Returning to college after a break
March 5, 2006 9:05 PM   Subscribe

What percentage of students who take a "break" from college end up returning? For example, say someone plans to take a year off to work. How often do people actually return to college after that?
posted by punishinglemur to Education (24 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I once took a semester off for health reasons. When I got back, I touched base with my advisor - a professor who taught in my major - and he told me point blank that he'd thought I wasn't coming back. At the time, I was kind of hurt by what I perceived as the implication that he thought I couldn't hack it. But later I realized that, given the percentage of students who "take a semester off" and don't return, he probably had good reason to think this way.
posted by Clay201 at 9:26 PM on March 5, 2006

I took a year off, then came back and graduated. And paradoxically, I learned more in that year than I ever did in college. Go figure.
posted by lilboo at 9:34 PM on March 5, 2006

UC Santa Cruz had a program called STARS (Services for Transfer and Re-Entry Students). A program like that may have the numbers you're looking for. Their page also includes a couple of other links to resources in the US for re-entry students that could help.

I went to university out of high school, couldn't afford to study, live and party hearty, so dropped out. I went back in 1999, three years later.
posted by tracicle at 9:35 PM on March 5, 2006

Anecdotally, more than half of the people I know who've taken time off have returned to the same university. I took time off myself due to depression, but came back about 3/4 of a year later. [I'd dropped out partway through the fall term of my freshman sophomore year, and I returned the next fall.] I would suspect, however, that the numbers would vary depending on the reasons for the break and on the readmission policies of the various schools.
posted by ubersturm at 9:48 PM on March 5, 2006

I dropped out when I was offered a very good writing gig in addition to a high growth rate in my business.

It's been more than a full year, and I have no plans of returning.
posted by disillusioned at 9:53 PM on March 5, 2006

I "took a semester" off that snowballed into two semesters that soon turned into two years. But that's when I buckled up and finished up.
posted by mattwatson at 10:04 PM on March 5, 2006

Everyone I know who took a break (including myself) found themselves facing opportunities they couldn't pass up. I don't think I personally know a single person who has taken leave from college and returned. Not sure of any hard statistics though, sorry.
posted by saraswati at 10:16 PM on March 5, 2006

It really depends.

1. Friend didn't care about post-sec edu, decided to take a year off. Worked for his dad (managing a machinery-type outfit). Never went back. Making assloads of money hand over fist.

2. Friend cared, started his own business (coding products for schools), made mad cash, dropped out. Never went back. In position to make multiple assloads of cash buckets over duffle bags.

3. Friend didn't care, dropped out, bounced from job-to-job. Wants to go back, doesn't know in/for what though, still hasn't gotten back, making single middle-class cash.

4. Me, kicked out of a private college (behavioral/legal), signed up for courses at a state uni, got back into private college, finished, worked for a bit, finished (well, by next week) a MSc., starting a PhD in a month. Extremely unhappy with my life. Making a couple of bucks over the "official" poverty line.

5. Schoolmate dropped out of uni, went to japan for several years, realized that they wanted to go into research science, returned to uni, finished undergrad, entered a PhD program at age 31, working through said program, not sure (but can't, kinda) if she wants to drop out again (mainly because she's making only a couple of bucks over the official poverty line).

It really depends on whether taking the time off helps you realize what you really want to do and whether doing the college thing helps you achieve that aim.
posted by PurplePorpoise at 10:43 PM on March 5, 2006

I'm having a hard time finding actual numbers on this.

This article has some info, including the following claims:

National data from the U.S. Census Bureau revealed in 2000 that one in three Americans drops out of college


Such numbers are a cause for concern because few students who drop out eventually finish their education.

