5 Reasons Students Drop Out of College and How to Prepare Yourself for Them

April 25, 2018
Year On TeamCollege

All those nights cramming for the SATs have finally paid off. You’re getting ready to head to college! Newfound freedom, sunny afternoons on the campus quad, and finally digging deeper into subjects you’re truly passionate about. However, college isn’t without its challenges. University life presents unexpected trials that leads some students to drop out of school. Reports estimate that only 54% of Americans who started college last fall will actually make it to graduation.

While American dropout stats are pretty shocking, they don’t have to represent your story. As a high school student, there are steps you can take now to set yourself up to be prepared for the transition into college life. The key to preparing is knowing the potential pitfalls and having a solid action plan in place when challenges do arise. Ready to start and finish college strong? Here’s how to identify and understand the main things that lead to students dropping out of college.

Common reasons American students drop out of college

Flunking philosophy, losing financial aid, not having anyone you can call a close friend—tough times in college are inevitable. When they hit, you can feel extremely lonely, trapped in your struggle, and anxious to find the nearest exit. However, when you’re prepared to handle potential snags, they don’t freak you out as much. Quitting college doesn’t have to be your default move. Let’s dig a bit deeper into the factors leading so many American students to quit college. We’ll also include tips on how to effectively deal with these challenges.

Reason 1: College tuition is expensive. 

Feeling: “I can't afford to go to college”!

These days, college is pricey! The cost has skyrocketed since the 80s and is one of the biggest reasons behind today’s drop out rates, particularly for students from underprivileged backgrounds. A recent survey found 50 percent of 2017-2018 students who couldn’t afford college, dropped out. Other studies have revealed some degrees don’t lead to jobs, leaving students under-employed and in debt.

Solutions: The staggering statistics above are proof of why a solid financial plan matters. So what can you do now to make sure you can afford your future college tuition? As a high school junior or senior, apply for scholarships and grants, ask for bigger financial aid packages, and get details on how to apply for work study. Consider the amount of aid that a school offers as you decide which universities to apply to. There are instances in which no matter how much financial aid is applied for, it’s still not enough to cover tuition. That still doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice your college education. Consider working for a year to save up money. Or, enroll in a community college for a two-year degree where tuition is inexpensive. You can also use your time in “junior college” to prepare for the costs of a four-year college, if you plan to continue on.If you’re analyzing the cost of a degree and how much you can expect to make after college, research how much professionals in certain industries make on average. If you’re thinking of majoring in art history or engineering, PayScale can give you an estimate of how much money you can expect to make with your specific degree after college.

Reason 2: You’re academically unprepared.

Feeling: “My classes are killing me!”

Struggling to grasp a complex topic, acing your finals, formatting your first thesis correctly…the academic demands of college can be supremely overwhelming. Many students meet the basic requirements for college acceptance. However, they aren’t adequately prepared for university-level classes and end up struggling to pass. An estimated 60% of American students are not ready for college courses.

Other undergrads find themselves struggling to keep up with the demands of college. Balancing multiple classes plus outside commitments like a job or internship isn’t easy! Unfortunately, stressors like this are a reality for many folks on campus. A 2017 report revealed that 45% of college students told university counselors they were stressed with the demands of life. In a 2009 survey, 60% of students surveyed said stress seriously interfered with getting homework done.

Solutions: Stress is highly normal for college freshmen, but can be harmful if you don’t have healthy ways to manage it.

Let’s say your freshman courses are kicking your butt. From career center tutors to guidance counselors, colleges have a ton of student support resources to help you succeed. University professors have something called “office hours” where you can drop in and speak with them. So feel free to bug your prof after class for clarification on something that went over your head. You can even go the extra mile and start a study group! Never feel like you have to academically struggle—you’ve got options.

Super useful college study habit tips:

  • Organization trumps everything. Keep your due dates, assignments, and extracurricular activities organized with a good planner or app! Time tracking tools are great for monitoring productivity.
  • Don’t cram! Map out your study schedule so that you always have enough time to prepare.
  • Get good with taking notes. Practice taking good class notes or even carry a tape recorder if you have to. If you miss something, ask your lecturer or classmate for theirs to catch up.

Reason 3: You’re unhappy with the school.

