When they say it’s hard to go back to school, they mean it. I always took this lightly when I was told this by the adults in my life because, well, at the time, I was still enrolled in school and thought little of having to find the motivation to go back. But then I left Chapel Hill, and everything changed.
I’ve talked a lot about my time at Chapel Hill on this blog and I’ve talked a lot about leaving Chapel Hill, but I really haven’t given much attention to this last year and a half of my life: the time when I haven’t been an enrolled student somewhere for the first time in my entire life and, instead, I’ve been working a job that I haven’t necessarily loved. I’ve been on an uphill battle for the better part of this time and I only feel like I’ve recently surfaced the peak of the mountain.
It hasn’t been easy. At times, I felt like I was watching myself from the outside as I struggled to keep my composure in public or manage to not drive my car into a tree. I’ve been the most depressed I’ve ever been in my entire life, all while having to find my way in the adult world. I’ve changed a lot as a person and I’ve matured more than I believe I ever would have had I still be enrolled in school, but I haven’t felt complete. I haven’t felt like myself.
It’s no understatement to say that I’ve missed school. I’ve missed being a student more than I’ve missed anything ever before. I’ve missed walking around a campus filled with other college students, book bag in tow, stopping to talk to friends while comparing lecture notes from a class the day before. I miss the social aspects of college: being with people my age that share similar interests and are easy to talk to. In the last year, I have felt the most alone.
And because of this, I clung onto things. I clung onto a relationship past its prime, I clung onto coping mechanisms that weren’t healthy, and I clung onto the depressive thought that I might not ever be able to return to school… if I even wanted to.
Everything changed around New Year’s. Towards the middle of last December, it finally hit me: I really wanted to go back to school. For nearly a year, I had toyed with the idea of whether or not I wanted to actually return. Of course, I needed to return, but I had been so unhappy during my last year at Chapel Hill that I was reluctant to go back to any school, in the hopes of avoiding that unhappiness. But by December, a kind-of hope whispered in my ear and I instantly knew I wanted to return to school.
But I kept procrastinating the application process. Here’s the thing I’ve come to realize: when you leave school for any given amount of time to work full-time in the “real world,” finding the motivation to return to school becomes increasingly difficult. You lose yourself in the inner-workings of the adult world that our parents so often warned us of and you suddenly stop prioritizing returning to school. For me, this was scary.
I love being a student. I’ve always loved going to school and learning new things, writing essays and studying, so it scared me when I kept putting off my transfer application, because I knew how badly I wanted to return to school. Why was it so hard for me to take this step?
Then all of my friends from Chapel Hill graduated — a day I had been dreading since the first of the year. As I watched the ball drop on New Year’s, I had a wave of depression sweep over me while I sullenly sipped on my coffee mug filled with champagne. Twenty-nineteen was supposed to be my year. This was supposed to be the year I graduated from my “dream school” and continue on into my professional life. Instead, I felt a sudden sense of anxiety at not having achieved anything I’d aimed for, and I rang in the New Year feeling like a complete and total failure.
But somewhere between the time the clock struck midnight and the next morning, something changed. I woke up that morning of the first with a different mindset than I’d experienced in a very long time. Yes, twenty-nineteen was supposed to be my year, but who said it still couldn’t be? This could be my year of redemption as I continued to grow from the previous year.
I wish I knew how or why this changed, but I don’t — it just did. It was one of those greater, cosmic things that happened to work in my favor for once, so I took it and ran.
As my friends sent me graduation announcements and my Instagram quickly became flooded with caps and gowns, I experienced something different than I’d expected: happiness. I had prepared myself to avoid social media for the better part of May but, instead, I found myself rejoicing over my friends’ accomplishments and using them as motivator to go back to school for myself.
But I continued to put-off filling out my transfer application. I work forty hours a week, I come home exhausted, and my days off are just as busy as my days at work: I was slipping into the cycle that working adults slip into that makes it so goddamn hard to find any ambition.
Then July rolled around and I knew I had to start getting serious. I picked up my application and continued where I left off, digging through my old records to find high school test scores and references. I re-ignited my excitement to return to school. I bought myself a new planner that is equipped for a full course load and began planning what I might do in terms of work once I was a full-time student again. For the first time in a long time, I was genuinely giddy about school.
I submitted my transfer application to UNC Asheville yesterday and relief completely washed over me. I still have a few things to send them, but the application itself has been sent and that felt so good.
With most good things, there was a kink — well, a major kink. Shortly after sending a transcript release request to Chapel Hill, I received an email saying that they wouldn’t release my transcript. My transcript: five semesters of my work, tens of thousands of dollars of debt in my name, and they wouldn’t release my transcript. I was furious.
My family and I knew this might be a possibility because I had a financial hold on my student account. When I medically withdrew from Chapel Hill, I was told that I wouldn’t owe them anything. I read their website multiple times and it seemed as if I wouldn’t owe them any money upon withdrawing, but when I withdrew, they charged me the amount of my financial aid refund for that semester — an amount in the four-figure range. A hold that substantial on a student account prevented me from doing a lot of things, like re-enrolling at Chapel Hill, for instance, so I wasn’t surprised when they withheld my transcript because of it.
But I was still crushed. I’d gotten so excited about returning to school and now that possibility seemed even further away than it had before. My family didn’t have the money to pay back that balance all at once, which is why it hadn’t been paid yet, and I wasn’t sure when we would ever have that money in the near future.
I immediately texted my dad and he called me within minutes. As soon as I picked up the phone, I began bawling. Everything hit me at once: missing school, the excitement of returning, and the gut-shattering punch that I’d just experienced that ruined it all. I was actually sobbing, full-on sobbing, for the first time in months, when my dad told me his contingency plan.
The hold was paid off within an hour. I still owe a lot of money to someone, but that someone isn’t Chapel Hill. My dad made a last-resort decision because, as he put it, “You have to go back to school in the fall.”
With the transcript on its way to UNC Asheville and just a few more things to fill out, I am considerably closer to returning to school than I have been in well over a year. I’m nervous, I’m excited, but most of all, I feel at peace. It seems like everything is back on track for me and, for once, I’m beginning to feel like myself again.
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