How to Deal With Quitting During or After the First Semester

I received the following question from "Lan" regarding the decision to potentially quit amidst the first semester of law school:

How are you not worried about the debt? I am thinking of withdrawing. I am a 1L in my first semester and I hate it, and am so depressed. I've had a few breakdowns. Right now, I'm in debt $19,333, and the interest was another $300 after just a month! I can't take the time off when that interest will keep accruing even though I know it would be nice. I don't know whether to get a full time job or reapply for a masters. Please help.

Dear Lan,

First, you should know that you are the only one that can make this important decision.  I really want to help, but I can pretty much only offer advice based on my experiences, and without all the facts of your personal situation.

Second, like Karen before, if you are having health problems resulting from your law school experience, you need to talk to healthcare professionals or others that are qualified to offer you assistance if you aren't already.  I'm sorry.  I know how much it sucks to not be able to be your full and complete self, but this happens to so many law students and people in general when faced with such a stressful workload and the lofty expectations of yourself and others.

Third, as for the debt, I should clarify that I am worried, but not nearly as frazzled and harried as I felt about it a year ago.  I do have obligations to meet, and they do weigh on my decisions.  However, as I mentioned in my post about debt, I personally feel better about it because I will be a teacher, which offers me debt forgiveness here in the US after 10 years of making my payments on time.  I also felt relieved that I could at least do an income contingent or income dependent payment plan, that lessened the amount of monthly payments to a more reasonable match to whatever my monthly income may be.  Hence, I feel a bit more relaxed about it.  However, I have come to terms with the fact that I will have this debt for a long time.

Fourth, as for your feeling that you can't take time off, I'm not sure why that is, but I can see how that adds to your frustration.  If your law school's counselors/advisors are telling you that a break is not permitted or if the accruing interest is the reason, then you obviously do face the more urgent decision of whether to quit or keep going.  I have one important thing to say about my experience in the first semester, it was about 75% different from the rest of my law school experience.  There was a change in the countenances and attitudes of myself and many of my classmates that I saw after the first semester was done and after we got our grades.  So, I will tell you that law school was quite different for me, at least, after the first semester.  I felt that it got much better after the first semester, in some important ways.  I only say this as a caution to those who want to quit in the first semester because they think law school will only feel the way it does the first semester.  For you, Lan, it sounds like the health problems that you're dealing with were ones that didn't show up for me until later, so I think that may add to the credibility of your decision to quit sooner rather than later, if you make that choice.

Finally, as for your choice between getting a full-time job or seeking a masters degree, I would look to what you want your future to look like.  If you ultimately want a job that requires a masters or PhD, starting to move that way would be a good choice. Your debt can be put on deferment because you will be actively going to school (and adding to the debt).  I will ask you the same question that was asked of me about my possible attendance at a graduate school: what will be so different about the pressures, expense, and experience of graduate school from law school?  For me, the answer would have been related to the particular school I would have selected and its proximity to my support system.  (I have opted not to go that route in the short term.)  But it's important to consider that you may have similar depression or breakdowns in other programs as well.  I would just think of ways to mitigate that, or talk to others about how you could do so.  Also, getting a full-time job doesn't have to be a final decision for you.  You could definitely work in whatever field you may have connections or experience in for some time and find something else that you really want to pursue, or you may just be able to pay the bills until you decide to ultimately pursue your masters.  It could give you the time to build your confidence and be squared away after the tough few months you've had.

I hope I've offered at least one piece of advice that will help you on your way.  Talk to friends, family, and others that you can trust if you need more help in thinking this through.  I wish you the best in your tough decisions ahead, and I truly hope that whatever you choose, that you get to feeling better and you can live depression-free.  Good luck, Lan.


Next time on How to Quit Law School:  When to quit?

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