Why Students Drop Out of College and How They Can Avoid It

By Catherine Groux
Posted November 26, 2012 11:00 AM

Students can overcome these obstacles and potentially avoid dropping out of school.
Students can overcome these obstacles and potentially avoid dropping out of school.
Today, only 56% of college students earn a bachelor's degree within six years, while only 29% of students complete an associate's degree within three years, a Harvard Graduate School of Education report shows. This means that while many students had the intention of earning a college degree, various factors caused them to give up on their dreams. To prevent these obstacles from holding them back, students should examine some of the most common reasons individuals have for dropping out of college, as well as how they could potentially handle these issues without leaving school.

Financial Concerns

Randi Lydum, director of retention and the first-year experience at Ohio's Defiance College, said one of the most common reasons students choose to leave school is financial concerns. Lydum said that when many students look at the overall cost of their education, the figure can be staggering. Therefore, instead of leaving school all together, students should sit down with a financial aid or account professional who can explain the many options they have for paying tuition.

"It's very expensive to go to college so if a student just looks at that dollar sign, oftentimes it's just so overwhelming that if they don't talk to somebody within accounts or financial aid, they just get scared off by the price tag," she said. "Oftentimes when they sit down and meet with somebody to look at the plan and look at their student loans to see how it all plays out, it is just much more do-able. That helps students ease that panic."

On top of speaking with financial advisers, Elwood Watson, a professor at East Tennessee State University, said students should do everything they can to get as much financial aid as possible, including searching for scholarships and grants. If they still do not get enough support, individuals can then consider attending college part time while they get their finances in order. 

Personal Reasons

On top of financial worries, many students face a wide range of personal issues that cause them to leave college. Lydum explained that these personal reasons can include a family member getting sick, wanting to be closer to a significant other and deciding to move back home.

While students' personal reasons for dropping out of college can vary, Lydum said they should realize their school probably has a wide range of professionals who want to help them. For example, students could reach out to mental health counselors, student life staff members and faculty who specialize in the first-year experience. 

College Experience

While some students have the time of their lives during their freshman year, others have negative experiences that cause them to question their decision of enrolling. For example, Lydum said some have housing troubles, such as issues with their roommates, while others do not get accepted onto a sports team or are simply not academically prepared for college.

Bob Postman, a college professor and founder of the Low Cost College Guide, said this is a problem he often sees in students, as many are not ready for the academic strains of higher education.

"Students are just not ready," Postman said. "They think they want to go to college because that is how they will make more money. Then they find themselves in college and they are not prepared for what's going on there. It's not the same thing as having another year of high school."

Regardless of why students feel they have had a poor college experience, Lydum suggests they speak with a housing professional, academic support staff or other on-campus faculty member about their issues. If they are having academic problems, they should visit a tutoring center and ensure they are doing all they can to keep up with their classes. Additionally, Lydum said individuals should join as many clubs, teams and on-campus groups as possible. That way, if one activity does not work out, they have others to fall back on. This will also ensure that if students are having a hard time adjusting to college, they have a large support network to help them through.

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