An Unpleasant College Memory

Here’s the prompt: A college memory.


I spent my first two years of college at a school I knew from the outset I didn’t want to attend, but did because my mother, who wanted me to be an engineer, insisted on it. See, engineering requires physics, and although I passed it in high school, I didn’t have the aptitude for it, and didn’t especially like it. She still insisted on the school, no doubt hoping I’d see the light and change my mind about engineering. I entered with the intention of being a math major, because my grandfather was a math professor at another university, and it was the only thing I saw in the catalog that I was interested in.

Toward the end of my first year, I saw a flyer for a program where, if accepted, I could earn my bachelor’s and master’s in math in four years. By this time, I was starting to think that maybe math wasn’t the major for me, but I applied for the program anyway. When it came time to register for my second year, I took the classes that they said I would have to take for the combined degree, including — you guessed it — physics. When I learned in July that I hadn’t been accepted into the program, I could have, and should have, made up my mind to revamp my schedule at my earliest opportunity and replace physics and at least one of the math classes (maybe both) with classes toward my requirements, with the idea that I’d start looking for another major.

Could have, should have… but didn’t. I was stubborn: even if I hadn’t gotten into the BS/MS program, I was going to take the classes just to spite them. I spent the better part of the quarter totally confused by the math classes, and after the first exam in physics (on which I got the worst grade in the class), I stopped going to class altogether. Didn’t drop the class, just stopped going. Out of sight, out of mind.

Two weeks before the end of the quarter, I realized I would still have to take a physics exam. As you might expect, I did even worse on this one. The professor, God love him, asked to see me, and the first thing he said was “I thought you dropped the class. Why didn’t you?”

Of course! Drop the class! That would have made everything better. Problem was, I had missed the deadline to drop the class without repercussions. So I was stuck. He told me that, if I did very well on the final, I could maybe get a D. Not the best, but I had gotten a few D’s already; one more wouldn’t kill me.

On the long walk back to the student center, I took inventory of where I was and realized that I might flunk everything that quarter. The only class I was doing well enough was a philosophy class that I had switched to pass/fail because I had gotten an F on my first paper. That prof had warned us all that he considered a D average a fail, but I had just brought it up to a C minus, so I figured I’d be all right.

Now I was mad at everyone, mostly myself, and fed up with going to school, and decided I’d go home and tell my mother I was dropping out. That’s when I ran into Judy, a classmate, and told her what I was thinking of doing. She said, “John, before you do that, why not go talk to one of the counselors? There are a bunch of them, and they’re really nice and probably can help you sort things out.” After the obligatory hemming and hawing, I decided that was a good idea. I thanked Judy, who kissed me on the cheek, gave me a hug, and said “Everything will be all right, John.”

After meeting with Helen, one of the counselors, I knew how I’d tell my mother that I was on the verge of flunking out of school. Mom chewed me out when I told her, but it could have been worse. I studied and took the exams, and when the quarter report cards came out, I had two C’s in the math classes, a D in physics (I think he took pity on me), and a Pass in the philosophy class. Not great, but I hadn’t done that well in previous quarters, either, so that was par. Helen continued to help me figure out what I wanted to do in college, and wasn’t too terribly upset when I realized I couldn’t get the degree I wanted where I was and would have to transfer.

I transferred to the second university at the end of the year, and the rest, as they say, is history.

In case you’re wondering, I had a class with Judy the next quarter. It might have turned into a full-blown relationship, but we were both involved with other people, and I never saw her again. That’s life at a big university.

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Author: John Holton

I'm a writer and blogger who writes and blogs about things that interest me.

29 thoughts on “An Unpleasant College Memory”

  1. Well, this sounds like my college boyfriend who I ended up marrying when we graduated. He became successful in computers in the 70’s, graduated with C’s and D’s and made more money than anyone else I personally knew in my life! We are divorced and yet, share 3 kids and 7 grandchildren. His present wife is great, too. My good grades and teaching didn’t take me very far. 🙂 Oh well!

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    1. Look at all the guys who dropped out of school and founded Microsoft, Apple, and other high-tech companies. Flies in the face of people who say you must have a college degree to be successful.

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  2. It’s usually better not to do what will make others happy if it doesn’t make you happy. My parents never pushed me into anything in my life. My father didn’t always approve of some of my decisions, but he let me do them and face the consequences on my own. I raised my own kids the same way and most of them seem to be doing pretty well.

    Arlee Bird
    A to Z Challenge Co-host
    Tossing It Out

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  3. Thank you for posting this! I think Physics is one of those things like musical talent or knowing how to drive in a city you’ve never been to – you have it or you don’t. I took one semester of Physics in high school my Senior year and my lawn mover always dug a hole rather than mowing the lawn. I panicked, and changed my plan from pre-med at a small, private college to Nursing at a massive state university. It all worked out well enough, but I’ll always wonder why I didn’t “get” Physics.

