Dropping out can seem like a dramatic decision. It challenges the belief that you need four consecutive years of college to be "successful." It can cause tension with friends and family and despite the glares and raised eyebrows sent their way, young people today are actively searching for more advantageous and affordable ways to make learning meaningful outside of the college classroom.
Fifty three percent of college grads are jobless or underemployed, and forty five percent are still living with their parents. With student debt topping $1 trillion, and only half of hiring managers believing that recent graduates have the skills needed to hit the ground running at work, it’s easy to see why students would wonder if college is even worth it anymore.
We’ve seen students make pro-and-con lists for college choice, and we have all kinds of checklists for things to do before taking a gap year, but what about dropping out? Is it automatically a bad thing to ditch school in favor of learning in real life?Definitely not. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, about 70% of people learn best through experience, so with the right plan in place, dropping out can be a benefit, not a liability. Still, if you’re weighing your options, it is important to have all the information from both sides. We’re breaking down the biggest pros and cons that come along with dropping out. Have more? Comment below with your thoughts!
You can make money rather than spend it.
There’s no question that college in America is too expensive: Education debt in the United States is more than the rest of the world combined, and undergrads who borrowed or took out loans to go to college left with an average debt of $30,100. That debt and college cost has major repercussions, including young Americans being delayed in hitting milestones like buying a home or a car. Dropping out gives you the opportunity to start producing instead of accumulating debt, and prevents you from postponing “real life” under student loans and classes. Even working an internship or part-time job gives you the financial advantage of starting early and getting ahead.
You’re in charge of your own time
In school, your time is outlined for you. You’ve got a syllabus that keeps you on track in class, a class schedule that organizes your time during the week, and a collegiate academic calendar that breaks your time down into semesters or quarters. Dropping out requires you to be a self-starter: Nobody is going to arrange your life for you, so dropping out means you have to prioritize, organize (from resumes to submit to daily work responsibilities), and determine your goals. The perks of being a self-starter are many, ranging from high achievement at work to being more innovative and resilient.
School will always be there.
College isn’t going anywhere. If you discover you need or want a college degree, there are more ways to complete your degree than ever, including finishing school online. If anything, the work experience and life experience you’ll gain out of school will be an asset to your education. Students who drop out, even if only temporarily, are seen as “more mature, more self-reliant and independent.”
You have a chance to find your interests, with no strings attached.
Overwhelmingly, students don’t feel ready to make career decisions immediately out of high school, which is part of selecting a major. Changing your major once you’ve already enrolled in courses in that subject can have costly consequences and strain your time when you have to reroute. Giving yourself a chance to have hands-on experiences will give you more clarity if you do decide to go back to school, without signing your name on the dotted line for an industry, major, or field you only have a loose idea of. Only 27% of college graduates are working in a job that even relates to their major, so it is experience that counts.
You become self-sufficient.
This is a big one: In school, we’re students. Out of school, we have the capacity to be whatever we want--employees, interns, business owners, travelers, innovators. We can start anew whenever we feel like it, and there’s a tremendous amount of freedom in that. It is also a heavy dose of self-reliance that it is hard to establish in college, where life is neatly organized into four years. Being self-sufficient is a life-long benefit of leaving school that is advantageous to everything from your career to finding a place to live and paying bills. You mature faster. You think out of the box. You make things work, and make them happen.
Once you leave school, it is hard to go back.
Statistically, students who leave college once are less likely to go back--which isn’t inherently a bad thing, if life and work are going well outside school. If part of you is still concerned about finishing your degree in a certain time frame, or having the “normal” college experience that includes opportunities to join clubs and hang out with friends, this is a definite con.
You have to come up with a different way to showcase your skills.
Traditionally, the degree has been a placeholder that says you’ve studied something enough to have experience in it--a benchmark that demonstrates your capability and a higher level of knowledge. While whether that’s the function of a degree today is debatable, if you drop out, you have to show other ways to prove you have the skills needed to do a job: Online portfolios, tangible work experience, work samples, employer references, and results play a bigger factor in your hiring process.
You’ll probably end up explaining your decision a lot.
The thing about societal norms is that people are baffled when you don’t conform to them. If you drop out, be prepared to explain what you do and why you aren’t in college, because chances are, people might be skeptical. Here’s a handy guide on talking to friends and family about your decision to leave school.
There’s no one to blame when things don’t work out.
With great freedom comes great responsibility! In college, you might be able to pass a failing grade off on an impossible test everyone failed, or when you mess up, chalk it up to a professor’s faulty teaching. But when you drop out, you’re suddenly responsible for your own actions and results, which means stepping up to the plate when something bad happens, like you botch a project or mess up in an interview, as well as taking ownership of the successes. There’s no safety net.
Your immediate network is removed.
Of course, it is absolutely possible to have personal and professional relationships that are established and flourish without ever setting foot on a college campus. But having a built-in network of professors and advisers and peers who are experiencing the same thing you are vanishes when you drop out. If you’re considering dropping out, have a clear-cut plan on meeting people and networking.