You might contact the author of that article and find out what "few" means.
posted by tkolar at 12:18 AM on March 6, 2006

Over in the UK a lot of people do "industrial placement" years. This is sort of incorporated into the degree - especially in computing, engineering, etc. But other subjects have them too. It's a way of getting work experience and a bit of cash in an area close to your degree. I think the vast majority come back. I know this isn't specifically what you're asking, but it might be a useful additional data point.
posted by handee at 12:24 AM on March 6, 2006

I took three semesters off from NYU, thanks to two months of mononucleosis followed by a job offer, and I went back afterwards. However, I know a number of people who left and did not return (or who haven't returned yet, anyway).
posted by emmastory at 4:00 AM on March 6, 2006

I started college in 1969, left school in 1971, went back in 1972, left in 1973, went back again in 2002, BS in 2004. 35 years to finish a BS might be some kind of dopey record, but...

What I dropped in here to say was, some private institutions like University of Phoenix and Capella University are making a terrific business essentially out of adult learner degree completion. At UoP, something like 75% of the student population are "degree completers," and I suspect that if you looked into it, you'd find that such institutions are the normal path for many adult students, due to their efficient learning models, and tuned-to-their-market evening based programs. Also, community college programs, especially those that are expanding into 4 year programs, often have programs created to meet the needs of working adults.

If you can find a job with employer paid tuition reimbursement, getting your degree while working is really taxfree additional income, put into an investment that will keeping paying dividends your whole life.
posted by paulsc at 5:00 AM on March 6, 2006

I did it.
posted by Ironmouth at 6:51 AM on March 6, 2006

I left for a year, went on a round-the-world solo trip and returned to change my major. Sure it added on a year to my studies and meant I was 2 years behind my chums, but I got a hell of a lot more out of it in the end than if I had just stuck it out in the wrong discipline and been miserable for 4 years.

Horses for courses.
posted by LondonYank at 7:18 AM on March 6, 2006

Anecdotally, I don't personally know anybody who dropped out and returned to finish.
posted by Hildago at 8:07 AM on March 6, 2006

Took a year off with 6 months to go. Lived in Phoenix for a while, found a bass guitar in a pawnshop. Came back to Minnesota, graduated. Then started a band.
posted by omnidrew at 8:36 AM on March 6, 2006

I did (two-year break). Don't have any statistics, though. A good friend did not, but he wasn't really college material (now he's a carpenter).

My mother did too, after a twelve-year break. In both cases we graduated; I'm guessing achieving that milestone is implied in your question.
posted by Rash at 9:09 AM on March 6, 2006

I floundered through college, not knowing what I wanted to do and not caring enough about my GPA -- keeping it barely above the "not on probation" line. I went for something like 3 consecutive semesters without even purchasing a single textbook.

Eventually, I was offered $50k/yr to do web and multimedia development and art direction with an advertising agency. That was all the impetus I needed to drop out of college.

After a few years in advertising, I got downsized by the agency I was working for. Suddenly, as a freelancer, I was charging double what I had been making as my hourly rate, working from home and setting my own hours -- all without a college degree.

Eventually, I decided that I hated the work. It was good money, but shallow, pointless and a drain on society. It wasn't work that made me feel good about what I did. I hate banner ads as much as the next guy, and making them seemed rather contra to my own predilections.

I took advantage of the schedule flexibility that freelancing afforded me, and finished my degree. What I rather unexpectedly discovered was that, somewhere in the years I had been out in the real world, I became a good student. I *wanted* to be there, I think, was the main difference. All of the classes I took while finishing my degree were 4.0.

When I had my degree, I decided that I wanted more. What avenues would be open to me that had previously been closed due to my academic slump?

I decided to reach for the unattainable brass ring and try to pursue medicine. I started volunteering in the local ER (which made me feel *great* about myself, in quite a contrast to advertising!), I took all of the science courses required (physics, ochem, chem, lots of bio...and maintainted a 4.0 on all of them), and I scored in the 96th percentile on my MCAT.