Feeling: “I’m miserable and not clicking with my college!”

Another common cause of students bailing out of college? An overall feeling of unhappiness with college life. Your roommate could be working your last nerve. Or, you might be having trouble finding your clique and feeling lonely. Before you know it, you’re slouching around and barely making it to classes each day. These kinds of feelings lead some students to long to leave college and return to the comfort of their communities back home.

Solution: If you’re having a difficult time making friends on campus, there are plenty of ways to meet like-minded people outside of school. From Facebook groups and meetup websites to volunteer projects and local bookstores, you can take control of your social life and easily make new friendships.If you haven’t begun college yet, now is the time to think about the type of college that fits best with your personality. Do you prefer a more close-knit environment with low class sizes? A smaller university is a good option. Looking for a massive social scene and don’t mind a hundred plus students in your lectures? Then you’ll fit right in at a large city college. These are the types of questions to ask yourself so that you choose the best school for you. College tours are also a fantastic way to get a feel for a school’s vibe!

Reason 4: Lack of value.

Feeling: “College isn’t for everyone, plus I can get a job without a degree.”

We’ve all heard the success stories of folks like Bill Gates, Ellen DeGeneres, and Mark Zuckerberg—they’re college dropouts who made it big. Their life stories can tempt you into thinking, “who needs college”? While these success stories are inspiring, the truth is they’re not the norm! Sure, it’s trendy to talk about the “decreasing value” of degrees. However, take a look at the following stats—they paint a much different picture:

  • 94% of America’s wealthiest and influential leaders are college graduates.
  • High school grads have triple the rates of unemployment than college grads.
  • Degree holders earn about $1 million dollars more over their lifetime than those who didn’t attend college.
  • On average, college grads earn $17,500 more each year than high school grads.

Yowsers! Also, keep in mind that most jobs do require Bachelor’s degrees, so they’re also major resume boosters! Before you get caught up in the #whycollege hype, think long and hard about the long-term value college degrees have.

Solution: If you’re leaning towards quitting school, give yourself time to reflect a bit deeper on your feelings.

There are short-term experiences that can help you suss out your second thoughts. Do an internship or sign up for a few junior college courses. Take online courses to learn a skill, enroll in a trade school, or professional skills training and career networking program such as General Assembly. With these alternative solutions to college, you’ll get a better feel for your goals, work toward reaching them, and ultimately decide if college is how you want to reach them.

Reason 5: Uncertainty about starting college and your studies.

Feeling: “I have no idea what I want to study and don’t feel ready for college yet.”

Registering for classes, following up on your FAFSA... In college you’re suddenly responsible for the important choices in your life, far from the cozy cocoon that once was high school. Then there’s pressure to select a major, but you may not have a clue of what to choose! Feeling rushed into your academic future also contributes to students deciding to leave college. A hurried entry into college can mean skipping out on the time to figure out what you truly want to study in college. Without a clear idea of your personal and academic goals, you can find yourself feeling out of place and unmotivated by university life and ultimately decide to give it up.

Solution: Contrary to popular belief, you don’t have to start college right after graduation. If you’re not feeling ready, defer your admission for a semester or more and do a gap year. You’ll get the time to nail what it is you’re truly passionate about. Plus, gap year travel is the perfect backdrop for exploring your personal interests. Why else are gap years all the rave?

  • Gap year alums have higher and quicker graduation rates (four years or less, compared nationally to only 59% graduating within six years!).
  • Stats say gap year fellows perform better in school. Eighty-three percent of students who took a gap year have a 3.0 or higher.
  • Gap years build up soft skills. These are great for collaborating and communicating with others—the perfect ingredients for a groovy college experience!

So friend, has high school graduation got you feeling anxious about your future? It’s totally healthy to take some time out to decide what you want to do. Mentors, coaches, college counselors, students with a major you’re considering, reach out to these people for guidance as you design your academic goals.

With the right preparation, you can succeed in college.

Now you’re clear on some of the forces behind America’s high college dropout rates. However, armed with the tips above, you don’t have to get overwhelmed by realities of college life! Give yourself time to reflect and take our proactive steps now to keep you coasting on the road to academic success.

Have more questions about prepping for college? We’re here to help! Get in touch with one of our Gap Year Specialists to chat about your plans after high school.

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