Dear Carolyn: I dropped out of my grad program with only a few credits to go because I felt the workload was sucking all the fun out of my life and forcing me to miss some fun times with friends.
Well, about six months later, it seems the Happy Hour Every Night phase has abruptly ended for my whole friend group, and now I feel like an idiot for letting my momentum drift away and not just finishing my education when I was that close.
I should definitely grovel my way back into my program, but every time I think of doing that, I get stuck on what a loser I'm going to sound like when I explain that I left to play with my friends. Can you help me get past that obstacle?
— Made a Mistake
Made a Mistake: “I left for personal reasons, and I’d like to return.” Growing up isn’t pretty. But, it’s good.*
Plus, the sound-like-a-loser potential isn’t diminishing with time, it’s amassing armies, so the sooner you get on it the better.
*It’s also lifelong, alas. Assuming my sense of time is accurate, I am unable to go more than a month or so without an, “I can’t believe I have to freaking admit this about myself,” moment of some magnitude or another. My goal in life is not to erase them, but instead to keep them small. Ish.
●Being able to recognize that you need to change course in life is itself a worthwhile skill, especially in the context of having to admit a mistake and try to change back. In other words, you’re not a loser — just having the realization you had is an achievement. Good luck.
●My sister briefly dropped out of undergrad for a similar reason and was able to return after a semester with no drama. Lots of people have gaps in their education because of a variety of reasons, and it’s a lot more common than you think. If anything, it teaches you to appreciate it more. Don’t let temporary shame prevent you from finishing something you clearly want. P.S. When I was in grad school, I was completely tempted to do the same thing. I occasionally wish I’d spent more of my early 20s playing. But now, in my mid-30s, I’m glad for the education and the options/income it provides for me now, and I suspect you will, too.
●As a faculty member in a department with a graduate program, I can say we LOVE when students come back and graduate. It’s professionally fulfilling, but also the graduation numbers matter for our accreditation. In a small program, every student matters! And honestly, we’ve heard all the reasons — and non-reasons — for dropping out that you can imagine.
●Do it. Ask, grovel, inquire, whatever. Do it now before those credits start to expire. I did all the coursework for a master’s degree and never got a thesis off the ground . . . and the time I spent berating myself added up to years and suddenly those credits were gone. Obviously I still retained the knowledge and experience . . . but employers don’t tend to understand what “graduate coursework completed” means on a résumé. Go. Ask. Finish.