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Tips for Returning to College After Taking Time Off

June 17, 2019 · 4 minute read

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Tips for Returning to College After Taking Time Off

If you’ve ever asked yourself the question, “if you withdraw from college, can you go back?” the simple answer is yes. But whether you left due to financial problems, family responsibilities, or other reasons, returning to college can be challenging.

Here are some things to know about going back to college after dropping out and how to help make the process go smoothly.

Having Some Ideas About Your Major

Regardless of how long it’s been since you left school, you’ll have to make up for lost time. At the same time, you may have had experiences during your time away from school that helped you solidify what you want to do with your life and career.

As a result, it’s a good idea to think about choosing a major. Whether it’s a bachelor’s or master’s degree, or a certificate program, knowing what subject you want to study and to what extent will help you finish your schooling faster.

If you’re still not sure about what you want to pursue, you can take some time to explore your options. Consider auditing a course or two to get a better idea about what you enjoy, if your first day back is still months away. The key is to do your due diligence before you return to campus, so you don’t feel like you’re spinning your wheels when you get there.

Carefully Considering Which College to Attend

In some cases, it makes sense to return to the college you originally attended. But it may also be worth checking out other universities to see if you can save money on tuition, or have a better college experience.

There are a few things to consider when making this decision. For example, each college has its own criteria as to what’s considered a required course versus an elective course. If you attend a different college, you may have to retake certain required courses.

Also, in some situations, it may make sense to find a less expensive college. Comparing colleges in your area can help make sure you get a good education without overspending. This is especially important if you had to leave college due to financial difficulties.

Easing Into It

Returning to college after a hiatus is different than returning to school after summer vacation. It may take some time to adjust to your new schedule and study requirements, and it’s possible that you’ve forgotten even some basic knowledge that you’ll need to brush up on.

If you have a desire to make up for lost time, you may consider trying to finish your degree or certificate program as quickly as possible. But as with any other activity, you may end up burning out if you spread yourself too thin.

Maybe instead of taking on a full workload your first semester back, you can take the minimum number of credits you need to be a full-time student, or maybe just a class or two. It can’t hurt to give yourself some time to get back into the swing of things, both mentally and emotionally.

There’s no right way to do this, so do regular check-ins with yourself and your loved ones to make sure you have enough capacity to accomplish your goals.

Building a Support System

Figuring how to get back into school after dropping out can be a draining process, especially if you’ve been away for a while. Maybe you have a family now, or you’re quitting your job to focus on school full time.

Regardless of your situation, it’s good to have support in your decision to further your education. Consider looking into your college’s mental health and career centers for additional resources and support.

You can speak with your partner, friends or family members about your decision to return to college. Help them understand your reasons and goals, especially if returning to college affects them.

The sooner you start building a support system, the easier it will likely be to make returning to college a smooth process.

Securing Financing

Even if you pick a relatively inexpensive university, a college education isn’t cheap. In an ideal scenario, you’ll be able to avoid student loans altogether. Scholarships, grants, and a full-time job can help you get through school without needing to borrow money.

But, if you do need some help to bridge the gap, you can start by filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSAⓇ) form to see what you qualify for federal student aid (which could include grants, loans, and work-study). If you have a solid credit history and a good income, among other financial factors, private student loans might score you a lower interest rate.

Figuring Out What to Do With Your Existing Student Loans

If you still have student loans from your first stint in college, you don’t necessarily need to continue paying them when you return. The U.S. Department of Education and many private student lenders may allow you to defer your student loan payments while you’re in school at least half-time.

Keep in mind, though, that deferring your payments won’t stop the interest from accruing. If you don’t make interest-only payments while you’re enrolled, the unpaid interest will capitalize when you leave school and increase your overall debt.

If you’re generally unhappy with your existing student loans, another action to consider might be refinancing your student loans, especially if you qualify for a lower interest rate than on your original loans. You could also potentially extend your repayment term, lowering your monthly payment amount if you need to free up some near-term cash (but you’d pay more in interest overall).

Alternatively, if you’re in a more stable financial position, you might qualify to secure a shorter loan term, which could help pay off your loan more quickly and, therefore, make fewer interest payments.

But it’s important to note here that refinancing with a private lender would render you ineligible for programs and repayment plans extended to federal student loan holders like deferment, forbearance, and income-driven repayment. So you may wish to weigh your options carefully before considering refinancing.

Going back to college after dropping out isn’t easy, but it can be a stepping stone to get to where you want to be in life. As you consider returning to college, create a plan and allow yourself time to adjust to college life.

Also, make sure you have a good plan for your existing student loans. Whether it’s refinancing them and requesting a deferment, you can always look for opportunities to save yourself money as you try to finish up your degree or certificate.


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