First run at college an experience in maturation

By MEGHAN O’NEAL/Montana State News

Elisabeth Harrison moved to Bozeman from Redding, Conn., in order to start four long years of school.

“I chose it on a whim,” she says, shrugging.  “And I didn’t have to write an essay.”

Harrison began in the photography program fall of 2009.  Although she was excited to be on her own and forge her own way in the world, Elisabeth always had her holdbacks.

“I just didn’t want to be in school,” she says.  “I never liked school and I told my parents that.  But they didn’t listen.”

And so, like so many college students before her, she struggled.

She explains that she still enjoyed photography and wanted to pursue it, but she just didn’t see the point in her other classes.  She did well in photography, and passed the dreaded photography gate at the end of the first year in order to officially enter the photography program, but in her other classes she did not fare so well, earning herself a probation in her first semester.

“I didn’t try,” she says simply.  “I didn’t want to.  There was no point.”

Elisabeth continued her time at Montana State University working harder than she did her first semester, but she had no heart in it.  School was not for her.  And so, she dropped out.

“I didn’t know exactly what I was going to do,” she confesses, “but I knew I could no longer be in school.”

It was sucking the life out of her, and she needed to get out.

“There was no point of going to school if I didn’t know what I was going to do.  And I hated it.  I didn’t see the point of spending thousands of dollars on something that I didn’t know if I was going to pursue in the future.”

Elisabeth says she is not the only new college student with this problem.  “I have a couple of other friends who either dropped out or took years off school as well.  Like me, they just weren’t ready.”

She has a reason for this:  “There’s such a pressure on new high school graduates to go on to college.  It’s expected, which isn’t fair.  School isn’t for everyone, and going straight to college from high school sets some people up for failure.”

The first few months out of school were rough for Elisabeth.  She needed a job, and her parents cut her off financially, adding stress to her situation.  Finally, she landed a cleaning job she found on Craigslist.

“It was horrible,” she groans.  “We would clean factories and stuff around Bozeman.  My shifts were long and the entire company was very disorganized.”

One day, she couldn’t take it anymore.  “So, I quit.  Immediately life was better.”

And so it was back to pounding the pavement, searching desperately for a job.  But she found ways to relieve her ever-present stress.

“I got a hamster,” she says.  “I needed to take care of something.  To feel I was needed.  And it worked!”

With a fresh spring in her step, all caused by the love of a tiny hamster, Elisabeth found new resolve and landed a job working for a new boutique in the mall. She was excited about this job. She liked the people she would be working with, and, having spent three years previously working at a pet shop in Connecticut, she had a lot of retail experience.

With a new job and new perspective, Elisabeth faced her problems straight on.  She knew that she was not going to work in retail for the rest of her life.  She needed a plan.

“I change plans every day,” she laughs.  “But I know I’ll eventually find what I’m meant to do.”

Elisabeth does plan to go back to school, perhaps next fall, or the one following.  “I think I’ll do better in school now that it’s my choice to go. I actually want to go this time.”

It is important for students to make their own choice about whether or not to go to school, Elisabeth says.  “People need to ignore the pressure society puts on us to follow traditional views of success and just do what they want to do. I learned that the hard way.”

Elisabeth thinks that going to school is an important decision and should be made on one’s own. “It’s so expected that kids will go to college right when they graduate high school. But school isn’t for everyone.”

When asked whether or not she was glad that she left school, without hesitation, she replies, “Yes.  It was a long, difficult road, but I learned a lot about myself and began to make my own choices.  Now I’ll never have any doubt in my mind that I’m doing the right thing for me.”

Edited by Sam Middlestead.

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