Unfortunately, despite all of this achievement (4.0 science GPA and my MCAT score), the ashes from my former GPA have been enough to pretty much prevent me from entry into any medical school. I had so many credits, and so many of them were bad, that all of this 4.0 work could not bring my cumulative GPA up to bar. A couple of consecutive years of rejection letters almost killed me.

Still, I discovered through this that I really loved science. Taking the prerequisite science courses for medical school has given me enough science credit that I can parlay this course work into a teaching certification enabling me to teach biology, chemistry or physics.

I'm working on that now, and I plan to teach...going back in the summers to get a master's degree (I'm thinking about parasitology). Sure, a $37-40k/yr teaching job is a step down financially from a $50k+ advertising job, but I don't care -- it's a job I can feel good about doing, it gets great benefits, and it's not in any real danger of layoffs.

So... yes -- returning to college can be done. In fact, the time off can teach you a lot about yourself. I'm not certain what percentage of students who take time off actually return, though. I'm the only one that I know of personally who did, and I am told that it's fairly uncommon. I had a finance professor at one point who (discussing the cost of opportunity of taking a semester off to save money) stated that only 20% of students who left ever bothered to return. Of course, he could have been pulling that figure out of his arse -- I have no source for it, and he never showed us one.
posted by kaseijin at 9:10 AM on March 6, 2006

Did a couple years of undergrad, became editor of school paper, dropped out to become a full-time journalist; lasted seven or so years, went back three years and am just completing an honours BSc in molecular ecology. I suspect I am an outlier.
posted by docgonzo at 9:14 AM on March 6, 2006

Uh, "three years ago," you jackass.
posted by docgonzo at 9:15 AM on March 6, 2006

I suspect that most colleges and universities gather data on this as part of the institutional self-study they do, at the very least, as part of their accreditation process. I'd also suspect that most schools don't tend to make this info public, especially if, at first glance, it looks bad. For example, the small liberal arts college I attended doesn't seem to have any info on graduation rates on their website.

Fortunately, I happen to have a booklet of info they provide to "friends of the college."

As of the late 90s, their 4 year graduation rate was ~50% (almost double what it was in the early 80s). Their 5 year graduation rate was significantly higher, in the high 60s, and their 6 year graduation rate, better still, in the low 70s.

Anecdotally, I'd say that at least 50% of the people who take 5 years to graduate take a year off (with the rest taking extra classes due to either double majors or indecisiveness). I'd guess that 75% of the people who take 6 years to graduate have taken time off. This is a school that doesn't really accomodate the idea of a part time student, so people who have run into financial difficulty are more likely to take time off (or transfer).

I don't know how this compares to "peer institutions." I'm also not sure how people who end up transferring and finishing at other schools are factored into these numbers.
posted by Good Brain at 9:54 AM on March 6, 2006

i dropped out after a year and it was the best decision ever. i still hang out with kids at the school and use the library, but im not accumulating 30,000 a year in debt. and im learning so much more. doesnt really answer your question, but DONT go college if you dont like the pressure and competitive environment. you can learn so much more on your own if you are motivated and passionate about things. unless you want to get into academia or a rich professional world--two things im not even remotely interested in-- skip out on the whole college deal.
posted by petsounds at 10:43 AM on March 6, 2006

One time, on some radio show, I heard that something like 80% of students who "took a year off" to work never actually went to school. (I think in this case it was directly following high school, and not dropping out and returning.) But of course this was years ago that I heard this, and have absolutely no reference to back it up.
posted by jetskiaccidents at 3:16 PM on March 6, 2006

I took a year off myself, and ended up enrolling at a different institution in another state after six months, where I'm on my way to graduation. I'm not sure how any statistics would take that into account, because I didn't exactly transfer: I just applied through the normal entry system to my new uni. (I'm in Australia). I did have to mention my previous credit on the application, but the first uni doesn't know I'm now studying again, and the second uni doesn't know I ever took time off (rather than arriving directly).
posted by jacalata at 5:02 PM on March 6, 2006

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