How to Drop Out of College: Your Complete Guide to Doing It Right

Should I drop out of college? College isn't necessarily for everyone, but it's important to know the process for how to drop out of college.

How to Drop Out of College: Your Complete Guide to Doing It Right

For a long time, it was thought that attending college was an automatic ticket to success in the professional world. Though that may have been true a half-century ago, attending college and getting a bachelor’s doesn’t guarantee professional success nowadays. For many students, the large amount of debt that they’ve accrued during and after college can impact their quality of life for several decades. On top of that, with so many Americans getting their bachelor’s degree, in many ways, the significance of a bachelor’s has been diluted.

Students attend college at a time in their lives when they are starting to really form their identity, interests, and values. Thus, these immensely important transformative years can be a time of tough decisions and reconsidering paths chosen. Often the result is that some students come to decide that college just isn’t the right fit for them. In such a common situation as this, some students begin wondering how they can drop out of college, but also do it the right way, such as by just not simply failing out of classes or not attending them at all.

Read on to find out how to drop out of college the right way.

Table of Contents

1. Consider Your Options

First, before you actually make the move to drop out of college, you should consider if there are any other choices that may solve your situation better. If you know, for example, that what you really need is only to take a semester off from college, then dropping out entirely may not be necessary.

Before taking the absolutist decision of dropping out of college, you might consider taking a leave of absence. In order to take a leave of absence, you’ll have to put in a formal request with your advisor. By taking a leave of absence from college, it enables you to take a semester off without suffering a penalty. Generally, you won’t need to enroll in any classes, and you won’t have to pay anything during your leave of absence.

With this newly created time for reflection, you can carefully consider whether you want to continue with finishing college or dropping out of college. Though several schools require that you have a note from a doctor or another qualified, written reason for the leave of absence, at many, you can usually work with your advisor and attain a grant of leave from them.

What Happens If You Drop Out of College?

If you decide to drop out of college, you will have to reapply to the school later — if you wish to go back to that one. This can give rise to a stressful situation if it’s a difficult school to gain entry to already. On top of that, though hardly always true, it may be more difficult to get into the college a second time if they see that you dropped out before. Dropping out of college and then later deciding to apply to enroll in a different college is naturally a bit different. They’ll see that you dropped out of college before and likely ask about your decision. But since it wasn’t the same school you dropped out of the first time, there may be less difficulty with enrolling.

A leave of absence is a great option because it gives you time to really think about dropping out of college. If you still feel like dropping out of college at the end of your leave, then at least you gave yourself plenty of time to consider the decision.

2. Consider Going Part-Time

Attending college part-time is another solid option to pursue before committing to dropping out of college. Going to college part-time means that you attend classes for half the number of credits that are usually required of you to take each semester. Though it doesn’t apply for the majority of situations, you can still often receive financial aid even while you  attend college part-time. Just be sure that you’re taking the sufficient number of credits to qualify.

Another positive aspect of attending college part-time is that you can usually find enough time to also work a part-time job. Having a paying part-time job can be an immeasurable benefit, helping you to pay for the one or two classes that you’re taking at college as well as, perhaps, paying down some student loan debt you’ve accrued. Of course, the drawback of attending college part-time is that it will likely take much longer to earn your degree.

Attending college part-time might be a great solution instead of dropping out of college. It gives you more time to focus on yourself and consider your options. Reducing the number of hours you’re at college can help you think clearly about whether or not you really want to drop out of college.

3. Keep an Eye on Your Grades

If you’re really set on dropping out of college, then you need to make sure your grades are in good order if you ever decide to return later. A good strategy to help ensure your grade point average at the college isn’t impacted is to have your courses withdrawn. A withdrawal from a course comes up as a W on your transcript. The good news about a withdrawal is that it doesn’t inflict any grade penalty, and therefore negatively impact your GPA.

Another good piece of advice is that you should try not to leave college in the middle of a semester. If you drop out of college during the semester, you may be faced with paying for the classes without the assistance of financial aid, not to mention, it could negatively affect your grades. This is because leaving during the semester results in your professor marking your grade with an incomplete. Having an incomplete (or “I” on your transcript) typically will carry a penalty for your GPA. 

After dropping out of college, if you ever choose to return to school, having a transcript with good or decent grades helps your chances of gaining admission back into the college. A good transcript also is helpful if you ever decide to enroll at a different college than the one you dropped out of. They’re admission boards will evaluate your performance at your previous college, and if they see that you did well enough to maintain a good or decent GPA, then they’re more likely to accept you.

Thus, if you’re wondering “should I drop out of college”, make sure to take care of your GPA before you take the final plunge and drop out. It’ll set you up for better chances in the future of being admitted to a college should you decide to continue your education.

4. Talk to Your Professors About Dropping Out

When trying to figure out if you should drop out of college, turn to a professor or adviser you’re close with. They will be able to help you lay out all your reasons for wanting to leave, and they can offer insightful advice about what you should do next. Talking to your professors and letting them know you will no longer be attending their class is also common courtesy. So, you should talk to your professors or advisors beyond just to get their advice on your thoughts of dropping out of college.

