Lady holding a laptop and coffee, thinking about if she can go back to college after dropping out
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Can You Go Back to College After Dropping Out?

03.28.2023 • 8 min read

Nick Griffin

Subject Matter Expert

Learn how you can you go back to college after dropping out, the benefits of going back to college, and frequently asked questions.

In This Article

  1. Why Do Students Drop Out of College?

  2. 5 Benefits of Going Back to College

  3. How To Go Back to College

  4. Frequently Asked Questions

Have you ever wondered why anyone would want to climb Mount Everest?

You spend all this time training. Then you spend all this money to travel across the world and pay for permits, guides, and supplies.

To do what? Be freezing cold and overexert yourself for days on end just to see the view from the top.

Climbing Mount Everest is a life-changing experience. Something people never thought possible that helps them gain new perspectives in life. Those who summit the peak return as different people.

Going to college, especially going back to college, can feel similar.


Can you go back after dropping out?

Yes, you can—even after dropping out.

We’ll cover why people drop out, the benefits of trying again, and how to get back into college.

So get your climbing gear ready and read on.

Why Do Students Drop Out of College?

College is a huge investment of time and money, and it's not always possible to finish your degree program as intended. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, about 33% of students who enroll in a 4-year college will drop out before finishing their degree.

So, why drop out?

Students drop out of college due to:

High Cost

According to The College Board, the average cost of tuition and fees for the 2021-2022 school year was $10,950 for in-state students at public colleges and $28,240 for out-of-state students at public colleges. For private colleges, the average cost of tuition and fees was $39,400.

Lack of Sufficient Financial Aid

About 84% of college students receive some form of financial aid, but only about 10% receive enough aid to cover their full cost of attendance. These high costs leave many students with little choice but to take out loans or work full-time while attending school, which can be difficult to do successfully.

Lack of Preparation for College-Level Courses

Insufficient academic preparation is another common reason for college dropouts. The National Association for College Admission Counseling reports nearly half of all first-year college students are not academically prepared for the rigors of college coursework. Not feeling prepared can lead to frustration and poor grades, which can eventually lead to dropping out.

Unclear Career Goals

Another reason some students choose to leave college before finishing their degree is not knowing their career goals. Nearly 30% of all undergraduates change their major at least once during their time in college. This causes confusion and indecision about what courses to take and what career path to pursue after graduation.

Life Responsibilities

Finally, some students drop out of college because they have too many work and family responsibilities outside of school. They may need to take time off to care for a family member or work full-time to support themselves. For these students, the college course load may have been too great or they needed to gain some life experience first.

Whatever the reason for leaving school, you can always go back and finish your degree, whether it’s full-time or part-time.

5 Benefits of Going Back to College

Of the 1.8 million students who started college in 2016, only 36% graduated within 4 years. And while the dropout rate has been slowly declining over the past decade, it's still a problem. In 2021, only 41% of college students graduated with a degree they had started within 4 years.

Can you go back to college after dropping out? The good news is yes. Even if many years have passed, it's never too late. Going back to college after dropping out has many benefits. On top of the personal satisfaction of completing what you started, earning a college degree can lead to better job prospects and higher earnings. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports workers with a bachelor's degree earn an average of $1,305 per week, compared to just $781 per week for workers with no college experience.

Let’s take a closer look at 5 benefits of going back to college.

1. Personal Growth

For many people, their college experience is the first time they’re away from home and on their own. It can be a time of great personal growth when students learn how to manage their time, finances, and responsibilities.

College is also a time to figure out what you’re interested in and find friends with similar interests.

2. Career Change or Improvement

If you didn't finish your degree the first time around, going back to school can help you get on the right track for your desired career. It can also help you make a switch if you've realized your current career isn't what you want it to be.

In addition to taking classes related to your chosen field, you'll also have the opportunity to gain practical experience through internships and other hands-on learning opportunities.

3. Competitiveness in the Job Market

In today's job market, employers are increasingly looking for candidates with bachelor's degrees.

Even if you have relevant work experience or life experience, having a degree will make you more attractive to potential employers. In fact, Georgetown University's Center on Education and the Workforce found workers with a bachelor's degree earn an average of $2.8 million more over their lifetime than those without one.

4. Networking

While attending classes and working toward your degree, you'll have the opportunity to meet other professionals in your field. In addition to making connections with instructors and fellow students, you may also have the chance to meet guest speakers or participate in internships.

All these connections give you real-world experience and exposure to potential employers. Having a wide network allows you to gain powerful insight and perspective for future career mobility.

