Dropping out is a huge decision with far-reaching consequences. You should consider the ramifications carefully before moving forward. Here are some questions to ask yourself before you decide if now is the time to drop out of college.
How do you know if dropping out is the right decision?
Start with Why.
Why do you want to drop out of college? It’s possible that your problem is fixable with a less drastic solution. For instance, if you have decided that you’re on the wrong career path, you may just need to change your major rather than quitting school entirely. If you’re really unhappy with your institution, look into transferring to a school with an atmosphere that suits you better. If you’re feeling stuck in a rut and you can afford school, try a semester abroad or a semester-long internship away from campus. If you are facing a difficult problem in your personal life, see if you can take a leave of absence rather than dropping out. Some schools allow students to take a semester off and then resume where they left off without any penalties. If you’re thinking of quitting school just because it’s harder than you expected it to be, it’s unlikely that quitting is your best option. Being successful in the real world without a college degree will likely present even more challenging obstacles. If you are overwhelmed by the difficulty of college, check out this article about adjusting to college life, or this article full of resources to help you succeed in college.
Of course, sometimes dropping out is the right decision.
Maybe your parents always wanted you to go to school, but you never wanted to. If you truly have no desire to be in college – any college – then it might not be for you. Or perhaps you are already employed and a college degree is unnecessary in your industry. If that’s the case, before you make a decision about dropping out, talk with others in your industry – especially successful people whose careers you would like to emulate – and ask them if they have college degrees, or whether they think that the industry is moving in a direction where college degrees will be necessary in the next few decades. If you are confident that you will be able to succeed in your chosen industry and that your lack of a degree will not impact your career aspirations or your earning potential, then dropping out might be the right decision for you.
Like millions of others, you may also be worried about the debt you are incurring in order to get a college education. If this is one of your main concerns, then try to break down the numbers. Take a look at your loans and figure out how much you will have paid for your college education by the time it’s all paid off (student loan debt calculators like this one can help you). Now use the skills you’ve learned in college thus far and do some research – how much can you expect to make in your chosen career? Compare your earning potential with a degree in your field versus not having a degree in your field. Is it worth the debt you will incur? If not, maybe there’s another reason that makes it worth it – like a passion for your field. If the numbers are not working in favor of staying in school and you don’t have another compelling reason to stick around, then dropping out maybe your best option.
What to do when dropping out of college is the right decision:
What will you do when you drop out?
What will you do instead? It’s important that you have a plan. Consider how things in your life will change. You will no longer have student loans or scholarships available to cover your living expenses. Envision the short term – how will you pay your rent and other living expenses in the first year after dropping out of school? Also, consider the long term – what kind of career do you want to have? Maybe you plan to wait tables to pay your bills right away, but do you love waiting tables enough to keep doing it for the next several decades? If so, make sure that the income from that job will support the lifestyle that you want to have. If you have more of a short term plan, think about what you really want to be doing for your career. How will you get there? Does it require more of an education than you currently have (e.g. training from a trade school)? If so, how do you plan to get that education?
If you think you want to quit but you’re also unsure of what you want to do once you’re free of the constraints of college life, consider taking a gap year. Year On (formerly known as UnCollege) offers gap year programs that combine service learning with skill-building and internships to help launch your career without a formal college education.
How will you share your plans?
How will you go about letting everyone know about your plans? Communication is important, especially if your parents have been funding your education. When telling your parents, make sure you are clear about why you are quitting, and how you plan to get by after you leave school. You should also talk to your friends at school and let them know why and when you will be leaving…which brings up another important question!
When will you make your final decision?
When will you make a final decision? Sometimes agonizing over a decision causes significant distress on its own. Making the decision can be a relief and allow you to start making concrete plans to move on with your life. Set a deadline for yourself and stick to it. The same principle applies for actually quitting – if you choose to leave school, when will you do that? If you decide early in the semester that you want to leave, you may be able to get a partial tuition refund. If you have gone far enough into the semester that you will not be able to get a refund, consider sticking around through the end of the semester. This has the advantage of giving you college credit for the classes you took and gives you the option of using the credits if you ever decide to return to college.
It is important that you not ponder these questions in total isolation. You should talk to people and let them know what you’re thinking. It’s a good idea to talk to a mental health professional, a trusted professor, someone who works in the industry you hope to work in, someone who has dropped out of college, and at least one person who knows you well. All of these people will have different perspectives and might be able to raise points that had not occurred to you. Also, think deeply about who you are and how you will fare without the structure of college life. People often tout the success stories of famous college dropouts to illustrate that college degrees are unnecessary. Sure, Steve Jobs and Coco Chanel dropped out of college, but do you have the internal motivation necessary to build an empire? If you are a motivated person who can forge a path on your own, then these might be excellent role models for you. If you tend toward late nights watching television and sleeping until noon when deprived of structure, then you should take that into account when making your decision.
Whatever you choose to do, make sure it aligns with who you are and your goals.
Know that you want to complete your degree, but struggling with some aspects of the college experience? Check out the article on How to Adjust to College Life.