Stopping-Out of College

Stopping-Out to Prevent Dropping-Out of College

Posted on July, 06, 2022 by

You’ve heard of dropping out of college, but now there are so many students taking time off from college and then going back, that I think the term “Stopping-Out” makes sense.

A student can stop-out of college for a semester, a year, or however long is necessary to resolve the reason for stopping-out in the first place. The reasons for taking a break from college are varied, but in the past few years, it’s really been about struggling with the transition to college due to a lack of preparedness. This, coupled with anxiety and other mental health issues stemming from Covid, has made the transition to college more challenging than ever.

Even so, college students, and their parents, still seem to have tunnel-vision when it comes to going directly to college after high school, including referring to them as “4-year colleges“.  Most people know that the average time it takes to graduate college is 6 years but the number 4 still looms large in peoples’ psyche. While other countries encourage taking a gap year, giving students more time to mature, before taking on college, Americans often fear that if a student takes a gap year, they have a greater chance of not going to college at all (which isn’t actually true).

The reasons why so many students are taking longer to graduate are endless, but the push to finish college in 4 years is often about finances.  Who wants to pay astronomical tuition, as most American colleges charge, for any longer than absolutely necessary?!  There is also a stigma about taking longer to finish a degree as if it is shameful, signifying laziness and a lack of motivation.

The reality is students are just not adequately prepared for the rigors of college in the first place. Transitioning from high school, where schedules and routines are already in place for students, to college where they are not, can be difficult. Students who have weak executive functions, such as deficits with organization, time management, preplanning, etc., often find themselves dropping classes or taking incompletes.

The sudden lack of parental supervision doesn’t help either. It’s not unusual for a parent to become their child’s personal manager during high school.  Reminders to study and do homework, making sure the student goes to the teacher for help, and establishing rules might be helpful in the short term, but what about when students are on their own without a safety net?

Some students take summer classes to make up for credit deficits in college while others try adding classes to an already packed schedule. This is really a bad idea, as it increases stress and anxiety, leading to poor academic performance.  Finishing in 4 years becomes the equivalent of pushing a boulder straight uphill, yet it is often still the expectation.

There are some solid strategies to break this stopping-out-stopping back-in cycle, but it will require changes in attitudes and expectations. My next article will examine some alternatives, so stay tuned!

If you have a child who is transitioning back into college this coming fall or could benefit from developing better academic skills, check out the ACA summer ReStart Program.