So you’ve gone to college, you’re putting in all the effort, but something doesn’t feel right. Maybe it’s your courses, the institution, the dawning realization that all this debt might not be worth it in the long run, or a combination of all three. Maybe it’s something else altogether. Whatever the reason, the thought of dropping out is becoming more and more appealing.
Dropping out is a big decision. We understand it’s stressful, but don’t take it lightly.
College feels safe because it’s familiar and you know what to expect. Whereas dropping out might feel like leaping off a cliff. But you’ll soon discover it’s not the end of the world – it’s just the beginning of the rest of your life. Once you get a hold of the uncertainty you’re feeling, you’ll be just fine.
There are a lot of things you can do to prepare yourself for life after college, which is why we’ve created this guide – to offer practical advice about dropping out and some ideas to help you decide what to do next.
First, decide whether dropping out is right for you.
Perhaps you’ve dropped out already and you’re suddenly unsure you made the right decision.
If that’s you, then skip straight to the ‘Forging Your Own Path’ section.
Should You Drop Out of College?
She has no idea what she’s doing in college
That major that she majored in don’t make no money
But she won’t drop out, her parents will look at her funny
– Kanye West, All Falls Down
The lyrics above express a common dilemma a lot of students experience when they’re considering leaving college prematurely.
When you first start talking about dropping out, there’s a good chance you’ll meet some resistance. You might even feel like your friends and family are pressuring you to keep at it. But then again, you might be pleasantly surprised! Either way, the odds are, the people in your life probably want what’s best for you – or at least, what they think is best for you. And that’s okay. But ultimately, it’s still you who has to live with your decision. So whether you drop out or not, you owe it to yourself to be sure you’re doing what you believe is best for you.
The truth is, a college degree is no longer a requirement for a growing list of companies. Google’s HR boss recently said, “things like college GPAs and transcripts are almost worthless in hiring.” And it’s not just tech giants like Google that are ditching degrees as a requirement. Almost across the board, prior work experience is worth more than a qualification.
In today’s job market, you can no longer automatically exchange a degree for a job. In fact, a lot of college graduates – some 39% according to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York – end up underemployed working jobs that don’t require a degree.
So you see, dropping out isn’t the end of the world. But neither should it be considered an easy way out. Either route still requires hard work. Which route is better for you depends on your priorities.
If you’re unhappy in college and the thought of suffering through it for the next few years doesn’t bother you, then stay where you are. But just know you have other options – options that don’t require waiting around, hoping things get better someday. In fact, if college just isn’t doing it for you, and you’re willing to try a different path, then you’ll quickly find many successful college dropouts have already paved a path.
Maybe you’re trying your best with college but something’s just not clicking. Maybe your circumstances demand that you drop out to take care of a family member, or you simply can’t afford it anymore. There’s no shame in dropping out. Don’t think of it as giving up – you’re just changing tactics and exploring alternative avenues.
Ready? Let’s go.
Dropping Out the Right Way
The truth is, a lot of students drop out. Nearly a third do so before reaching sophomore year.
Famous dropouts include Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Ellen DeGeneres, Mark Zuckerberg, Oprah Winfrey, and, of course, the ineffable Kanye West.
What these stories often don’t tell you though – is how to drop out the right way. And by right way – we mean the way that brings about the least amount of pain, suffering, and financial chaos.
If you’re dropping out, before you just stop attending classes and drop off the map – you owe it to yourself to make sure you cover all your bases. There are some steps you can take to avoid unnecessary stress, make a clean break, and prepare yourself for your future.
Tell Your Family
If you’re on good terms with your family, discuss your intentions with them. This is especially important if they’re helping you pay for college. Be honest when talking them through the reasons why college isn’t for you, and if you can, do your best to help them understand why you’ve reached your decision. It can help to have the support of those closest to you when you make a big decision like this. But if your parents don’t understand at first, cut them some slack – they grew up in a different time with different rules, when college made more sense. Still, at the end of the day, it’s you who has to live with the consequences of your decision – one way or the other – so stick to your guns and make the choice you believe is best for you.
Check the Add/Drop Dates
Be mindful of your add/drop dates, especially if the semester has already begun. Colleges usually have hard deadlines for when you can add or drop classes or withdraw from a course without any financial penalty. If you’re considering dropping out, do yourself a favor and reach a decision before you’re stuck holding the bill!
