No one decides to go to college expecting to drop out. But there are times when extenuating circumstances, or even self-discovery, can show you that college isn’t the best option for you right now.
And it’s not uncommon, either: 40% of college students don’t complete college within six years, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.
Taking a break from college is a hard step and can feel like a failure for some people. But in many cases, it’s the smartest move. Here’s how you can decide if it’s the right choice for you.
Taking a break from college: 6 times it makes sense
Sticking with college when it’s not right for you can waste time and money, damage your academic record and create needless student debt.
On the other hand, taking a break from college when you think you should can help you. You’ll preserve your good GPA and academic performance and remain eligible for financial aid.
Plus, if you do it the right way, you’ll leave the door open for possible re-enrollment if you decide to go back to college down the road.
Below are some common situations when taking a break from college can be your best way to find a path forward.
Facing a financial hardship that leaves you without the funds to pay for college is a legitimate reason to pause your education.
For instance, perhaps a parent who is covering college costs lost their job or is otherwise unable to help you financially. Maybe you have a financial emergency of your own (like an expensive car repair or a medical bill) that eats up your college budget.
When something comes up that derails your financial plans for college, it can be worthwhile to step back from school. Take the time you need to work, earn and save money. That way, you can get back on your feet and continue your education.
You’ll also avoid some of the negative consequences of remaining in college, such as poor academic performance or racking up unaffordable student debt.
A family or personal crisis can directly affect your ability to function and perform well in college.
As a college student, you might experience a death, disability or illness in the family that leads you to consider taking a break. Or your own health or wellness issues could arise while you’re enrolled.
In these situations, you might need to consider taking a year off during college to grieve, help your family recover or otherwise get back on your feet in your personal life before continuing your education.
Don’t hesitate to reach out to professors and college administrators during this time. They usually are willing to help you out in these special circumstances and minimize the negative impact on your academic record.
Another reason to consider taking a break from college is if your academic performance is poor and your grades are low. If you’re struggling to keep up with schoolwork or stay motivated in class, that’s a red flag.
Poor academic performance does more than hurt your GPA; it also can put your financial aid eligibility at risk. If you get bad grades or fail multiple classes, you could fail to make “satisfactory academic progress” — and lose access to financial aid.
Taking a break from college can help you understand and address the issues that are holding you back in your studies. You can spend some time outside the classroom to resolve any obstacles to academic success without damaging your record or GPA.
Maybe you’re among the many young adults who enroll in college because it feels like the next step — some students, for example, feel pressured by their parents to continue their education. Or maybe you know you want a degree, but don’t yet have a clear plan for what to study or how college might fit into your future goals.
If you aren’t sure whether college is right for you, taking a semester off to work, travel or just catch your breath can give you time to figure out what you want without wasting money on tuition.
“One reason a student might benefit from withdrawing from school is if they decide they do not like the major they’re pursuing,” said Brian Morris, communications coordinator for textbook exchange website Direct Textbook.
“Switching majors midstream is costly anyway, but continuing to take unnecessary credit hours only adds to debt,” said Morris, adding that students should take a break, explore and even work in different career fields before returning.
“By doing so, they can save on college expenses and potentially earn money to put toward a degree they really want,” Morris said. “Plus, they can determine whether they truly want to pursue that degree.”
Let’s say you receive a great full-time job offer before you finish your degree.
For many people, college is a path to the career they want. But if you can land your ideal job and income without a degree, it’s worth considering — even if it means dropping out of school mid-semester.
Just make sure you understand how completing a degree could affect you down the line. Your current employer might not care about an incomplete degree, but that doesn’t mean the next one won’t.
What’s more, you might be able to finish your degree while working and “perhaps even work out an arrangement in which [your] employer helps pay for [your] school,” according to Morris.
Steps to take when taking a break from school
1. Understand how dropping out affects student aid
2. Meet with a financial aid officer
3. Talk to a college advisor
4. Find ways to continue earning credits
5. File a withdrawal or leave of absence
6. Know your student loan repayment options
Learning how to take a year off during college the right way can make a world of difference in terms of how easy it is (or isn’t) to return to school.
Follow these steps and make sure you understand all the implications of dropping out of college and how to set yourself up for success — whether you go back to school or not.
You should meet and speak with your financial aid office. A financial aid officer can review the specifics of your situation and tell you whether you will need to repay financial aid.
They also can help you understand how a withdrawal could affect your financial aid eligibility and explain how to re-enroll in the future.
You also might want to meet with an academic advisor to discuss your plans and options. They can help you create a path to reach your goals, whether it’s a job that might not require a degree or an eventual return to college.
“There are ways to stay on track while taking that break,” said Adrian Ridner, CEO and co-founder of Study.com.
“Get creative and explore alternative credit options like online courses or competency-based exams,” Ridner explained. “Just be sure to check with your college about whether the credits will be eligible to transfer.”
You should make your withdrawal from school official with the registrar’s office. Make sure you ask for and fill out all required forms, so your enrollment status is up to date.
