking time off from college is just fine. There’s a lot that you can do in the time. One issue is school loans. Do you have any? If not, you’re more free to do stuff until you’re ready to go back. If you do, then you will need to start paying back loans in 6 months (check the amount of time). That still gives you 6 months plus a summer if you organize your schedule properly. That might be enough to get a new direction.

For what to do, maybe consider Student Conservation Association – internships with some stipends and money for school.

Americorps NCCC or FEMA–also provides housing and money for school.

Or volunteer near your home or work near your home.

Mostly, keep your life uncomplicated during this resting and healing time. Don’t get married, get pregnant (or get someone else pregnant); don’t use drugs or alcohol. Maybe get some therapy if possible. When you’re ready, college will be waiting for you.

I’ve known many people who have taken significant gap time. On average they are have matured, gotten healthy, found experience in the working world, and otherwise then have thrived in their lives. You’re going to do just fine.

hey, i came across your multiple threads about the university you attended last year— as i was researching the college—and felt obligated to reach out to you.

i completely get where you are coming from and your feelings are 100% valid. you taking a break from college (if you haven’t already) sounds like your best bet. maybe take this fall semester off and if you do not feel 100% better by the spring take spring off too! take your time and ease your way back into college.

after your experiences at that university, you have every right to not want to return. i am part of the LGBT community and have many trans friends and i completely sympathize and understand your experiences there. i sincerely hope you recover from your absolutely awful experiences there.

if your grades from last year of college arent insanely bad (maybe like a 2.5ish or higher) you should def consider transferring somewhere that is not only LGBT friendly, but has many resources for trans students. my state college, rutgers new brunswick is insanely friendly and accepting towards trans students. i believe they have insurance plans for trans students that cover costs of cosmetic procedures, hormone therapy, among many other things (http***//
----> remove the asterisks if you want to go to the website!

however, i am not completely sure if it would be a cheap option as you would be paying for OOS tuition. if you do end up at community college, and plan on transferring again, maybe look into some LACs or universities in the northeast or the west coast. i don’t want to generalize but i would say that trans and lgbt acceptance is much higher in those areas, thus colleges in these areas will probably have more resources available.

if your gpa is not in a good condition to transfer, def consider community college! although, it is not the most luxurious option, it is better to take a few classes there for a little and then transfer somewhere after.

it sounds like you are a very academic-driven person that was affected by MANY things. i do not think you should give up on higher education. i was in a similar position a few years ago in high school and now i am a year behind in college looking to transfer somewhere and probably on set to graduate in 2024! if you come across this, and want to PM me i GLADLY will!

i hope you are able to improve your mental health and find what you truly want. don’t give up!