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    Considering Dropping Out of College? What You Should Know

    By Gabriel Jimenez-Ekman

    Gabriel Jimenez-Ekman is a content editor and writer at Scholarships360. He has managed communications and written content for a diverse array of organizations, including a farmer’s market, a concert venue, a student farm, an environmental NGO, and a PR agency. Gabriel graduated from Kenyon College with a degree in sociology.

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    Edited by Maria Geiger

    Maria Geiger is Director of Content at Scholarships360. She is a former online educational technology instructor and adjunct writing instructor. In addition to education reform, Maria’s interests include viewpoint diversity, blended/flipped learning, digital communication, and integrating media/web tools into the curriculum to better facilitate student engagement. Maria earned both a B.A. and an M.A. in English Literature from Monmouth University, an M. Ed. in Education from Monmouth University, and a Virtual Online Teaching Certificate (VOLT) from the University of Pennsylvania.

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    Updated: November 30th, 2023
    Considering Dropping Out of College? What You Should Know

    Dropping out of college is a big decision that can feel very heavy to make. Some students might struggle in school, while others might have extenuating financial, health, or family circumstances that limits their ability to keep up their studies. Though it can feel disappointing, sometimes dropping out of college is the right thing to do for a student.

    In this article, we’ll go over all the factors you should consider when deciding whether to drop out of college. We’ll also include some pointers for alternate solutions. Finally, we’ll go over some ideas to help keep you on an educational course if you do decide to drop out. Let’s get into it.

    What to consider when deciding whether to drop out

    The first thing you should do is to pinpoint the reasons you are considering dropping out. These could be related to your physical or mental health, your interest in your studies, your relationship with your peers and professors, your grades, or the college environment in general. They could also pertain to your family’s health or financial situation. Let’s look into each one and investigate when it’s a good reason to drop out versus when it might not justify withdrawing from school.

    Can I afford to keep going to school?

    One of the hardest reasons to drop out of school is financial infeasibility. You or a family member could have suffered an illness or injury and incurred additional costs, or someone may have lost their job. Maybe the economy tanked, or your family’s car broke down. These can all cause students to drop out of college, especially if their budget was tight to begin with.

    If you are in a tough financial spot, you have a few options. You can start by contacting your school’s financial aid office. They might be able to offer you emergency student loans or even emergency financial aid. Schools want to keep their students enrolled, so if they have the resources to help, they might be able to. You should also make sure that you’ve taken advantage of the Pell Grant if you qualify. 

    Also see: Do I have to pay back scholarships if I drop out of college?

    Am I taking out too much in loans?

    Although there are ways to get extra student loans and continue going to school, that doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s a good idea. You should make sure not to go into more debt than you can afford to pay back. Remember to be selective about which loans you take out; federal student loans such as Stafford loans tend to charge less interest and have more flexibility in their repayment plans than private loans.

    Also see: How much student loan debt is too much?

    Am I healthy enough to keep up my studies?

    If you are suffering from poor physical or mental health, you may feel a pull to drop out of college. It’s important to listen to what your body and psyche need, and if you can’t take care of yourself while maintaining your studies, it may be a good idea to drop out of school. Keep in mind, dropping out does not mean that you can never return to school.

    Will dropping out affect my financial aid?

    Some scholarships require that you repay the amount you received if you do not complete your degree. In other cases, if you decide to return to school, you won’t be able to keep the scholarship you previously earned. Make sure to contact your scholarship providers to ensure that you know what effect dropping out will have on your aid.

    Keep in mind that sometimes, if you have a concrete explanation for dropping out, you will not face these penalties. Some scholarships may also give you a set time frame to complete your degree, such as within the next five years.

    Also see: How does withdrawing from a class affect my financial aid?

    Does my family need me at home?

    When your family needs you at home, you might be in a situation where there is no other choice but to drop out. If you need to take care of a parent, sibling, grandparent, or anyone else, you might not have any other option. They might also need you to earn money for the family or some other service.

    Though these are all very important reasons, you should ensure that your family knows the sacrifice you’d be making by dropping out. College can boost your future earnings very substantially, and adds to the amount you make over your lifetime by an immense amount. So, if there is a way to get by without your help for the time you’re in college, you may be able to bring home more money later on.

    Do I value what I am learning?

    This is always an important question to ask yourself when considering dropping out of college. College is a time devoted to learning, and you should make sure that you are spending it learning things that you value. Maybe you’re studying your passion, or maybe you’re pursuing a field that you feel competent in and that you can earn money in when you graduate. Either way, as long as you feel justified in your field of study, you’re on the right track.

    If you’re losing interest in what you’re learning, you may want to consider switching majors rather than dropping out. This is a much less obtrusive way to change your course of study, and might be able to rectify the issues you’re having with your education. Try talking to people in a department you might be interested in to get an idea of whether it is a fit for you.

    Have I calculated how my college degree could impact my future income?

    Before dropping out of college, it’s a good idea to consider the benefits you’re forgoing in completing your degree. Increased career options, higher salaries, valuable connections, and a wealth of knowledge are all major benefits of a college degree.

    If your main reason for dropping out is financial, this might be an insurmountable issue. But you should remember that in some situations, it may be worth taking out additional debt in order to finish your degree. This is especially true if you’re studying a major that tends to be profitable, such as business, economics, or engineering. You can ask your school for some numbers on average salaries of majors in your field to see if the increase in income could justify your loans.