In most cases, student loans are due six months after enrollment ends. If you’re dropping out with student loans, do some research about student loan repayment options that can help.
Although taking a break from college can be scary, that doesn’t mean it’s not the right move. If life is overwhelming or you’re confused about where you’re headed, taking a break from school can give you the space to work through your challenges.
Andrew Pentis contributed to this report.
Need a student loan?Here are our top student loan lenders of 2020!
|1.09% – 11.98%1||Undergraduate, Graduate, and Parents|
|1.25% – 11.10%*,2||Undergraduate and Graduate|
|1.24% – 11.99%3||Undergraduate and Graduate|
|1.24% – 11.44%4||Undergraduate, Graduate, and Parents|
|1.78% – 11.89%5||Undergraduate and Graduate|
|2.69% – 12.98%6||Undergraduate and Graduate|
|3.52% – 9.50%7||Undergraduate and Graduate|
|* The Sallie Mae partner referenced is not the creditor for these loans and is compensated by Sallie Mae for the referral of Smart Option Student Loan customers. |
1 Important Disclosures for College Ave.
College Ave Student Loans products are made available through either Firstrust Bank, member FDIC or M.Y. Safra Bank, FSB, member FDIC. All loans are subject to individual approval and adherence to underwriting guidelines. Program restrictions, other terms, and conditions apply.
Information advertised valid as of 11/2/2020. Variable interest rates may increase after consummation. Lowest advertised rates require selection of full principal and interest payments with the shortest available loan term.
2 Sallie Mae Disclaimer: Click here for important information. Terms, conditions and limitations apply.
3 Important Disclosures for Discover.
Lowest APRs shown for Discover Student Loans are available for the most creditworthy applicants for undergraduate loans, and include an interest-only repayment discount and a 0.25% interest rate reduction while enrolled in automatic payments.
4 Important Disclosures for Earnest.
5 Important Disclosures for SoFi.
UNDERGRADUATE LOANS: Fixed rates from 4.23% to 11.26% annual percentage rate (“APR”) (with autopay), variable rates from 1.88% to 11.66% APR (with autopay). GRADUATE LOANS: Fixed rates from 4.13% to 11.37% APR (with autopay), variable rates from 1.78% to 11.73% APR (with autopay). MBA AND LAW SCHOOL LOANS: Fixed rates from 4.30% to 11.52% APR (with autopay), variable rates from 1.95% to 11.89% APR (with autopay). PARENT LOANS: Fixed rates from 4.60% to 10.76% APR (with autopay), variable rates from 1.88% to 11.16% APR (with autopay). For variable rate loans, the variable interest rate is derived from the one-month LIBOR rate plus a margin and your APR may increase after origination if the LIBOR increases. Changes in the one-month LIBOR rate may cause your monthly payment to increase or decrease. Interest rates for variable rate loans are capped at 13.95%, unless required to be lower to comply with applicable law. Lowest rates are reserved for the most creditworthy borrowers. If approved for a loan, the interest rate offered will depend on your creditworthiness, the repayment option you select, the term and amount of the loan and other factors, and will be within the ranges of rates listed above. The SoFi 0.25% autopay interest rate reduction requires you to agree to make monthly principal and interest payments by an automatic monthly deduction from a savings or checking account. The benefit will discontinue and be lost for periods in which you do not pay by automatic deduction from a savings or checking account. Information current as of 11/04/2020. Enrolling in autopay is not required to receive a loan from SoFi. SoFi Lending Corp., licensed by the Department of Business Oversight under the California Financing Law License No. 6054612. NMLS #1121636 (www.nmlsconsumeraccess.org).
6 Important Disclosures for Ascent.
Before taking out private student loans, you should explore and compare all financial aid alternatives, including grants, scholarships, and federal student loans and consider your future monthly payments and income. Applying with a cosigner may improve your chance of getting approved and could help you qualify for a lower interest rate. Ascent Student Loans may be funded by Richland State Bank (RSB). Ascent Student Loan products are subject to credit qualification, completion of a loan application, verification of application information and certification of loan amount by a participating school. Loan products may not be available in certain jurisdictions, and certain restrictions, limitations; and terms and conditions may apply. Ascent is a federally registered trademark of Turnstile Capital Management (TCM) and may be used by RSB under limited license. Richland State Bank is a federally registered service mark of Richland State Bank.
* Application times vary depending on the applicant’s ability to supply the necessary information for submission.
7 Important Disclosures for CommonBond.
Offered terms are subject to change and state law restriction. Loans are offered by CommonBond Lending, LLC (NMLS # 1175900), NMLS Consumer Access. If you are approved for a loan, the interest rate offered will depend on your credit profile, your application, the loan term selected and will be within the ranges of rates shown. All Annual Percentage Rates (APRs) displayed assume borrowers enroll in auto pay and account for the 0.25% reduction in interest rate. All variable rates are based on a 1-month LIBOR assumption of 0.17% effective Sep 1, 2020 and may increase after consummation.