Burned Out But Not Dropping Out

The New York Times recently did an article titled, “When a College Student Comes Home to Stay." The blurb underneath the title says that “Thirty percent of freshmen won’t return for their sophomore year, and the wheels can start to fall off as early as Thanksgiving. What can parents do?”

I read through this article a few months ago, surprised and, at the same time, not surprised at the statistics that the authors listed. I grew up in a suburb in the Peninsula Bay Area, only 20 minutes shy of Stanford University and the heart of Silicon Valley and went to a college prep Catholic high school. Between junior and senior year, the mentality of burnout was all too real. College counselors had come into our sophomore history classes talking about boosting your college applications and resumes with AP classes and extracurriculars, and we listened. It wasn’t a thing to go to a private college-prep high school for four years and then not go to college, even if it was a community college, so if you weren’t burnt out, you were doing something wrong.

I tried my best to ignore this and to follow my gut instincts (and my usual sleeping habits). But I was friends with smart and ambitious people, and my junior year, I found myself in five dance classes three times a week, three-hour musical theatre group rehearsal once a week, and one-hour voice lessons once a week, along with a full course load complete with two AP classes, a foreign language, and an elective. I had also started working children’s birthday parties on the weekends, which exhausted me even more.

And even though I ended up lightening the workload during my second semester, college-prep school life didn’t follow suit. I still spent my summer doing SAT prep, working more, and preparing for the onslaught of college applications the coming fall of my senior year. I got into (and am now attending) my dream school, but sometimes I wonder what else I could’ve taken off my load to still come here.

I am grateful for having the privilege to attend private school for most of my life, but college prep Catholic high school burnt me out. It brainwashed me into thinking that all I would ever be worth to a college would be grades and some extracurriculars. It exhausted all of my academic energy to the point where when I got to college, I did start to slack off. My parents’ hardworking firstborn daughter, who had joined a sorority and was writing for a campus publication, finished her freshman year with a total of three C’s on her report card (I really should’ve taken those classes Pass/No Pass and helped my GPA out, but hindsight’s always 20/20).

Image source: Raw Pixel

I’m not the only one. Any private-school kid from Silicon Valley can tell you that they’re exhausted but still studying instead of sleeping so they can go to an Ivy League, Stanford, or a top-tier UC. But it never crossed my mind until I got to college that dropping out was something that was far more common than my naïve high school mind thought.

The New York Times surveyed college freshmen and sophomores and found them dropping out like flies because they couldn’t handle college coursework or adulting while in college. There might not be a handbook given to college students labeled “how to adult,” but school teaches us how to learn and to think. Dropping out isn’t either of those things: it’s giving up on your future. And in the midst of the chaos of midterm season, when you’re having another mental breakdown in the library, remember why you came here in the first place, and what you want to accomplish, even if you’re years away from graduating. You’ll never get there if you stop trying.