Thanks so much for sharing, Zoe! Have any of your dropped out of schooling? I also did a really popular interview with my friend Erin who dropped out of her PhD program.
Tell us a bit about yourself!
Hello! My name is Zoe, I’m 33 years old and I’m studying honours in International Relations at the University of Southern Queensland.
When did you drop out of high school? What lead you to do that?
When I was in my late teens I was having a horrible time at school. I was bored by the teachers, harassed by the students. I never ever felt like I fitted in or that I was doing something meaningful. My grades were all over the shop, getting As in computer science and Cs and Ds in other classes. I remember enjoying English but could never understand what was expected of me. At this stage, I wanted to go to university but was pretty sure my grades weren’t going to get me there.
An opportunity came up for me to travel around Europe with my family. My mum and I discussed it with the careers counsellor who advised us that I could go to a college to complete my matriculation when I returned. So I quit school, travelled around Europe. Unfortunately, when I returned, the college didn’t accept me and I was officially a high school dropout.
How did the people in your life react to your decision?
The decision to leave school was made maturely, I had a plan to come back and do the matriculation in the adult stream. I was upset to not be able to return but there was no chance of me going back into the high school system. My mum had dropped out of school too, so I don’t think that she thought it was the end of my life or anything dramatic like that. It was just a different path and a different opportunity.
What did you do instead of going to school?
I got a job, travelled some more. I ended up eventually doing part of the matriculation a few years later and was accepted into university at 18, but didn’t continue, it wasn’t right for me at that stage. At 20 I joined the army, and when I finished I had a qualification which I used up until I went to university in my late 20s.
When you applied for jobs, what would you list in the ‘education’ section?
I’d try to avoid the question! In Australia, we have “Higher School Certificate” which is for year 12 leavers and “School Certificate” for year 10. I just used the “School Certificate” and hoped for the best.
Did you pursue any sorts of self-education?
All the time. I’m a lifelong learner and I have very strong opinions about the benefits of education. I’ve taken all manner of short courses, self-learning, and vocational courses. I love to read and devour as many books as possible when I’m not doing formal study.
Did you eventually go back to school? Why?
Yes! I never actually wanted to not have an education. I’d had dreams of being a scientist – which is pretty funny because science is not my forte. It just didn’t happen early in life for me. I went back to university at 27, had a really really bad experience (which I wrote about on my blog.) I pushed on, and found my place. I graduated at 31 with distinction and with the faculty medal – given out to the highest achieving graduating student from the faculty.
How did you feel about being back in school?
It was hard at first. I really didn’t understand how to write an essay at all, and structuring my work and learning how to research was a very big learning curve. But I took to it really quickly after a few bumpy starts. Now I love it and I’m thinking about a Ph.D.
What are you doing now, work and education-wise?
I’m studying honours.
Have you ever regretted dropping out of high school?
Not at all. Its pointless to regret it because you always have a second chance for education. My mum is at university now! Its not something that can only be given to teenagers. As a teenager I really had no idea what I wanted to do, and would never have put my mind to the task as I do now. I think it would have been wasted on me. Instead I got to travel, see amazing concerts and have experiences most people never do.
What advice would you give to students – high school, university, graduate school – who don’t know if that school or type of education is right for them?
I think in general that education is not tailored well for students as individuals. That is probably my biggest concern with mainstream education. As Einstein said “Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.” And I think this occurs a lot in schools. We judge children based on their reading / writing / arithmetic and they need to be good across all three. Intelligence is more complex and our individual talents and abilities lie in different areas.
That being said, basic education is so important. I just wish that we could each have our strengths recognised and education tailored to that. I’m a big fan of alternative schools.
My advice to someone who wants to drop out of school would be to think about it very seriously. Put on your adult hat and think about what you want to do. What are your reasons for dropping out? Can you pursue that without a high school qualification? If you do quit school, and decide to go back, is there an option? Its a really big decision and it does affect the rest of your life, but it doesn’t have to be a negative outcome.