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    1. You’re right: it’s one of things you either get or you don’t. I’d sit in class and listen to a lecture, and I could tell some were getting it and others, myself included, thought the guy was speaking Attic Greek. The prof wouldf stand there and come up with numbers and tell us that was close enough, even if he was off by 50% or more.

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  4. I bet so many of us have stories in the same vein. Finding our way in those early adult years can be tricky. Great story. Really gives meaning to that quote about why people come and go in our lives.

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  5. I did Chemical Engineering to please my folks and thankfully didn’t suck at it. When I graduated I did a post-grad in Environmental Studies because that’s what I was more interested in. I’ve never had to use anything (well, just a little bit) I learnt when I was doing Chemical Engineering since. By the way, I also hate physics and I had to study it for four years!

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    1. Engineering is all physics, which is why I wanted no part of it. Even the degree in computer science was an engineering degree where I went. I wanted to be a programmer; why mess with electrical engineering on top of it?

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Oh, I learned that don’t forget to drop lesson the hard way as well. By the way, I am married to an engineer. When we would study together in college I would thank God it was him and not me. Those classes sounded incredibly dry to me. Thermo Dynamics? Sounds like an oxymoron to me!

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    1. Engineering is one of those things you have to really be excited about, because it’s intrinsically dull and detail-oriented. I had a friend who went into civil engineering, and I swear his favorite class was “reinforced concrete.” A couple of friends were electrical engineers. I met them in high school and they were already talking about circuits, transistors, and envelope generators. Fifteen years old and already building amplifiers and effect pedals. They were quintessential engineering candidates. Me? I had no idea what they were talking about, and really didn’t care, though I learned everything I needed to know from them.

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  7. As growing adults we generally tends to end up with things we do not want to do. Thus resulting in poor performance but then we do manage to survive..
    Even though we all know that we must pursue our own dreams and not of others but out of respect we fail to impress ourselves.

    Thats Life..

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  8. I hope your college experience after that improved! I started college later on in life so it was a different experience altogether. I had hopes of becoming a dietitian, but soon found out after taking organic chemistry that it wasn’t going to happen. That was ok. I had always dreamed of becoming a county Extension Agent. And the degree I chose took me there.

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    1. Oh, it made all the difference in the world. Your experience with wanting to be a dietitian was like mine wanting to go into math. Real Analysis absolutely threw me for a loop (did you know there are branches of math that don’t involve numbers?), and I decided I was in the wrong place. I’m glad you discovered what you wanted to do and found the path to get you there.

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  9. For the first time in my life, I stood up for myself and did what my dad didn’t want me to do and went to college instead of university and picked nursing instead of being a doctor.
    It wasn’t out of spite. It was because I wanted to be a nurse. Always wanted to every since I was small and watched MASH. I loved Hot Lips Hoolian (spelling?). I graduated and got a job right away as an ER nurse. Loved it.
    I don’t know what I would have done if I did what he wanted me to do. Even while I was working as an RN he kept telling me “You can be a doctor”. Ugh….
    I hope that your second round was a much better experience for you. I always tell my son to do what he loves and makes him happy.

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    1. I think parents are tempted to push their kids to do things they think will make them happy without considering whether the kid is actually interested in that. I ended up getting my degree in Business Administration, an option that wasn’t available to me where I was. I hadn’t even considered it, but working with Helen made me realize that’s where my interests were. And I doubt I’d have met Mary had I stayed where I was.

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  10. Moving from school years into being a grown up can be hard and very confusing. I applied for uni here and had my pick of 5 good institutions but by the time I sat my final school exams I knew I’d had enough of education. I declined my uni place, got a job and the rest is history. My son was fortunate (?) to get a place at Oxford to study English. He survived the first year but hated it. He left. Took a year to consider his options, opted to go to Nottingham and study Law and came out with a First. But it’s not always easy to have the courage to make changes.

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    1. Even harder is having the courage to stand up to a parent…

      It’s hard to make changes because they can indicate that you made the “wrong” choices. Maturity comes from knowing that you’re going to make mistakes and that things aren’t always going to be as you had imagined and being comfortable deciding it’s time for plan B, or C, or Omega. I’m glad things worked out for both you and your son.

      Liked by 1 person

  11. Hi John – interesting to read and see others’ comments – I wasn’t bright enough to go to Uni – and in fact was not very academic at all – now a different matter … but that’s life – we all develop at different times. We have engineering in the family … but words are my forte – cheers and fun to read – we need to find our own way … cheers Hilary

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    1. I think a lot of kids in college (what you might call university) are there without any clue as to why they’re there and aren’t even sure they want to be there. I read once where one of the Scandinavian countries pays a kid’s way through college, but the kid has to write an essay and undergo a couple of interviews to ensure that they’re serious about furthering their education. That might save a lot of problems.

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  12. I had a similar experience with a last minute class I wanted to drop after the cut off. I was ready to claim my father’s death as a reason for a hardship withdrawal even though it had happened years earlier. Everything seemed to be working in my favor until I realized they wanted a death certificate. I was so desperate. My sister was the one who talked some sense into me and encouraged me to see a counselor. Those people are sure good at their jobs! 😉

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