    Related: Top 15 college majors for the future

    Do I like my college?

    Maybe the college you chose just wasn’t the right fit for you. That’s perfectly normal and happens to many students around the world. If this is the case, you may want to consider finishing out your semester and transferring directly into another college rather than dropping out. However, if you can’t stand your school and don’t think you can finish your semester, or if you want to take time off to reassess your priorities, dropping out may be the best course of action.

    Related: Top scholarships for transfer students

    Am I earning low grades?

    If your grades are low, you may feel as though the time and money you’re investing in college are not worthwhile. Graduating with low grades will limit your job prospects and graduate school options, and is an indicator that you’re probably not retaining as much as you’d like to in class.

    If you’re earning low grades, it’s a good idea to put in a lot of conscious effort to improve them before you resort to dropping out. Budgeting more time for studying and cutting back on extracurriculars and social activities is a good start. Taking advantage of study resources through your college is another good idea. You can also go to your professors’ office hours and talk with your academic advisor. 

    If all of this fails, you can also consider switching majors. You might find more success in another field of study; college is a great time to delve into new interests and learn what you like and what interests you.

    Also see: High school and college GPA guide

    What are some ways to avoid dropping out of college?

    Remember that sometimes, you have alternatives to dropping out. It’s a good idea to consider all your options before you make your choice.

    Find an additional job or side hustle

    If you can’t afford school at the moment, you can consider attending part-time while working a job, such as work-study, or taking up a side hustle for extra money. There are many ways to earn some extra money out there, and though it is tough to balance them with school, you can pursue them to avoid dropping out entirely.

    Take a semester off but remain enrolled

    Instead of dropping out entirely, you may be able to suspend your enrollment with your school. This allows you to remain enrolled without taking classes or paying tuition. The advantage of this over dropping out is that it preserves your spot at your school. You won’t have to jump through as many hoops when and if you decide to return to classes.

    Related: Top reasons to take time off from college

    Apply for scholarships

    If you are having trouble affording your college tuition, you should look into scholarships to help pay the bills! Remember, it’s never too late to earn scholarships. You can continue to apply for them throughout your college years.

    To get started with scholarships, you can try our free scholarship search tool. It custom-matches you to scholarships based on your age, demographics, interests, and location. It’ll auto-update with new opportunities as they become available.

    Also see: Scholarships for college students

    Consult your advisor and financial aid office

    Your advisor and financial aid office don’t want to lose you as a student, and if you reach out to them, they should be able to offer some sort of help. Whether your problems are financial, personal, or academic, they can help you make things work to remain enrolled at their school. 

    Make sure to reach out earlier rather than later, and don’t be shy to tell them everything about your situation. They are there to listen and be a resource for you, and the more you tell them, the more they can help.

    Get tuition reimbursement

    An increasing number of employers are offering tuition reimbursement programs which can help you pay for your college. Companies like Chipotle, Starbucks, and Amazon all offer programs that provide funds to employees pursuing further education. If you are worried about your finances, you can seek out an employer with tuition reimbursement benefits to help make ends meet.

    What are my options after dropping out?

    If you decide to drop out, it’s a good idea to figure out what your options will be once you’ve made the decision. Here are some possible outcomes:

    Returning to your current school

    If you drop out of college, you may decide to return to your school at a later date. Sometimes, you’ll have to reapply, but other times, you’ll gain automatic readmission. If you dropped out due to health issues or a problem unrelated to your school, this is probably the best option.

    Looking for a better fit

    You may have dropped out of your school because you didn’t like the atmosphere, or their academics were not what you were looking for. In this case, you’ll have the option to check out other schools that might suit you better. You can use your experience at your first school as a learning experience to identify what you want out of a college and what you don’t want.

    Looking for a more affordable option

    If you dropped out due to financial reasons, you could look for a more affordable school situation. You could consider going to community college and transferring into a four-year university. You could also look into scholarships to help you make any option affordable.

    Looking into college alternatives

    An increasing number of students are turning to college alternatives rather than completing 4-year degree programs. Coding bootcamps, associate degrees, and certificate programs are all becoming widely popular. They require a fraction of the funding and time commitment of a 4-year degree. However, they are not a perfect substitute for college, and you should ensure you know what to expect before forgoing college for one of them.

    Also see: Top college alternatives

    Key Takeaways

    Key Takeaways

    • Dropping out can be a difficult decision, but sometimes it is necessary
    • Make sure to look into the financial consequences of your decision before you commit to anything
    • Students who drop out can always return to school, or find an alternative program such as a coding bootcamp or apprenticeship
    • No matter what you choose, remember it is not the end of the world!

    Next steps

    Now that you have an idea of what to consider when deciding about dropping out of college, it’s a good idea to make a pros and cons list to organize your thoughts. Write out some plans for what you would do if you were to drop out, and what you would do if you were to remain in school. Figure out how you would carry these plans through and how they could impact your future.

    Deciding whether to drop out of college is a stressful choice, and sometimes, there is no clear answer. Remember that no matter what you choose to do, you have to make your choice the right one. Having a strong follow-through and accomplishing your goals will lead you to success regardless of which option you choose. Good luck out there, and apply for all the scholarships you qualify for! 

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