Ninety percent of incoming college students think they will graduate in four years. Just 45% actually do. If you’ve dropped out of college, it’s easy to feel alone, especially if you watched your friends finish school while you pursued a career or raised a family. But dropping out is common. You may have faced a variety of hardships leading to your decision. Maybe you weren’t ready or chose the wrong school for your needs.
Some of the world's most intelligent and successful people dropped out of college, so there is no need to feel shame or embarrassment. But can you go back to college after dropping out? Should you?
The answer is yes! The right school can help you make your second (or even your third or fourth) round in college more successful and less stressful. It can also improve your quality of life. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, college graduates have median weekly earnings of $1,334, compared to just $899 for people who dropped out. That’s more than $20,000 a year in additional earnings.
What could you do with that money? How could it change your life? Everyone deserves a chance to realize their full potential. At SNU, we value the unique contribution of each learner, and we think the lived experience adult students bring to our campus is especially important. We’re here for you from day one.
Here are our top tips for going back to college after dropping out:
Know When It’s Time to Go Back to College
It might seem obvious, but before you take the leap, you need to assess whether going back to school is the right step. Returning to school might not make sense if you love your job, have room for advancement, and already earn a good living. Conversely, you might consider a return if:
- You need to make more money to live the life you want.
- You’ve hit a career ceiling that more education could break through.
- You want to change careers.
- You want to show your kids the value of education and never giving up.
- You think you would feel better about yourself or your life with more education.
Understand Why You Left Before
If you’re ready to return to college, you can increase your odds of success by understanding what caused you to leave the first time. If you’re like most people who drop out of college, you probably face several different challenges — financial, interpersonal, and academic.
Take a long and honest look at what happened. How might you handle those circumstances differently now? What can you do to manage various stressors? Some questions to ask yourself include:
- What new coping skills do I need to manage college this time around?
- Am I dealing with neurodivergence? Could therapy, medication, or accommodations help?
- How can I minimize the financial stress of school?
- What can I do to rally my support system?
- What is my biggest concern about going back to school? What would minimize that concern?
- What specific support do I need to thrive in school? Does the school I have chosen offer the right support?
Make Your Checklist
Once you have a clear idea of why you want to return to college and what you’ll need to do differently this time, it’s time to make your return-to-school checklist. SNU offers multiple enrollment dates. This can help you get back in the groove more quickly, rather than waiting for only fall or spring enrollment opportunities.
Here are some things you will likely need as you plan your return:
- A completed FAFSA form
- High school and college transcripts
- A completed application form
- A list of deadlines, including enrollment and financial aid deadlines
If you feel overwhelmed by all these responsibilities, try making a comprehensive to-do list. Break that list down into actionable, individual steps. Then break those steps down further into a weekly or daily to-do list. For example, you might commit to completing your application this week and sending transcript request forms by the end of the month.
Build Your Financial Aid Plan
Nearly half of students list financial issues as a key motivator in their decision to leave college. Affording college is about more than coming up with the money for tuition. You will likely have other expenses, such as:
- Books and supplies
- Support services, such as dog walking or meal delivery
- Lost wages if you need to take time off of work
You might be surprised to learn that financial aid can pay for most of this. And even if you weren’t eligible for financial aid before, you may be eligible now. So begin your financial aid paperwork early. If you have previously defaulted on a student loan, contact the loan servicer to learn what you need to do to bring the loan current. Doing so may make you eligible for student loans.
Choose the Right School
If you’re working, raising a family, or managing other time-consuming obligations, attending school every day is unrealistic. You need time to live your life, and an academic environment that understands the unique challenges of adult learners can provide the time you need. SNU ensures adult learners are set up for success from the moment they apply.
Here are some things to look for in the school you choose:
Support for Your Life Experience
For example, at SNU, veterans’ experiences are honored, and their needs are central at our innovative VETS Center. Students can also access free workshops and tutoring, dedicated student success advisors, and disability services if needed.
A Cohort Model
SNU’s cohort-based approach blends networking and academics, helping you gain support, build a professional network, and complete rigorous academic work with the support of your peers.
Online and in-person night classes ensure you can attend school when it is convenient for you.
A Focused Approach
At SNU, students complete their classes one at a time. This structure allows students to focus their learning on one area of study to ensure true mastery and prevent overwhelm.
Set Yourself Up for Success
After you’re enrolled, it’s time to set yourself up for success. Develop a plan that addresses your needs so you can focus entirely on school. Don’t be afraid to ask for help either. Here are some additional questions to consider:
- Who will watch your kids while you study or attend classes?
- Do you need to change your work schedule?
- Can your significant other step up to offer more help around the house?
- Who in your life will be your cheering squad? Who will support you?
- What can you do to reduce stress in other areas of your life?
- Can you get on a great schedule now to ensure you have plenty of time and energy for school?
Ready to learn more about your options? Check out our infographic, “Choose Your Path: Online vs. On-Campus Education.”