Talk to the Financial Aid Office
Before submitting your withdrawal, be sure you visit the Office of the Bursar or the financial aid office. Depending on when in the semester you’re considering withdrawing, you may need to pay back any loans, scholarship funds, or grants you’ve received.
Most financial aid offices will be able to give you clear answers to these questions. Just be sure to come with clear questions about your particular circumstance – and if you can, be sure to get it all in writing. Note: if you’re past the official add/drop date, then you still might be able to qualify for a tuition refund, so be sure to apply!
Notify Your College of Your Withdrawal
Make sure that you follow due process in notifying your college of your intent to withdraw. The exact procedure to follow here will depend on your institution.
Your college advisor or counselor will be able to tell you more about this, but typically, you’re required to formally state your intention in writing and include the official date of withdrawal. And to cover your bases, be sure to get confirmation your notice is properly received and date stamped.
Take a Moment to Reflect
Take a moment to reflect on what you’ve learned during your time here – even if your main takeaway has been that college is not for you. Taking a moment to say goodbye to the campus and the person you’ve been here to get closure and prepare for the next stage of your journey.
Say Your Goodbyes
Odds are, you’ll want to say goodbye to your friends, and heck, maybe even some professors or other staff members you’ve come to know during your time there. The latter might even be willing to give you a recommendation that can come in handy someday on the job hunt. Just be sure not to let anyone dissuade you from your decision. Keep your head held high and be confident in your decision when saying your farewells.
Start Making “Life After College” Plans
If you’ve realized college isn’t for you but you’re still unsure what is, then it’s time to start exploring the options now open to you. There are so many possibilities out there the hard part can be deciding which path is the right one. That’s the focus of the next section.
Forging Your Own Path
“I decided to drop out and trust that it would all work out OK. It was pretty scary at the time, but looking back, it was one of the best decisions I ever made. The minute I dropped out I could stop taking the required classes that didn’t interest me, and begin dropping in on the ones that looked interesting.”
– Steve Jobs
Starting your journey into the real world can be a liberating feeling. The world is a great big blue ocean for you to sail into. You have the freedom to direct your focus on learning the specific subjects, building the skills that interest you, and taking advantage of the opportunities that come your way.
The great news is that you now have time to consider your options without the worry of accruing even more unnecessary debt. And that’s a weight off your shoulders.
Choose What’s Right For You
Unless you dropped out with a very clear goal in mind – for example, say you have a business idea you want to get off the ground – it’s worth putting some time into considering your options. See our recent post about the top College Alternatives for some ideas.
Often people are overwhelmed by the number of choices available because everything looks so cool and interesting! To help with this sense of overwhelm, there’s a Japanese concept called “Ikigai” that roughly translates as “reason for being.” Sitting down and mapping out your Ikigai can help you figure out your long-term goals.
As the meaning of the name would suggest, Ikigai helps you to identify your purpose in life or raison d’etre, as the French call it. The framework consists of four basic elements that incorporate what you’re passionate about, what your strengths are, what the world needs, and what you can realistically be paid for.
These overlap in a Venn diagram, as seen below:
The sweet spot is right in the middle. Following this method will leave you with something that you are naturally good at, enjoy, and, crucially, can be paid to do.
Don’t you wish they’d taught you that in college?
Make a Professional Learning Development Plan
Now you have a good idea of the direction you want to go in, it’s time to make a plan to get you there. Similar to the Ikigai framework, the aim of making a professional learning development plan is to start asking yourself important questions such as:
- Who am I now and who do I want to be?
- What are my strengths and weaknesses?
- What does success mean to me?
- Where would I like to be in 5 or 10 years’ time?
- What skills do I need to learn?
Don’t worry if the answers don’t come immediately or if they change over time. The beauty of self-directed learning is that you can change course any time you like.
The aim is to make career goals and gather information about the skills you need to learn to achieve them. You own everything in there, and it’s your job to track your progress.
Once you have a plan, you can begin tailoring your professional learning and development towards achieving your goals. Soon enough, a path will emerge, and before you know it, you’ll be building your dream career.
Tips To Be a Successful Dropout
While no two college dropouts will have the same experience, we’ve put together some tips to help you navigate life after dropping out and set yourself on the road to success.
Just Try Stuff
It’s okay if you don’t have everything figured out. You’ve already taken a huge first step toward being true to yourself. So keep that in mind, and don’t stress too much over finding the “perfect” thing. Instead, just try stuff. Give yourself permission to jump on any opportunities that excite you but might not work out – permission to make some mistakes. Go out into the real world and run some experiments, gain some experience, and build some skills. The rest will work itself out in due time.
