UPDATED: April 29, 2022

More than a million college students in the US drop out every year. So if you’re thinking of quitting school right now, know that you’re not alone. 

You may have to quit college for many legitimate reasons, such as not being able to afford it or changing your mind about whether a degree is worth it.

We understand that this isn’t an easy decision. So, to give you some perspective, we looked into things you should consider when deciding. To make sure we cover as much ground as possible, we also reviewed real-life accounts of people who’ve faced the same dilemma.

No matter why you’re thinking of dropping out, it’s critical to explore the pros, cons, and options you’re going to face in case you decide to push through.

We’re going to explore all of those factors in this article, including alternatives to dropping out and other things you can do as a college dropout. 

Finally, we recommend you keep reading until the end. Otherwise, you may end up with serious consequences, such as getting stuck with massive student loans after dropping out.

Let’s get started!

Top 6 Reasons Students Leave College

Just as there are different reasons students decide to attend college in the first place, there are also a variety of reasons why students drop out

Here are six of the most common:

Lack of money for college tuition and other expenses

College is terribly expensive. According to US News, the average costs of college tuition are as follows:

  • $28,238 at public schools for out-of-state students
  • $43,775 for students attending private colleges
  • $11,631 at public schools for in-state students

And that's just for tuition. Other expenses, such as room and board, books and supplies, and transportation can add thousands of dollars to the total cost of attendance. 

And even with financial aid, some students can't make ends meet and are forced to drop out of college.

Poor grades and falling behind academically

For some students, college just isn't what they expected it would be. 

You may be struggling to keep up with the workload or they start falling behind because you don’t understand the lessons. 

As a result, you may start to doubt their ability to succeed in college and decide to leave.

Personal problems

Personal problems, such as illness, a death in the family, pregnancy, mental health issues, or substance abuse, can also lead to students dropping out of college.  

These problems can make it difficult to keep up with schoolwork and make attending classes difficult or impossible.

Changing your mind about college

You may have gone to college intending to get a degree in one particular field, only to find that you're interested in something else entirely. 

Or, you may have originally planned to attend a four-year university but decide that you prefer a two-year college or trade school instead. 

In either case, you may decide to leave their current school and transfer to another one that better suits your needs.

Family or work commitments

Like many students, you may have family obligations, such as caring for young children or elderly parents, that make attending college difficult or impossible.  

You may also need to work full-time to support yourself or your family, and you can't afford to go to school and work at the same time.

Unsuitable learning environment

Finally, you may have found the learning environment at your college to be unsuitable to your learning needs.

For example, you may need special accommodations, such as an interpreter, due to a disability. You may also feel unsafe on campus or simply not be motivated by the school's curriculum. 

All of these are valid reasons to leave college, but as we’ll discuss later on, you can resolve them without you having to give up your studies altogether.

The 5 Worst Reasons to Drop Out of College

While there are many valid reasons to drop out of college, there are others that are not so defensible. 

These five are bad reasons for dropping out:

You're following your friends who dropped out

Just because your friends have dropped out doesn't mean you should too. Unless you have a solid plan in place, dropping out is likely to set you back financially and academically. 

You'll also miss out on important social and networking opportunities by leaving college early just because of peer pressure.

You don't like your professors

While it's possible to have an unpleasant experience with a professor, this shouldn't be the main reason why you should quit college.

You can take plenty of other classes and learn from other professors. If you're struggling with a particular professor, talk to your academic advisor about changing classes.

You're chasing a business idea

The Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, and Steve Jobs of the world are the exception, not the rule.

In fact, did you know that most of them had wealthy parents who could afford to support them while they pursued what they wanted?

Unless you have a solid business plan and the financial resources to back it up, dropping out to start a business is generally not a good idea.

Someone disapproves of your major

It can be hard to stand up to family or friends who disapprove of your chosen major, but it's important to remember that you're the one who has to live with the consequences of your decision. 

If you're passionate about your major, don't let someone else's opinion dissuade you from pursuing it.

You simply don't like your original college major

Many college students discover that they don't like their major after starting college. That's perfectly fine, and colleges actually have systems in place to help you change your major. 

In addition, most college students don't declare their major until their sophomore or junior year anyway. 

In case you do decide to change your major, talk to your academic advisor or student services, first. They can help you explore your options and figure out the best way to change your major without delaying your graduation date.