5. Talk About Possible Consequences with a Counselor

Another important meeting to set up if you’re thinking about dropping out of college is one with an academic advisor at your college. Advisers will likely have the most knowledge on the consequences of dropping out of college. For example, if you drop out of college, you may be required to forfeit scholarships, grants, or other financial benefits that you secured before or while enrolled in college.

Your college’s academic advisor or counselor is invaluable because they likely know the dropping-out process. College counselors may know important details like some colleges not allowing students who have dropped out to re-enroll. College counselors or advisers may also have better knowledge on the effects of dropping out of college on student loan repayment. Of course, the result of dropping out of college while carrying student loan debt is that you leave and you’re still burdened with the financial strain of going to college while gaining none of the advantages of attending it.

6. Submit a Withdrawal Request

Now, the more formal part of how to drop out of college is the actual submission of a withdrawal. Involved in the college withdrawal process includes filling out a couple of forms and providing a reason for dropping out. It’s not uncommon for you to be asked to meet with your academic advisor, because they may conduct exit counseling.

This process generally involves reviewing prescribed school policies on dropping out and talking out any of the options available to you. During this exit counseling, it’s a good time to ask about deferred payment plans — paying any part of your college bill left in monthly installments rather than in large sums every semester — and other options that may make the financial burden easier to manage while you pursue your future moves. Once the paperwork goes through, your enrollment at college will be officially terminated.

7. Check Out Your College’s Refund Policy

This step in the dropping-out process could put some money back in your pocket. Depending on when you plan on dropping out of college, you could qualify for a full or partial refund on your tuition. In the majority of cases, students who drop classes or withdraw from the school before the first day of the semester can qualify to receive a 100% reimbursement. The amount you stand to be refunded will usually decrease the later into the term you wait.

Equally important, double-check with the college bursar's office to see if you need to make a formal request in order to receive a refund. Of course, this has to do with college tuition — not student loans. As such, you will still be on the hook for paying back student loans and other academic expenses.

Pros and Cons of Dropping Out of College

Should I drop out of college or suck it up and keep going? Attending college is often not the right fit for every student, however, the decision to drop out of college cannot be taken lightly. Naturally, everybody’s circumstances are different, so it’s critical to consider all the factors, especially how they fit your particular situation.

Here are some of the major pros and cons of dropping out of college:

Pros of Dropping Out of College

One of the first pros of dropping out of college is that you can earn money instead of amassing debt. A college education and degree is certainly expensive, and can reach absurd levels depending on what college you attend and how much financial aid you receive in the form of scholarships or grants

The vast majority of students go straight from high school to college, without being given any independent time to allow them to gain a clear idea of what they want to do with their lives. If you have financial means of support, dropping out of college could allow you to travel, volunteer, become an entrepreneur, or check out other training options. The truth is that college isn’t for everyone and it would be a real shame to stick it out at a college you’re not happy with — while possibly piling up student loan debt — only to graduate feeling more lost than if you hadn’t attended college.

There are also plenty of certifications, vocational education and training, and other education options nowadays for you to take advantage of instead of college. In the past, college tended to be the only place to network with industry experts and pursue higher-level education, yet that’s hardly true anymore. Large numbers of conferences and skills workshops take place where you can meet other professionals and network. And of course, now the majority of the world's top colleges and universities provide free online classes that can teach you and develop skills and knowledge crucial to the professional world.

Cons of Dropping Out of College

There are, unfortunately, many cons when it comes to dropping out of college. One is that you won't have a recognized credential in terms of education. In many industries, not meeting a bachelor’s degree-level minimum could disqualify you from a professional position. Though many arts industry workers and technology professionals can attest that their career path and goals didn’t require a college degree, if you don't have one, you'll need another way to demonstrate your expertise and skills to a possible employer: In such circumstances, factors like your practical experience, online portfolios, any professional certifications, and employer references become much more significant.

There is, of course, the shadow of student loan debt, which will persist after you’ve dropped out of college. When you drop out of college, the grace period on your student loans automatically starts. That typically means you will have six months before you’ll be forced to shovel out student loan repayments every month. The weight of the monthly payments may get so heavy that you'll have to consider consolidating your student loans. Another con of dropping out of college is that it could also mean you’re required to pay back part of or all of any scholarship money or federal student aid you've been given. Thus, be sure to review in what way the consequences of dropping out of college affect your financial situation carefully.

The Bottom Line on How to Drop Out of College

Should I drop out of college? As mentioned before, it’s true that college isn’t necessarily for every student. The idea of dropping out of college can be a terrifying concept for a young student. However, if you have good reasons, both your own and possibly external reasons (like a family emergency that requires you to withdraw), then it’s usually worth dropping out of college.

Fortunately, with thorough planning, you can drop out of college without it hampering your future educational or professional prospects. And of course, you can also find other ways of achieving success without having a college degree just like many titans of industry have. Plus, if you do decide to try and enroll in college again, there are always scholarships to win to help you pay your way back in

Andrew DePietro

Author: Andrew DePietro

Senior Researcher, and Content Strategist

Andrew DePietro is a finance writer covering topics such as entrepreneurship, investing, real estate and college for BrokeScholar, Forbes, CreditKarma, and more.