5. Higher Salary

In addition to making you more marketable in your field, completing your degree can also lead to a higher salary. While the average salary for workers with a bachelor’s degree is higher than those without a degree, your degree and field of study will affect your earning potential.

For example, engineers and computer scientists tend to earn more than instructors or social workers. But no matter what your field, completing your degree will likely lead to a higher salary.

How To Go Back to College

A prospective student might want to go back to college for countless reasons. Maybe you didn't have the best experience the first time around and want to try a new school. Maybe you didn't finish your degree due to life circumstances, which have since changed. Maybe you want to find a new career and are thinking of going back to school in your 30s.

Whatever your reason, going back to college can be a great decision. So, how do you do it?

Do Your Research

Choosing the right college is a big part of the process. You want to make sure the school you choose has a good reputation and is accredited. This means your college courses are held to a high standard for transferability and licensure.

You also want to make sure your new college has the programs you’re interested in. Talk to people working jobs you’re considering to see if they’re right for you. Then research schools with those degree paths.

Explore All Your Options

Perhaps you can attend a community college and get an associate degree in just two years in order to move into the career you want. Take the time to reach out to an academic advisor prior to your enrollment to ensure the school and academic program are right for you.

Consider Online Education

Decide whether you want to go back to school online or in person. Online learning has become more prevalent in recent years, so there are more options available to you.

Finishing college through online classes will give you more flexibility in your schedule, which works better for working adults. Getting a college education online can be a huge benefit for the right student and comes with the same reputable degree you get through an in-person program.

The Degrees+ program from Golden Gate University (GGU) will help you get an associate degree from the comfort of your own home. GGU’s quality instruction combined with Outlier’s interactive learning tools ensure you will have a rich educational experience on your schedule.

Apply for Financial Aid

Applying for financial aid is another significant step in going back to college. You might be surprised at how much financial aid you can get if you didn't qualify for it the first time around.

Scholarships and grants are a great way to get free money to offset college expenses, and they’re relatively easy to apply for. You may qualify for thousands of dollars in financial aid just by filling out the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid).

Transfer Your Credits

Maximizing your transferable college credits gets you closer to completing your degree. If you have credits from a previous college, you may be able to transfer credits to your new school. Taking this step can save you a significant amount of time and money in the long run.

Many colleges allow you to transfer up to 60 credits. If you can do this, you’re halfway to a bachelor’s degree. Check with your prospective school’s admissions office to find out their credit transfer policy.

Maintain Support

Building a support system is crucial when going back to college as an adult learner. Lots of college graduates have setbacks during their academic programs. Family and friends can be great sources of support to help you stay positive about your career ambitions.

Many organizations for adult learners going back to school can help you stay motivated and optimistic. These organizations can provide advice, resources, as well as moral support.

Stick to Your Goals

Finally, be sure to keep your goals in mind when going back to college as an adult learner. What do you hope to accomplish by going back? What career do you hope to have when you finish? Keeping your goals front and center will help you stay motivated throughout the process

Frequently Asked Questions

Is it possible to drop out and reapply the following year?

It's possible to reapply to college after taking a break. You may need to update your application with the school you’re interested in. See if they have any specific requirements for students who have been away from academics for a period of time.

What if I can’t afford to go back to school?

Numerous ways to finance your education are out there, including scholarships, grants, and student loans. You can also look into flexible payment options many colleges and universities offer. Be sure to check with your employer to see if they offer any tuition assistance programs.

What happens to financial aid if a student drops out?

If a student receives financial aid and drops out of school, they may be required to pay back some or all of the aid they received. It's crucial to check with the financial aid office at your school to see what their policies are.

When a student does need to pay back some or all of their federal financial aid, they may qualify for one of several repayment options. Some options are based on your income and work with you to ensure you can make the payments.

Can a student's GPA be restarted?

A student's GPA can be restarted if they take courses at a different school or retake the courses they did poorly in at the same institution. The GPA from the new school will replace the GPA from the old school. Remember, financial aid is not guaranteed. If a student's GPA drops below a certain level, they may no longer be eligible for aid.

Am I too old to go back to school?

Many working adults fear they will feel out of place if they go back to college. Keep in mind there are many students who choose to go back to school in their working years.

Choosing to go back to school in your 40s, 50s, or even 90s is not uncommon. In fact, the average age of a college student at a 4-year institution is over 26, with around 10% over the age of 30. Proving it’s never too late to go back to school.

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