Dropping out of college
Why Jos Claerbout dropped out of Pomona College for a year and a half.

The Student life, Pomona College (photo added later) Fall 1995

You Gotta Leave It, If you Want to Love It


Author's note - There are many of you out there diligently taking advantage of everything Pomona College offers. You happily study, learn, and fully benefit from the college's many opportunities. This article is not for you. It is for the rest of us.

You're not sure that you should be here. You used to enjoy your time at Pomona, but lately things have just gotten routine. You're not sure you should be in college. You're trying to decide whether to just grit your teeth for the remainder or drop out and take that job you were offered last summer. This apathy goes beyond mere "Spring slump"; you're sure that there's something more at work here.

There is nothing wrong with doubting that you should be in school at this point in your life. There is something wrong with doubting and staying anyway.

The best thing I ever did for my Pomona education was to leave school. I write this article not so as to relive my days of misdirection, but out of respect for other students who are currently experiencing the same emotions that I did several years ago. If you're burned out on college, grinding through your remaining years or dropping out completely are not your only options. It's time to discuss the wonders of leave.

What is the "leave of absence"? Depending on the individual, leave can vary in length from a semester to a year on up. Your school record goes on temporary hiatus, leave is, as it is commonly known, "a year off".

As much as we have earned our reputation as slackers, Pomona students seem to have a hard time letting themselves have "time off". Maybe it is because of their parents, their financial aide, or even themselves; a hundred barriers pop up when something out of the norm is proposed. Odd or not, sometimes "time off" is the most rational option.

I am a stealth junior. I say this because I would have been a senior this year, had I not neglected to take any classes Fall '94 and Spring '95. I was in Alaska, you see, the commute would have been hell. In Spring of 1993, I felt many of the things that some of my younger friends feel now: was all this money being spent worth it? Was I really taking advantage of my time in college? The answer was no, I was treating my time here just as I had treated high school: as a game, trying to figure out how to get by with the best grades and the least possible work. Twenty thousand a year to try to outwit the Econ. Department wasn't a very good bet.

I fought off the realization at first. I came up with a thousand different options. Maybe I was just tired of the campus; maybe living at one of the other Claremont Colleges would make a difference. Perhaps I needed a good summer job. What I really needed was time off. What I lacked was perspective.

Perspective is necessary at a place like Pomona. It's one of the few places in the world, where, to succeed, all you need to do is read good books, think good thoughts, and write good papers. The rest, from rent to food to entertainment, is taken care of. I would venture that many in this world wish for such a life. Many at Pomona just wish that it was time to graduate. That is a shame.

It is, however, an understandable shame. For many of us here, college was not a choice. It was simply the step that came after high school. For some, it is just the step that comes before graduate school. At least in my case, my college experience suffered from its lack of election. As it was never seriously considered that I would not attend, the fact that I indeed would attend was practically meaningless.

Not having made the choice about college meant that I valued Pomona little, and treated my time here as one long "escape from classes" strategy more than anything else. My days were filled with friends and extracurriculars, jobs and volunteer work; whatever was necessary to fill the hours with something besides studying. I often felt of leaving, transferring to another school that would be "better" than Pomona. It wasn't for several weeks before the end of my Sophomore year that I realized the problem wasn't the school; it was me. My pampered ass simply didn't deserve to be here.

So I left. At first, it was exhilarating. I ran two political campaigns, vomited in the Bering Sea, and lived in the same town as Tom Bodett. I was having so much fun that I was trying to decide what to do with my second year of "leave". Indeed, I was, like my parents had feared, questioning when I would ever return to college.

Then, sometime in April, things changed. My job turned into a mindless routine; I got my boss accidentally thrown in prison; it was still snowing. To be honest, it kind of sucked.

I started thinking back to college; remembering a place where I could talk with people about things other than moose and country music. A place where putting in a ten hour work day would be considered incredible; a place where all you had to do was learn. Part of me still wanted that.

And that's why I came back. I was fortunate enough to still be welcome in my parents' household, and some of my professors still remembered my name. My college experience this year has been something totally novel for me. I'm finally here because I want to be, and the difference is both exhilarating and exhausting.

So that's my story. Perhaps it relevant to you; I envy you it it's not. If any of this hit close to home, my advice to you is: "Get away, come back if you want." To look back on one's college years in regret would be horrible.

As a postscript, the paperwork for taking a leave is negligible. Simply talk with either Dean Quinley or Dean Clark and you're on your way. Above all, don't make this decision hastily.

Go to the amazing Life of Jos