Dropping out of college isn’t a decision to take lightly. For every successful dropout (i.e. Steve Jobs and Bill Gates), there are thousands of people who bailed and subsequently had lackluster careers. Sometimes, however, there are very clear signs you should drop out of college. Keep reading as I share these points and discuss why they warrant walking away.
In this article’s second half, I’ll also share a few signs you shouldn’t drop out of college.
10 signs you should drop out of college
1. Your career goals no longer align with the curriculum
College can reveal many previously unconsidered career paths. Dropping out may be justified if one of those alternatives better suits your objectives and requires a different major.
The key is to make sure you’re not just chasing a new shiny object. Be extra careful if your current major once seemed exciting yet faded once you realized how much work was involved. If you never cared for it and are now aware of something more inspiring, however, dropping out and pursuing that new direction may be a good call.
A handful of my closest friends in college did this and never looked back. They have great, fulfilling careers now.
Before dropping out in this scenario, see if any of your existing credits are transferable. It’d be a shame to start over from square one unnecessarily. If a clean slate is required, though, that’s still better than wasting more time and money on certifications you have no intention of using.
2. Degrees carry no weight in your industry
Not every industry requires a degree. In fact, having one can sometimes hold you back. It’s called being overqualified, which signals to prospective employers you’ll likely want an exorbitant salary or won’t stick around very long.
If your current educational path is setting you up for this hurdle, consider alternative inroads. For example, internships offer a valuable combination of education and networking that can land you entry-level positions in some industries (i.e. media, tech, construction, etc).
Even if you’ll ultimately need a degree to enter your industry’s upper echelons, what’s the rush? Get your feet wet in junior roles and figure out exactly what senior tracks interest you before heading back to school. Your employer might even help you pay for tuition.
3. Your program or school is terrible
Even if a degree is mandatory for your career path, choose wisely. The wrong program or school could leave you overpaying for subpar training.
Employers have their fingers on the pulse in this regard. They know which schools tend to produce terrible workers. If you’re currently attending such a school, dropping out and applying elsewhere could be a wise career move.
Keep in mind, getting into a better school may require some legwork (i.e. retaking high school courses to improve your GPA).
4. School is exacerbating or causing mental health issues
Despite what parents and professors often say, school isn’t the only thing that matters in life. If dropping out and taking a breather would keep you from having a full-blown breakdown or harming yourself, do it.
This is among the most important signs you should drop out of college. As USA TODAY reports, youth suicide rates have hit record highs. While school-related pressure isn’t the only cause, it certainly doesn’t help.
I know this firsthand, having had a mental breakdown in college. Luckily, an incredible support network of professors and friends at my community college sprang into action, helping me graduate without any major setbacks.
Not everyone is so lucky, though. Anecdotally, it seems students at large schools have a particularly hard time finding assistance. If you’re in this situation, please get help and take care of yourself – even if it means dropping out.
5. You’re not ready to take college seriously
If you’re not ready to take school seriously, dropping out and trying again later could save everyone involved considerable amounts of time and money. This is especially important if you (like most American students) rely on parental assistance for covering educational costs. Don’t squander that gift.
I’m not saying you need your entire life figured out before pursuing higher education, mind you. Your college years will inevitably involve personal growth, especially if you’re jumping in straight out of high school.
If all you have to show for thousands of dollars spent thus far are mountains of debt and embarrassing party photos, though, reevaluate your life choices.
6. Your industry is in decline
If your industry is following the dodo bird’s trajectory, dropping out and pivoting elsewhere may be wise.
The sad reality is that not all important-sounding majors lead to bright futures. This is especially true at a time when experts predict automation will replace 50% of all currently-held jobs within two decades. Particularly prone occupations include:
- insurance underwriter
- tax preparer
- mathematical technician
- data entry clerk
- cargo and freight agent
You may not recognize this as your industry’s fate until college reveals some harsh facts. Unless the industry and your program are successfully pivoting to address the economy’s needs, sticking around may prove unproductive.
If you live in the United States, check out the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Occupational Outlook Handbook for projections on just about every industry imaginable. I also put together this list of recession-proof jobs you might find helpful.
7. You have great, relevant work opportunities right now
If recruiters are already banging on your door with relevant work opportunities, dropping out to pursue them could make sense.
There are some caveats, though.
First, obviously, make sure those job offers aren’t predicated on you finishing your studies.
Second, verify they’re not dead ends. If you drop out to accept a job and ultimately hate it, is your industry such that finding another without a degree would be easy? Or would you be stuck at that company with limited prospects?
Side note: I faced this situation in college. My career was blossoming; I went from freelancing to earning $40,000 annually and ultimately hitting $80,000 – all while in school. At face value, dropping out would’ve been a no-brainer. However, I knew my job was a fluke. I finished my program and have zero regrets.
Lastly, make sure the second point on this list (“Degrees carry no weight in your industry”) applies. If a degree would mean zilch, college’s real value is helping you get your foot in the door. Once it’s delivered in that regard, move on.
8. You own a rapidly growing company
Related to my last point, dropping out is also likely justified if you own a rapidly growing business that requires your full attention.
For starters, running your own successful company could prove very lucrative. Additionally, you’ll gain so much valuable experience – perhaps even more than you would’ve at school. There’s also the fact “successful entrepreneur” will look great on your resume.
As with my previous point, though, be careful. Don’t drop out because you have a great idea. Those are a dime a dozen. Drop out when your idea becomes a great business you can’t properly operate while in school.
9. You’re majoring in nonsense
If you pulled your major from a hat at the end of high school because a gap year seemed too contrarian, dropping out and reevaluating may not be the worst idea.
