Mary Jo Podgurski

Column Mary Jo Podgurski

Dr. Mary Jo Podgurski is the founder and director of the Washington Health System Teen Outreach. She responds to 68 questions from young people daily and has written 'Ask Mary Jo' since 2005.

Ask Mary Jo

College isn’t for everyone

December 27, 2012

Q.How do I tell my parents that I don’t want to return to college after winter break? I entered undecided and it’s the second semester of my sophomore year and I’m still undecided. My grades aren’t bad so it’s not like I need to drop out. I’ve made some good friends and I’ll actually miss some of them, but this isn’t the way I want to continue my life. It’s a financial hardship for me to attend college anyway. I’m going to have a huge debt and my parents are struggling to support me wherever they can. I have good parents. Our family’s not dysfunctional in any way. But I have younger siblings and I just think money spent on me at this point is a waste. I looked into a trade school. I’m pretty sure I’d be happier there. I just don’t want to disappoint my family. I’m the first to go to college and my grandparents are proud. Any ideas?

19-year-old male

Mary Jo’s Response:

College isn’t for everyone. I believe in education. Not all educational paths lead to a baccalaureate degree, however. If you were facing the second semester of your freshman year I’d strongly encourage you to stay – it takes time to adjust to a major life change like college. Learning about life is a crucial part of college as well, so remaining at school offers more than a degree at the end of your course of study. As a sophomore, you’ve given college a chance. You sound as if you’ve put a lot of thought into your dilemma. That’s good. I respect your choices.

On the other hand, I do have a few questions for you. Have you met with a career counselor at college? Could your desire to leave be based on your inability to select a major? Being undecided doesn’t mean you’re wasting your courses. Learning to think critically is a vital part of a college education. I’m sure your life viewpoint has been enhanced by your studies. You say you’re doing well. Before you decide to leave, I suggest you explore all your options. Be brutally honest with yourself. Why do you really want to leave?

You mention a trade school. Do you have a plan? Have you considered why the trade school offers you choices that are more appealing? Have you researched any advantages remaining in college can offer you in the long term? How will you finance trade school? Have you compared salaries and work/life balance if you select this path? If you work at something you love life is very good. How much have you shared with your parents over the last three semesters? Will your revelation be a shock to them? Have you been honest with your grandparents? Before you make a final decision I suggest giving your family a chance to share their thoughts. The financial hardship you allude to may be something your parents are happy to bear. They’re interested in your future. An investment in your education may improve your ability to earn a higher salary.

An important adult life role deals with making choices and living with the consequences. Be gentle but upfront with your family. Share your rationale for leaving school and listen respectfully to their thoughts. Good luck with your decision.


In 2013 I want to finally get to know my dad. He and my mom split when I was a kid and I think I’m old enough now to hear his side of the story. I respect my mom. Being a single mom is tough and she’s done a good job on little money and lousy support from him. But he’s still my dad. For the last 10 years, I’ve only heard horrible things about him, but I can’t imagine he’s all that terrible. If he was that bad, why did my mom marry him in the first place? Even if everything she’s said is true, he’s still my father and I want to make a decision about him on my own. I’d like some advice so I can tell my mom this without hurting her. I know she hates him. Maybe she has good reason. Wanting to figure this out for myself doesn’t take away from my gratitude and love for her.

18-year-old female

Mary Jo’s Response:

I honor your quest. Tell your mom just as you’ve written to me. You already have the right words. Your mom may be upset but your respect for her is obvious.

Do you have a strong support system of friends and family? Getting to know your father may be difficult. Feel free to stay connected with me. I’ll be happy to help you process your feelings. I hope all goes well for you.

New Year’s Resolutions:

Traditionally I’ve reserved column space for any peer educators who want to share their New Year’s resolutions. This year, Christmas precluded our normal meeting; only a few of our young people connected with me to offer their thoughts. As promised, here they are:

• My New Year’s resolution is to not procrastinate as much, or at all, and start using better time management skills. I still have 2 1/2 years of college left and I really need to stop procrastinating so much. As far as thoughts for the future, I’m hoping I can make it through college and that times will get a little easier as the road goes on. Also hoping all my friends and family are well and continue being well. – Tammy Okorn

• My resolution is to read enough about each major world religion to decide if I want to live by any of them.– Amanda Campbell

• My resolution is to continue to improve who I am and to never stop strengthening what I believe in and what is right. Pablo Pascoe

• My resolution is to create music and do better in school. – 17-year-old male

• My resolution is to study more! – Phöebe Armstark

•In the new year, I’d like to stop teasing my younger sister. Let’s see how long that lasts! – 15-year-old female



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