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Why I "Dropped Out of College"

Halie Johnson

Lately, I have had a lot of people asking me what I am studying in school or where I study photography. Until today, I kept saying "I currently study art with a concentration in photography at the University of Georgia's Lamar Dod School of Art" in my About Me on my website. It's even still on my Facebook. I thought it mattered. I thought clients would judge me for "dropping out of college". The truth is, I haven't taken any classes in three semesters. I am now proud to admit that. I am also proud to say that I quit my job waiting tables in December of 2013 and have been making a living from only photography since. Sometimes I have to remind myself of that accomplishment when I am feeling embarrassed after someone asks "How many semesters do you have left at UGA?". I have pages in my journal filled with the pros and cons of ME continuing college. I capitalize ME because college is honestly the best route for some careers and a great benefit for some people..but not for me, my career, and my situation. I once (nervously) presented these pages to my parents, and today I decided to share a few words from them with you. I know that a lot of my friends (especially my photographer friends) have struggled with this decision. It has been about two years of me going back and forth...enrolling in school and then taking breaks. I wish someone would have pointed these things out to me a while ago. Here is my personal list. If you're struggling with the idea of continuing college or going back, I suggest you make your own.

- a degree / accomplishment
- education  
- use of equipment / darkroom
- projects that will push me 
- parents will be happy and proud
- connections and opportunities 

- taking bullshit classes that involve things I am uninterested in
- a lot of debt
- not enough time to focus on my business
- cannot travel as much
- being stuck in the same place for a while

I closely evaluated these things and quickly realized that if I was to continue school, I would be sacrificing the things that mean the most to me: my business, traveling, and not limiting myself to living in Georgia. Business: I found myself turning away clients to do school work. Or sometimes I would accidentally overbook and spend my time editing instead of doing school projects. My grades weren't suffering (yet) but I was severely stressed and unhappy. Travel: Some people say "you can travel when you're retired". I want to travel now. Retirement isn't a guarantee. Tomorrow isn't a guarantee. Living in Georgia: While I love GA, I don't necessarily see myself settling down here. One day, I may change my mind...especially when I have kids and grandma isn't there to save the day. I just know that I would be heartbroken if I was offered an opportunity that required moving and I was not able to take it due to college. I want to be free and able to take any job or opportunity that is thrown at me. It was easy for me to see that the cons of college outweighed the pros, but I also thought it was important to provide myself the benefits of college without actually going. Here's what I came up with:

- degree / accomplishment: That's easy. In the world of wedding photography, who cares. I've had one client ask me where I studied photography. I decided not to book that person because if they needed to see a degree to gain my trust and could not see my talent through my work, they needed to be working with another photographer. In the world of fine art photography, who really cares! If you're good, you're good. It's more about who you know and how you market yourself. That being said, I do plan to take an online marketing class. 
- education: The only class I found beneficial in school was my black and white photography class, where we learned how to work in the darkroom. I look up to my teacher so much, still. However, I could have done research online or asked one of my peers for help and avoided spending $1300 on that ONE class. Last month, I attended a photography workshop in California called Field Trip. I will be blogging more details about it later, but long story short - I took 12 classes over the span of 4 days and learned more than I had learned in my two years of college. The workshop was about $800, about half of the price of a single college course. 

- use of equipment / darkroom: Putting more time into my business will result in having more money for my own darkroom one day. 
- projects and people that will push me to stay creative - The deadlines kept me working hard at all times. However, sometimes I found the projects to be...silly. We often had to find meaning in things that didn't need an explanation. I remember my teacher once asking me for the meaning behind my project. I told her "I thought it was pretty". She looked at me like I was insane. Some projects and photos come with meaning and some don't. Me not having a story or meaning behind my project wasn't stopping other people from finding meaning in it. I didn't enjoy feeling like I was faking it. I was forced to make up silly background stories for photos that were beautiful enough on their own. When I decided to quit school, I was afraid to leave my classmates. I had never been surrounded by so many creatives. BUT THEY ARE OUT THERE. Attending the Field Trip workshop showed me that. I also have made internet friends all over the world that inspire me every single day. I am involved in a group called The Heavy Hearted Photographers. I watch this group of people interact and share their work with each other daily. I am constantly inspired by them and pushing myself because of that. 
- parents will be happy and proud: Let's be real y' parents love me no matter what. I know that they are just as proud, if not more proud, since I have made my decision.
- connections and opportunities: There are people in college that neglect to make connections and find opportunities, just like there are people not in college that do make those connections and find those opportunities. It's about being motivated.  

To sum everything up, I feel so relieved and free because I only owe $12,000 in student loans instead of almost $100,000. I feel so free because I am able to do what I love, make a living, and still make time for the people I love. I feel so free because I don't have grad students and teachers telling me how to shoot. I feel so free because I don't have to prove myself to anyone except myself. I FEEL SO FREE AND I WANT YOU TO FEEL THAT WAY, TOO.

Here is a link to my updated About Me page!

Here is a link to my personal work. More to come soon.