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The Plan for Returning to College After Dropping Out

Many students start college and end up dropping out. Perhaps the first school wasn’t the right fit. Or maybe other responsibilities caused a temporary shift in priorities. Sometimes an unplanned circumstance pushes students so far behind that it becomes too difficult to catch up. And, sometimes, the financial burden can also put a pause on education. If this sounds familiar, you’re not alone; in 2016, 48% of students who enrolled in a four-year university hadn’t earned a degree after 6 years. Money, time, and unplanned life events can make your path to a degree seem impossible. No matter your reasons for dropping out, starting again with a plan of action can help prepare you for success. 

1. Identify your initial obstacles and come up with a plan for the future.

If any of the aforementioned interruptions sound familiar to you, take some time to brainstorm ideas about how to keep going if you find yourself in another tough situation. We’ve provided a few examples, but keep in mind that you might face some other unique challenges depending on the circumstances when returning to school:

  • Financial strains—If finances were a burden when you first enrolled in college, start looking early on for grants, scholarships, loans, or tuition assistance provided from your employer
  • Program choice—If you did not enjoy the major you started with, or the course load was too challenging, consider enrolling in fewer courses at once (or switching to a different major).
  • Family responsibilities—If you have children or other family members who require significant care, it’s important to establish a support system with a network of babysitters or regular caretakers.
  • Work responsibilities—If you work full time and cannot manage a full course load as well, you could consider going back to school part-time. Although it will take you more time in the long run, your daily school responsibilities will be more manageable.

2. Set some goals.

What do you hope to achieve by returning to college? Think about what you’re looking for in regards to your career, your family, your finances, etc. How can getting your degree help you meet your goals? It’s important to think about the finish line at the beginning to decide whether and how starting the journey again will help you.

What are the Costs of Not Finishing College

3. Choose an appropriate degree.

Does the degree match the career you want? Many people worry about getting a job after college—and for good reason! Make sure your degree will help you get the job you want. When you land on something that fits your interests, needs, and goals, you might have found a good fit!

4. Figure out which form of instruction is right for you.

What’s the best way for you to receive instruction? This answer can be based on how you learn best, what your work schedule is like, how much time you can carve out for learning in one window, and what your responsibilities at home are. Depending on your needs and preferences, you can choose a part-time, full-time, online, on-campus, or hybrid program.

5. Identify necessary application requirements. 

Regardless of how long it’s been since you first started college, it’s likely that the application requirements have changed somewhat. You can probably assume that, for the majority of programs, you will need to submit your transcripts, some kind of résumé, an essay, and letters of recommendation. The earlier you start collecting these things, the better! 

6. Choose a school that’s a perfect fit for you.

When applying to and enrolling in a college, you’ll probably want to consider factors like its location, its cost, the quality of its classes and professors, etc. Everyone will have different needs depending on their responsibilities and circumstances. If you have questions, don’t hesitate to reach out to an advisor or visit for advice and a peek at high-quality schools. 

If you’re on the fence about returning to school, remember that, even though you may not have finished the first time, consider the costs of not finishing college at all. Additionally, most of the credits you have already earned could transfer, and you may even receive credit for your work experience! What’s more, advancements in technology continue to make learning much more convenient and accessible. Don’t think of it as starting over completely—think of it as resuming the process with more wisdom and a better plan for success! 

Wondering where to start? Abound: Finish College can help narrow down your options and get you in touch with schools that we can confirm are Accessible, Affordable, Accelerated, and Advanced. Take a look at the schools we trust and find the program that works for you.


More Helpful Guides:

How to Choose an In-Demand Degree

As an Adult, am I Eligible for FAFSA?

What is a Non-Traditional Student?

Top Reasons Why You Should Finish College

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