Never Stop Learning
Just because you’ve decided college isn’t right for you, doesn’t mean you should stop learning. Now you’re free to learn what really interests you and curate your own education. Employers are impressed by self-driven individuals who invest in their future through self-study. With all the information and courses available online, the world is your oyster.
Don’t Be Too Hard on Yourself
Your motivation, interest levels, and productivity will come and go and vary at different times of the day. Don’t be too hard on yourself if self-study or working alone doesn’t come easily, especially at first. After being in a very structured learning environment, being on your own clock can be an adjustment.
Personalize Your Finances
Don’t put pressure on yourself to maximize your income or land a high-paying job. Figure out what you need to live on, and how you can earn that. Chances are it’s less than what you imagine. But give yourself the peace of mind of removing the mystery from the equation. Once you know what you need to get by, it’s easier to figure it out. And if you know the basics are covered, you’ll save yourself a lot of stress.
Get to Know Yourself
Get to know your strengths and weaknesses, and what makes you feel energized and alive vs. what makes you feel drained or stressed. While it’s impossible to avoid all stress, you can build your life to minimize the amount of stress you encounter. Sometimes that means avoiding the thing that makes you sweat, but more often, it means learning a new skill and facing your fears head-on.
Find a Role Model
You don’t have to know somebody to learn from them. Maybe there’s an author whose books you enjoy, or a podcast host, or a blogger – learn what you can, wherever you can. If you find somebody’s stuff you really appreciate, reach out to them to let them know. You never know where opportunities can come from. The important thing is to find someone – or several someones – you can draw inspiration and knowledge from.
Find Inner Motivation
One of the hardest lessons you’ll learn entering the real world is that nobody is going to give you a gold star for being good. Most of the time, other people will be too busy and too absorbed in their own work to notice what a great job you’re doing or to tell you so. The sooner you realize that chasing other people’s validation is a waste of time, the happier you’ll be.
Show How You Add Value
Professional requirements are less important than you think. Providing value and being able to show that you provide value is much more important to companies than specific academic qualifications. Find ways to show your skills and work ethic, for example by building a portfolio and/or website, or by volunteering to help on projects you find interesting (even if it’s unpaid). You’ll learn a lot, and you’ll have a chance to build connections and impress the people you’re working with.
Get Plugged In Somewhere and Seek Out Accountability
We know – it can get lonely out there. Especially if all your friends are in college. But don’t let that get you down. If you’re willing to put in some effort and get creative, there are countless surprising ways to continue building your network. From searching for online groups with similar interests or starting a book club to taking an online course – find a way to connect with other people who share your interests, where you can find some encouragement and accountability.
Make Action Your Priority
While theoretical learning and planning have their place, the surest way to learn or make progress is by doing. Don’t wait until you can do something perfectly before doing anything at all, or you’ll never do anything. Remember, perfect is the enemy of good.
The Praxis Way
One of the unfortunate flaws of traditional higher education is its one-size-fits-all approach. That’s where college alternatives come in. At Praxis, we take a self-directed approach to learning and professional development. Through our program, participants explore how business works and where their individual interests map onto the real-world career landscape. The goal is for participants to discover opportunities that align with their unique interests – then help them build the skills they need to successfully launch their careers.
Our participants achieve this over the course of a single year. For the first 6 months, you’ll learn the ins and outs of business, build foundational professional skills, grow your personal network – and ultimately discover opportunities where you can put your passions and natural talents to work in the real world.
We’ll help develop your skills and grow your network, and then actually help you land a full-time job opportunity at a growing company where you’ll hone your skills in a real-world setting – supported by our continued mentorship.
We’re not saying it’s going to be a walk in the park, nothing is. But because we’ll help you find something you enjoy and that plays to your strengths, you’ll quickly find yourself on the path to a career you’ll love.
If you’re worried about the cost, don’t be. Praxis costs just $12K and we have a variety of payment options to make it accessible to anyone. Plus, because we aim to help you get hired by the end of the bootcamp, you can expect to graduate with up to six months of real-world, paid work experience. Not to mention, we guarantee you’ll get hired making at least $30,000 per year in your new role, which means most participants actually earn more than the cost of the program before graduation.
Interested in finding out more? Apply to Praxis today and we’ll help you begin the next stage of your journey.