While even seemingly irrelevant degrees can increase your chances of finding solid employment, this isn’t always true. Sometimes, prospective employers will see your unrelated certification as a point of weakness. They might wonder, “did this person actually read the job description? Or are they just applying to everything under the sun out of desperation?”
If your degree is truly out of left field (i.e. comedy or puppetry), they may wonder whether you lack maturity and critical thinking. It sounds harsh because it is; resume screening often hinges on split decisions, which are prone to bias.
If you see yourself headed towards these hurdles, there’s no shame in dropping out to try various low-level jobs (or even freelance) before choosing a path.
10. You’re not usually a quitter but really want to this time
Sometimes, listening to your gut is the right call. Of course, if it always tells you to quit whenever the going gets tough, stay in school. If you have a track record of persevering yet can’t find the motivation this time around, though, pay attention.
It’s possible you know deep down that your current field of study isn’t the right direction. Perhaps your interactions with peers and professors are reinforcing that intuition every day.
While you shouldn’t jump ship based solely on a hunch, it does justify some additional exploration.
For example, consider finding a mentor in your industry. If they agree you’re on the wrong path, following your gut and dropping out could be a wise decision.
You should also research where people on your career track typically end up 10, 20, or even 30 years down the road. If the results horrify you, jump ship.
6 terrible reasons to drop out of college
To be clear, I’m not a huge advocate of dropping out. On average, Americans with college degrees earn $30,000 more per year than those with only high school diplomas, according to the New York Fed. The main thrust of this article is simply that there are undeniably situations in which dropping out makes sense.
For the sake of balance, now that I’ve shared 10 signs you should drop out of college, let’s jump to the flip side. Here are 10 terrible reasons to pull the plug on your educational pursuits.
1. You have a business idea
As I mentioned earlier, business ideas are a dime a dozen. Let’s briefly dive deeper into why dropping out of school to pursue your latest idea is nonsensical.
For starters, even the greatest business ideas often take a long time to blossom into something worth pursuing at full speed. There’s no reason you couldn’t finish your degree while guiding the company through its initial ramp-up phase.
Plus, while no budding entrepreneur wants to hear this, startups fail within the first year roughly 90% of the time. Your degree will serve as a safety net, helping you find traditional work if things don’t work out.
Also, let’s dispel some myths about the two most acclaimed college-dropouts-turned-entrepreneurs in America, Steve Jobs and Bill Gates.
Apple’s iconic deity actually continued attending classes after dropping out. Those classes taught him concepts that directly benefited Apple.
As for Bill Gates, he was officially on leave at Harvard. Consequently, he had the option of returning if things didn’t work out with Microsoft (check out this clip). His parents had also done pretty well for themselves and were in a position to support him.
In other words, these guys didn’t drop out and burn all bridges to traditional careers behind them. They were pragmatic about it, which is a side you don’t always hear in circles that romanticize reckless leaps of faith.
2. Your friends dropped out
College is an exciting time, socially speaking. While elementary and high school lump everyone together regardless of interests, college is when you’ll meet people on your wavelength.
If any of these close friends drop out for their own reasons, it can be tempting to follow suit. After all, you don’t want to be alone.
If the only reason you’re dropping out is to follow your friends, though, reconsider. You’ll find new people to hang out with at school, I promise. I changed social circles twice in the process of finishing my three-year college program and I’m hardly a social butterfly.
Also, note that the aforementioned signs you should drop out of college all revolve around your goals and priorities. That’s the way it should be. Even close friends fade in and out of your life’s main stage. Don’t follow anyone else’s moves regarding something as major as your education.
3. You don’t like your professors
In college, you’ll inevitably meet professors who are (to put it kindly) full of themselves. This is true no matter which school you attend or what program you study.
The consequent conflicts shouldn’t push you to drop out. Rather, view them as opportunities to practice working under difficult superiors.
This will undoubtedly prove useful in the real world. Even if you ultimately start a successful company, there will be business partners, clients, and investors who resemble your smarmy professors. Difficult people are a part of life.
4. You find the coursework challenging
We live in a world that prizes prodigies. You may even have a couple of them in your classes. Most people, however, don’t master new skills and concepts right away. That’s why I don’t recommend dropping out of school if you’re simply having a hard time grasping the coursework.
If you’re passionate about working in your field of study, stick with it. Assuming you had all the prerequisites, you should be capable of learning the concepts with enough dedication. This also assumes, of course, your program is effective (see my third point in the “signs you should drop out of college” section if you’re concerned it might not be).
5. Someone else disapproves of your major for no valid reason
No matter what you’re majoring in, someone will have something bad to say about it. I’ve even heard people argue against attending medical school because “it’s too expensive” and “the industry is too crowded.”
Every field has its drawbacks. Unless data supports the notion that your field of study is particularly hopeless (see the sixth point among my signs you should drop out of college), ignore the naysayers and press onward.
6. The path to riches in your field of study seems too long
In many industries, entry-level jobs aren’t particularly exciting or glamorous. You may not realize this until college exposes you to a realistic career path.
I’d encourage you to be humble. Switching to another industry won’t necessarily shorten your path from a junior role to something more senior. Put the work in and climb the ladder like everyone else. If you love your chosen industry, the time will likely go by faster than expected.
Signs you should drop out of college: Conclusion
Dropping out of college is a major decision. I hope this article has helped you understand when dropping out makes sense and when you’d be better off staying the course.
To summarize, consider dropping out if the degree you’re pursuing offers little to no value. You’ll save time and money by directing your attention elsewhere.
If your career goals haven’t changed and a degree would be an asset, however, stick with it. While school can be challenging, you won’t regret finishing in this scenario.
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