3.5 Years of College… Over?

In which I take a leave…

heads up: this is a pretty old post, it may be outdated.

I took a leave of absence from Syracuse University today. I’m a senior with 1.5 semesters of school left.

The whole experience was … weird. I looked up the process online and found that I had to go to my home college to get the correct paperwork. I appeared, and asked for an academic advisor. After 20 min, or so, I was politely escorted into an office of the only advisor available, only to be told she could of no assistance.

I’ve been to academic advisors at least five times in the past, and have had the same encounter. Each time, I’ve been told that I should have seen a ‘recorder’ instead of of an 'advisor.'

A bit frustrated, I asked why the Recorders seemed to have all the answers, and the advisors couldn’t seem to do anything. It seemed to me, that the title 'recorder,' was more administrative, and the advisor was more … advisory. Apparently, I was wrong. Recorders are for “anything to do with paperwork.”

Still rather mystified as to what an academic advisor actually does, I put my name on the list to see a Recorder.

When I sat down, to explain for the second time, that I wanted to take a leave of absence, the Recorder in front of me complained that my recorder (last name beginning with letters: A-G) wasn’t in today. But, she could take care of me.

The Recorder pulled the correct, half-sheet, in-triplicate, form out of the top drawer of her desk, and had me fill out my name, ID number, phone number, and check off the reasons why I was taking the leave. I checked off “personal/family” and “other.”

Her paperwork competed, she told me she'd have to make a copy of the triplicate form, but the phone rang and the Recorder had me wait while she finished the call. I waited a few more minutes, during witch time I grabbed the business card of "my" Recorder.

Once it was copied, I took the triplicate form back, and continued to the next building to turn the form over to the office of the Dean of Student Affairs.

After taking the stairs to the third floow, I handed my form to the secretary, who said that she thought she could get someone to talk to me directly. I patiently had a seat in the lobby, and patiently denied the kind offer for water or coffee from the secretary (administrative assistant?).

I picked up the only magazine that remotely interested me on the side table – Contact Sheet – put together by the on campus, non-profit, photo lab. I had just enough time to flip through it and determine that it was by-and-large graphics of words like “peace” and “love” and in no way resembled a contact sheet of photos, when I heard my name called.

I was politely ushered into the bare-walled, narrow office and offered a seat on a couch flush to the same wall as the woman’s desk. She already had my half-sheet form, and explained that the university liked to conduct a brief interview with students taking a leave. Right away, she found that the form wasn’t signed by my home college. Though not yet exasperated, I slowly explained that I had just been to that office, and that they were the ones that had given my the form. She asked who I had seen at the other office, and I played a guessing game between two similar sounding names that began with ‘M.’

I guessed wrong as it turns out, but all was straightened out after a phone call that consisted more of gossip than enquiring if I had actually been seen by the sole person who could give me the from I had presented to the woman in front of me.

Hanging up the phone, the woman from the office of Student Affairs looked down at the form, noted my check-off reasons for taking a leave, and enquired for more details. I explained that my family had determined that I was better off focusing on my extra-curricular activities for a semester and that I intended to return to school soon.

A few more details, and we shook hands. I walked out of her office with wishes of ‘good luck’ and ‘we hope to see you back.’

I walked out the office with the following train of though:

  • That was really, really, easy to do. Granted, I had to go to two offices, and talk with five different people, but that only took an hour. It’s hard to believe that getting out of school, and receiving at $15,000 tuition refund was really that easy.
  • The one thing that I kept hearing from each person I talked to was they hoped to see me back. It seems that college students taking a leave of absence is a frequent enough occurrence that the staff has become resigned to it. They're used to it enough that the form has check boxes that read something to the effect of ‘school isn’t right for me,’ or ‘my grades aren’t to my satisfaction.’
  • What does this suggest about the education system? Advisors don’t advise, paperwork is paramount, and a students leaving school is far too common.
At no point was I asked not to leave, it wasn’t even a hard process — they just had me fill out paperwork. My ‘exit interview’ was a joke. All they asked me was if I’d be coming back … not that it mattered outside of the box they’d have to check.

Looking back, I’ve never been into college. I recognize that I’ve had senioritise since freshman year…

…of high school. I’ve been saying since then that college was about the experience more than the ‘education.’ It’s not that I haven’t learned anything from class. I have. But, I’ve learned far more from my experience of college, than from sitting in a classroom. I plan to go back to school. I plan to get my degree — even if it’s just so I can get a piece of paper that shows I’m ‘educated.’ This experience though, has caused me to question the value of the degree more than ever.

If an education system is so used to seeing failure, what faith do I put in it? Is a piece of paper worth all the aggravation, and expense to achieve? Could I be better off going to work on topics that fascinate me, that need the help of my generation?

I'm "young man with my whole life" in front of me according to the academic advisor I saw today. Here's hoping she's right.