How Leaving College Helped Me Discover My Self-Worth


By: Keana Martin-Sanders

There I was. On a greyhound leaving Union Station in Washington, DC  with the encouraging words of my Beloved Cousin Brian imprinted on my brain. “You’ll be great, Keana. You still have some growing to do but you’re smart.” I felt so many emotions all at once.

I felt like crying, screaming, and smiling all at once. I could not  believe was actually leaving The Mecca. I was happy to even have had the opportunity to attend Howard university. I was smiling at all of the wonderful, beautiful people I met while I was there and all of the hilarious memories I had made. I felt like crying because reality had officially settled upon me. I was leaving school because I owed Howard University about seven thousand dollars, and I had absolutely no way to pay.

At that point I realized I was no longer in college, and I was doing nothing with my life. I felt like screaming because I felt like a failure. I had one job. That job was to go to college and graduate in 2019 with a bachelor’s degree in Mass Communications and a minor in Spanish. I let everybody down. I felt like screaming because I felt like there was still something I could’ve done.

I could have applied for more scholarships. There should’ve been a way for me to stay at my dream school. All of this raced through my mind as I rode 13 hours back to Atlanta. Of course my former floormates, now long distance friends, attempted to lift my spirits by telling me they would miss me and that I HAD to come back. My best friend Lydia told me she cried when I left and that hurt my heart even more than I imagined.

All of my dreams were shattered. All of my plans ruined. I had my whole life planned out at Howard. I knew what classes I was going to take second semester. I knew where I wanted to live my sophomore year. I planned on trying to make more memories with my friends instead of tirelessly working on my homework. I was going to be more involved on campus. I was going to actually explore DC with all of my friends. I was somehow going to fit a job into my already packed schedule with my 17 credits and my continued internship at Howard’s radio station. I was going to commit to fully learning how to use the metro. I had a whole life shaped by going to Howard.

I felt stuck. Where was I going to go to school? I could always go to online school then transfer somewhere else. Where was I going to work? Working at Taco Bell was not an option after the one near my house had been robbed earlier in the year . Where I was I going to stay? My mom lived in-between my uncle’s house and my grandma’s house which happened to be across town.

I finally decided to stay at my grandma’s house. Most of my clothes were there, plus, I never truly felt welcomed into my uncle’s home due to his in-laws.  While my mother, grandma, and little brother went to work and school every day, I slept on the couch all day. I binge watched The Mindy Project into the early hours of the morning. I felt defeated. I barely showered because I never went anywhere.

All I did was eat and sleep. I was in a depressive “funk” as I called it. I wasn’t in school. I didn’t have a job. I didn’t have any money. I couldn’t go out with my friends. I couldn’t even buy myself a bag of chips if I wanted to. I felt so worthless. All of my friends were in school and  I felt like a bum. I felt like I was going nowhere with my life. I felt like I had no purpose. My cousin, even though she was all the way in  Maryland was making sure that I was applying to jobs every day.

I officially withdrew from Howard University in early February 2015. A few months have passed and now I am now  in a much better place in my life. I attribute my new attitude to many different people and things. For one, I kept up with all of my college friends through twitter and snapchat.

Secondly, my best friend helped me tremendously. He went through the same thing with another HBCU in Atlanta. We spoke every day and helped each other remain positive. We  reminded each other that we will eventually go to school and accomplish our dreams. We both worked to support our various hobbies and business endeavors. He reminded me that I am smart, ambitious young lady and that we had a bigger purpose

During this time of not attending college, I reflected. My family along with societal pressures pounded the idea of going to college into my head from a young age. The plan was to finish high school with scholarships, go to college for free, graduate and become successful. This had been my mindset since I could remember. Whenever a person my age was not going to college, it seemed as if people looked at them with confusion, disgrace, and shame.

I always wondered why a person would not want to continue their education. School seemed like such an obvious choice. As I matured, I realized and noticed that not everyone goes to college. During my time way from school I’ve worked almost every day and at one point I had two jobs. I worked with diverse people most of whom did not go to college. I did not look at these people with ill will but rather, saw that my coworkers were adults just trying to support their families and businesses. Some of my coworkers said college was not for them; they weren’t interested in continuing their education when they had just completed four years of high school while others were just starting to attend school.

I want to leave everybody with this. College does not define your worth. Just because you don’t go to college does not mean you are dumb, a delinquent or worthless. You might take longer than four years to get your degree; that’s OK. You may not even attend college; that’s OK too.

My path may not look like everybody else’s and that’s alright. Of course I still feel sad from time to time about my situation; I still want to cry sometimes but I constantly remind myself that there are bigger things in store for me. Whether that path includes a gap years or entering the workforce, everybody has a purpose; you are more than your situation.

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Chuchi Rolle
1 year 4 months ago

I am in tears as I read this due to the fact that your story is almost the spitting image of mine. I attended FAMU (the best hbcu in the land lol) Majoring in Physical therapy I was supposed to graduate in summer of 2019 and had to withdraw my 2nd year because I owed 7,000 plus. It still hurts me to this day as I met wonderful people and I loved it. I felt just like you depressed and like I had failed everyone including myself. I plan to continue my education eventually, but right now things are going… Read more »

1 year 4 months ago

I am currently in my 2nd year at a college in Toronto for film with hopes of becoming a creative writer. I am currently debating on leaving because I feel like the coarse doesn’t cater to what I want to do when I get out. Thankfully, I don’t owe anything because I have been paying out of pocket; however, I already have a published book, and I really only need to learn the art of scriptwriting, and the next steps taken once it has one has been written from a writers standpoint. I’m half way through the coarse but, I… Read more »

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