Before Dropping Out of College, Ask Yourself These Questions

Now that you know some of the most common reasons to drop out of college (including the worst ones), it's time to examine your own decision.

The better you understand why you want to quit school, the more prepared you’re for the consequences of that decision.

This may also lead you to alternative solutions that don't involve leaving college.

Ask yourself the following:

Why do I want to drop out of college?

First, consider your motivation for wanting to leave school.

Are you struggling with the workload or certain classes? Do you feel like you're not learning anything? Are you homesick or struggling to make friends?

Some reasons, like cost, may be out of your control. But others, like not being able to handle the workload, maybe something you can change.

What do I want to do instead of going to college?

Part of the reason it's so important to know why you want to drop out is that you need to have a plan for what you'll do next.

For instance, do you want to start working immediately? Do you want to travel (and have the funds for it)? Maybe you have a dream job, and you suddenly realize you actually need a college degree to break into that field.

It's okay to take your time thinking about this, but it's important to have some kind of plan so you're not just aimlessly drifting after you drop out.

How can I pay back my student loans?

If you have student loans, you're legally obligated to pay them back even if you drop out of school. Defaulting on your loans will wreck your credit score and make it difficult to get a job, buy a car, or rent an apartment.

Before you drop out, make sure you understand your repayment options and have a plan for how you'll pay back your student loan debt. 

Can I get financial aid elsewhere?

If tuition is a major reason you're considering leaving school, try talking to the financial aid office about your options.

You may be eligible for grants or scholarships that can help with the cost of college. There are also organizations that offer financial assistance to students in specific situations, like single parents or military veterans.

Can I continue my college at a lower cost?

If you still want to go to college but the cost is too high, there are a few things you can do.

First, see if you can take classes at a community college or online. These are usually much cheaper than traditional colleges.

You can also look into schools that have tuition-free or low-cost programs. For example, some colleges will allow you to work on campus in exchange for tuition. Your local library, city council, and other government programs may also have resources for taking college classes for free.

Is my social life getting in the way of my college education?

In some cases, social activities like partying can interfere with your ability to succeed in college and keep up with coursework.

If your social life is negatively impacting your grades or your mental health, it may be a good idea to reevaluate your priorities.

What if I get more involved with activities on campus?

College isn't just tough academically, but socially too. If you're struggling to make friends or find your niche, consider joining a club or participating in extracurricular activities.

This can help you meet people with similar interests and make the transition to college life easier.

The Consequences of Dropping Out of College

While no one can stop you from doing it, it’s critical to know what can happen if you drop out of college. In some cases, doing so can have serious and far-reaching negative effects such as:

Limited Job Opportunities

Unfortunately, your job prospects will be much lower if you don't have a college degree. In today's job market, many employers prefer to hire candidates with at least a bachelor's degree

Even if you're qualified for a position, you may not even get an interview if you don't have a college degree.

Lower Earning Potential

On average, college graduates earn significantly more than those without a degree. In fact, the median earnings for college graduates are about $17,500 more per year than the earnings for adults with only a high school diploma. 

More Debt

As a result of not finishing college, many college dropouts are forced to take on loans just to make ends meet. 

For instance, you may have to take out loans to pay for rent, food, or other essentials. In the long run, this can put you in a very difficult financial situation, including heavy debt and bankruptcy.

A Higher Risk of Unemployment

College dropouts are also more likely to be unemployed than those with a college degree. 

In fact, the unemployment rate for college dropouts is about 5.6%, while the unemployment rate for college graduates is only 3.5%.

Loss of Self-Esteem

When you drop out of college, it can be easy to feel like a failure. This loss of self-esteem can lead to depression and other mental health problems.

Increased Health Problems

Another consequence of dropping out of college is that you're more likely to experience health problems

For instance, college dropouts are more likely to smoke cigarettes and be obese. They're also more likely to have chronic health conditions like heart disease and diabetes. 

Compounding the problem is the lack of health insurance that many college dropouts face.

Things You Can Do Instead of Dropping Out of College

If a part of you still wants to continue college but you're not sure how to solve your current problems, here are some things you can do instead of dropping out:

1. Drop Some of Your Classes

If you're feeling overwhelmed by your course load, it might help to drop one or two classes. 

This will give you some extra time to focus on the classes that are giving you the most trouble. You can also talk to your professors about your situation and see if they're willing to give you some extra help.

