Beware the Top 5 Reasons for Dropping Out of College

According to a 2011 study out of Harvard University, nearly half of America’s college students drop out before receiving a degree. Get to know the top risk factors to avoid becoming a statistic.

1. Money concerns.

Some students underestimate college costs and realize too late that they lack the funds to cover it all. Others decide they’d rather be making money working full time than pursuing a costly degree. Still others become discouraged at the prospect of incurring loan debt. Avoid so-called sticker shock and other financial pitfalls by sitting down with your parents or a counselor before enrolling, to examine all possible avenues for funding as well as the pros and cons of enrolling straight out of high school versus taking a gap year.

2. Poor preparation.

It literally pays to plan for college, but financial cost isn’t the only factor. It’s important for college-bound students to understand that their workloads, social habits, and daily routines—plus a host of other things—can all change pretty drastically. One key to navigating unfamiliar territory is to maintain strong ties with others who have been there—parents, older friends and siblings, and college counselors can all help you mentally prepare for this big life change.

3. Outside demands (aka life).

Any number of things can arise in your personal life to deter you from your academic goals. Family members become ill. Relationships end. Professional opportunities develop. In some cases these outside obligations are too big to ignore, but before you decide to drop out, talk to your professors. In many cases, they can help find a solution that allows taking time off without sacrificing your academic progress.

4. Too much, too fast.

Freedom is what you make of it. Sure, there are perks to college life, such as being able to come and go as you please, eat and drink what you want, and take naps in the middle of the day on a whim. But without a bit of structure, your good times can come with unpleasant side effects that range from the dreaded “Freshman 15” all the way up to disciplinary action and academic probation. Set boundaries for yourself and you’ll soon learn that responsible fun is actually the best kind there is.

5. The “just a number” effect.

Know this: Your college professors are not obligated to seek you out and get to know you personally. If you want a college experience that feels personal and distinctive, you have to make it happen. Introducing yourself to faculty and classmates at the beginning of the semester, scheduling office time to discuss challenging coursework with a professor, or simply speaking up and sharing your ideas in class are all great ways to get noticed and feel like a part of an academic community instead of just another face in the crowd.


This article was written by Hannah Purnell

Hannah Purnell is a staff writer for Hannah writes extensively on the topic of undergraduate studies and the college search process.


  1. Grad

    #4 is the reason I saw too many friends drop out. Too much freedom can be dangerous if you can’t reign yourself in and stay focused on the main reason you’re in college.

  2. Dorothy Murasi

    Hannah I like your article.I have also observed that most students who dropout at times do so because they do not communicate.It is important for staff in Student Affairs to provide on-going education and information to students on services available for them.Orientation should not be a once of activity but a series of planned activities through out the semester.

  3. Reader

    How about a link to the “recent study out of Harvard.” I can’t find any trace of such a thing anywhere online.

  4. Hannah Purnell

    Thanks for the comments. I updated the article with a link to the “Pathways to Prosperity” study, which was conducted by the Harvard Graduate School of Education. References to the study show up in related articles published by Reuters, Think Progress, the Atlantic, and others.

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