Tips for Returning to College After Taking Time Off

Students drop out of college for a wide range of reasons. Financial challenges, family responsibilities, work commitments and academic difficulties can all figure into a decision to leave school. The good news is that many individuals eventually return to college with more motivation than ever to succeed. Here are some suggestions for going back to school after some time away.

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1. Have a clear goal for going back to school.

It's not a good idea to return to college after dropping out if you don't have an identifiable purpose for returning. Do you want to earn a degree to advance in your profession? Are you looking to enhance your earning potential? Would you like to make a career change? Having a clear plan can help keep you motivated and moving forward.

2. Choose a program that allows you to reach your goal.

Research schools and programs to find educational opportunities that allow you to reach your professional goals. In some professions completing a certificate program may open up career opportunities equal to those of a more costly degree program. In others, an associate or bachelor's degree may be necessary. Whatever the case, be sure your academic program moves you toward your goal.

3. Consider going to the college you previously attended.

For some college students who've left school, the institutions they attended had a lot to do with why they dropped out. For others, the school was a fit but other factors didn't allow things to work out. Students falling into the latter category should contact their former college about a potential return. Many schools allow dropouts to return without reapplying. Academic forgiveness programs can even wipe out bad grades.

4. Find the right form of instructional delivery for you.

Some people have work and family responsibilities. Choosing an alternative education option, such as an online, flexible school, makes it easier to fit school into your schedule and sets you up for success. For example, you can earn credit from's college courses in just 5 minutes a day and without ever leaving home.

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5. Get help during the admissions process.

You're not the only person to have dropped out of college, though that thought might seem little consolation when you're filled with uncertainty about how colleges will view your application. Work with an admissions advisor to learn how you can best present yourself during this process. Admissions staff can also help you complete financial aid forms and other application paperwork.

6. Consult an academic counselor.

As soon as you've been accepted into a school, schedule an appointment with an academic counselor. These professionals can help map out your path to graduation. Counselors can also help ensure you get credit for applicable coursework you completed during your first stint as a college student.

7. Be realistic about what you can do.

Most people don't like how it feels to have to leave college - and dropping out twice feels even worse. To avoid having to go through such an ordeal, it's important to have reasonable expectations of yourself from the outset. If family or work obligations are going to make it difficult to be a full-time student, enroll in classes half-time. Start small and build up as you're able to.

8. Get support.

Attending college can be extraordinarily rewarding, but it can also be full of challenges. Knowing where to go for help when difficulties surface is a key skill for thriving in college. Call on the expertise of instructors and advisors for any academic concerns you have. If you're affected by personal challenges, enlist the aid of family members and friends. Making it to the proverbial finish line will likely require the help of others, and that's okay.

Not sure what opportunities you should pursue in college? Get suggestions for choosing the right career education program for you.

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