2. Take a Leave of Absence then Come Back

If you need some time to figure things out, you can always take a leave of absence from your studies and return when you’re ready.

There's no maximum length for a leave of absence, but most colleges will require you to reapply if you want to come back after more than a year. 

3. Transfer to Another College

If you're not happy with your current school, you can always transfer to another college. This is a big decision, but it might be the best thing for you. You can research different colleges and find one that's a better fit for your needs.

4. Get Help from Student Resources

Most colleges have student-centered resources that can help you if you're struggling.

These resources can provide you with academic, financial, and emotional support. For instance, your college might have a tutoring center, financial aid office, or counseling services.

There's no shame in admitting that you need some help, and reaching out to these resources can make a big difference.

5. Find Ways to Lower the Costs of College

If money is making it difficult for you to stay in school, there are some things you can do to lower your college expenses

For instance, you can look for scholarships and grants, live off-campus, or take online classes. You can also transfer to a community college to get your general education requirements out of the way.

How to Drop Out of College the Right Way

If you're firm on your decision to quit college, follow these tips to minimize potential issues of dropping out:

Notify your parents or guardians

They may be disappointed, but try to let them know ASAP. This is especially important if they are the ones paying for your schooling.

Notify the college itself and your professors

Failure to do this can result in a hold on your transcripts, which can make it difficult to get into another school. If you don't want to do this in person, you can always write a letter.

Finish with your semester

If you can, try to finish the semester before you leave. This way, you won't have any loose ends and can focus on your next steps. This can also make it easier to transfer credits if you decide to go back to school at some point.

Prepare for the financial impact

Quitting college can have a big financial impact. If you're receiving financial aid, you may have to repay some of the money. You'll also likely have to find a job to support yourself. Make sure you have a plan in place to cover these costs.

6 Things You Can Do After Quitting College

If you drop out of college, you’re probably wondering what your options are. 

The good news is that you have some pretty great ones:

1. Start your own business 

In the age of e-commerce, starting a business is easier than ever. As an example, you can put up an online store with just a few clicks. You can also create or join a start-up if you have an entrepreneurial spirit.

2. Become a freelancer

Don't want to commit to a full-time job? Then consider freelancing

With freelancing, you can work on a project-by-project basis, which gives you a lot of flexibility. Plus, there's a growing demand for freelancers in today's economy.

3. Become a trade apprentice

If you're interested in a particular trade, such as carpentry or plumbing, you can become an apprentice. This is a great option if you love working with your hands and want to learn a skilled trade.

4. Join the military

Want to serve your country? Then join the military. This is a great option for those who are looking for adventure and want to travel the world. Plus, you'll receive benefits, training, and education in a variety of disciplines.

5. Work for a non-profit

If you're passionate about a particular cause, you can work for a non-profit. This is a wonderful way to make a difference in the world and help those in need. 

At the same time, the experience you'll gain can help you in future job searches.

6. Complete a certification program

Another option after college is to complete a certification program. This can be helpful if you're interested in a specific field, such as healthcare or education. 

Many certification programs don't require a college degree, so this is a great option for those who have dropped out of college.

4 Comforting Truths Every College Dropout Should Know

Finally, quitting school can be a stressful and difficult decision, but it doesn't have to be the end of the world. 

While not everyone can be Bill Gates,  many successful people never finished college, and you can be one of them.

Keep the following in mind:

Skipping college is always a valid option.

College is not for everyone. Just because you didn't finish doesn't mean you're not smart or capable. It just means that your journey will be different from someone else's.

You're taking a risk, but you’re also creating opportunities.

Sure, dropping out of college is a gamble. But it also frees up time and energy that you can put towards exploring other options and building a future you're proud of.

You don’t have to defend your decision to quit college.

You don't owe anyone an explanation for why you're leaving school. Remember that this is your life, and you get to make the decisions that are best for you.

You can still make a good living even without a college degree.

While a bachelor's degree may give you a leg up in the job market, it's not the only way to make a decent income. Many jobs don't require a four-year degree and pay as much or even more than many positions that do.

Wrapping It Up

Ultimately, the decision to continue or drop out of college is up to you. As long as it feels like the right thing to do and you’re aware of what can happen after, it doesn’t have to ruin your future. 

We do recommend exploring your other options before you drop out to minimize your regrets. 

Either way, we wish you the best in your future—whether that includes finishing college or not.