Going Back to College After Dropping Out: 4 Strategies for Student Success

A degree may open the door to a variety of opportunities and diverse career paths. The degree programs offered at AIU will not necessarily lead to the featured careers. This collection of articles is intended to help inform and guide you through the process of determining which level of degree and types of certifications align with your desired career path.

If you're thinking about going back to college after dropping out, you're not alone. People leave college for many reasons, including when the specific program or school in which they were previously enrolled wasn't a good fit or other life events simply took priority. Adults going back to college have several factors to consider when determining which program to enroll in, from clarifying their goals to selecting a learning style that's a good fit for their needs.

Consider the following five strategies when deciding to return to college.

Identify Specific Challenges or Concerns

Returning to school to finish your degree is a big step, and it's not unusual to experience lingering concerns or doubts based on your prior experience. One step that may help you feel more confident in your decision, as well as aiding you in your search for the right program, is taking time to think through what didn't work last time. For example, if family or work obligations made it difficult to devote the study time you needed to your courses, then it's especially important to prioritize a time management plan.

Understanding the factors that could potentially be challenging, also gives you the opportunity to develop strategies to deal with these stressors in advance. You may designate a specific study space in your home, for instance, and plan out days and times during the week that you'll devote to school work. It may also be helpful to discuss your choice to go back to school with your family and your employer so you can better plan for how to balance work, life, and school obligations.

Clarify Your Professional Goals and Objectives

Sometimes it can take some professional experience before you truly know what you want to do in your career, and this initial uncertainty may make your first time in a degree program difficult. Before searching for schools and programs, specifically ask yourself why you're considering going back to school. Do you hope that a degree will help open up options for advancement in your current field? Are you intending to switch positions or industries? Have you developed a more clear understanding of your professional strengths and interests?

Defining exactly what you hope to get out of a degree program can help give you a specific set of criteria to evaluate potential programs and colleges. Furthermore, it may help reduce some of the risk that your courses won't match up with your professional goals and interests. Don't be afraid to discuss your goals with an Admissions Advisor to help determine if a program or university meets your needs and expectations.

Choose the Right Learning Format for Your Needs

Today's colleges and universities offer degrees in a range of formats, including traditional campus-based courses, online classrooms, and hybrid courses combining both online and in-person learning. Each format offers different benefits; therefore, it may be worth taking the necessary time to decide which ones are most appealing to you based on your availability and preferred style of learning.

Busy parents and working professionals may appreciate the flexibility that online learning or blended programs offer, including features like:

  • Mobile learning apps
  • Virtual classrooms and discussion boards
  • Archived lectures and lesson plans available at any time
  • 24/7 technical support
  • Adaptive learning platforms (like AIU's intellipathTM)

Selecting a format based on your personal needs, career goals, individual strengths, and learning objectives can help provide the support needed to complete your degree.

Learn About Getting Credit for Prior School, Work, and Life Experiences

If you've already spent time taking classes elsewhere, look into whether the programs you're considering will accept transfer credits and may therefore allow you to apply any qualifying course credits you've earned at other institutions toward the completion of your new degree program. While not every class may qualify, having some credits transfer-in may help you graduate sooner and reduce the costs of going back to college.

Some programs also recognize that learning takes place outside the classroom, so be sure to explore whether you can receive credit for qualifying professional experience, military service, and other achievements through an experiential learning program. Discuss your options with an advisor to learn how best to capitalize on your professional experience and prior learning efforts.

Get Support When and How You Need It

Readjusting to an academic environment can be challenging. Hence, it's important to know what kind of support systems exist before starting your program. Look into the types of student resources and advising options each school you're considering offers, as well as how and when these services are available.

For example, at AIU we offer the following support services for both online and campus-based students:

  • 24/7 live chat for technical assistance and dedicated advisors
  • Online guides for available grants and scholarships, as well as advisors available to answer questions about applying for financial aid
  • AIU alumni resources
  • Career Services office with personalized career search coaching and resume support

It's also a good idea to get to know the library location(s) and staff, learn how to sign up for tutoring and other academic support services, and discover ways to network with other students. Taking these steps can help you be better prepared to get support when difficult challenges arise.

While going back to college after dropping out may seem challenging, it can be an important step on the path toward achieving your personal and educational goals. Make the most of your previous college experience, establish clearly what you want to get out of a degree program, and take the steps to maximize available support resources in your new program.

Are you ready to learn more? Explore online degrees at AIU today.

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