The transition from high school to college can be overwhelming. Even academically prepared students may have difficulty with time management and navigating the independence that comes with being away from home. If you left because of bad grades in college and are wondering how to recover, there’s still hope. Consider all of the things that you can do to get back into school after dropping out.
Take Care of Unfinished Business
If you dropped out of college because of bad grades, take the time to review your academic transcript. If you have an incomplete on your record, do the work necessary to finish the class. Even if you were put on academic suspension, you can finish a class that was awarded an incomplete grade. If you’re unsure of what needs to be done, meet with the faculty member to discuss your options. Often, there’s a time limit on rectifying an incomplete grade, so be sure to check out the guidelines at your college. You may even find out that finishing the incomplete class will enable you to remain enrolled.
Discover What Went Wrong
Take the time to reflect upon why you weren’t academically successful. If you want to go back to college with bad grades on your record, you need to be sure that you won’t have a repeat performance. Often, lack of academic preparation is the problem. If this is the case, seek help to learn more effective study skills before returning to college. Similarly, if your priorities were awry, consider how you can approach college with a success-oriented mindset. Finally, find a mentor in college who can help you stay motivated and give you that extra push during crunch time.
Try a Different School
If you’re on academic suspension, it doesn’t mean that you can’t go to college somewhere else. Consider attending a community college to take care of some general education credits or to earn your associate degree. If you want to return to your original college, demonstrating success in a community college will bolster your chances. Before enrolling at a different institution, check into the course transfer policy. Most admissions offices have a transfer specialist who can help you understand the process for counting courses that you take somewhere else. You don’t want to spend the time and money enrolling in a course that won’t count toward a degree at your ultimate college of choice.
Check the Guidelines
Even though you may be on academic suspension, check into the guidelines for being a student who is not seeking a degree. Most colleges will allow students to take a few courses prior to being officially admitted to a degree program. Focus on one or two courses that will ultimately apply to your major or other general education requirements. Do well in those courses and use that achievement as evidence that you should be considered for reinstatement. The other advantage to taking just one or two courses is that you’ll have more time to focus on academic success. Be aware that you may not be eligible for financial aid as a student who is not seeking a degree.
Check on Credit Longevity
If you experienced difficulty in college, sitting out for a year might be the best success strategy you can employ. Use this time to consider how you will make positive changes when you return. Most colleges will honor the classes that you completed for at least 10 years, so you aren’t likely to lose the credits that you successfully completed. When you're ready to return to college, meet with your academic adviser to ensure that there haven’t been big changes to your academic major and to review your next steps.
Find Advocates and Champions
One of the most important things that you can do to get back into school after dropping out is to line up some personal champions. An academic adviser, professor or work supervisor can serve as an effective advocate for your readmission application. Think of a faculty or staff member who knows you well and schedule a meeting to discuss your situation. Be honest and share why you had academic difficulty. Explain what you will change if given a second chance. Your readmission application may require a letter of reference, so ask your personal champion if he will support you in your quest to return to college.
Reapply to College
When you’re ready to get back into school after dropping out or being suspended, check with academic affairs to determine the specific process. If you’ve been suspended for failure to meet satisfactory academic progress, you can begin with a formal appeal. This usually involves writing a letter to the academic dean. Some colleges may require you to fill out a new application. Don’t be afraid to include a letter that explains your situation and why you are passionate about starting anew.
Prepare Your Plea
If your college requires an appeal letter, it’s important to detail the specific reasons for your academic trouble. Use the appeal letter to provide details about a personal or family illness, learning disability or other hardship that prevented you from meeting academic standards. Include letters of support from an academic adviser or professor that emphasizes why you deserve a second chance. You may also be allowed to appear in front of the appeal committee to explain your situation. Be heartfelt and sincere about your interest in returning and be sure to demonstrate why the second time around will be different.
Eliminate a Bad Grade
Most colleges allow students to repeat a course to replace a failing grade. Check with your adviser or the registrar to determine the application process. Repeating a course will cost you additional money, but it will remove the failing grade from your transcript and demonstrate your ability to do the work. Future employers will look favorably upon your determination to improve and your ability to succeed when given a second chance.
Create a Plan
A common question asked is, "If I drop out of college, can I go back?" It’s important to know what you will do differently. Consider the speed bumps that you encountered and how you can avoid them in the future. If time management was an issue, use a calendar to write down all of your assignments and tests. If you had difficulty with study skills, visit the academic support center to learn more about the best way to study and take notes. Use readmission to college as a fresh start, but be prepared to avoid the obstacles that caused you difficulty.
Low GPA and Grad School
If you’re wondering if a low GPA will prevent you from going to graduate school, begin by researching program options at a variety of colleges. Depending on your field of study, you may find programs that will waive GPA requirements in lieu of a strong score on the Graduate Record Examination. Begin preparing for the GRE early and don’t be afraid to take the test more than once. Use a study guide and take practice tests to become familiar with the content and question format. Consider including a letter of explanation along with your application. If you can demonstrate academic progress and a strong GRE score, you may be granted admission to a graduate program even with a low GPA.
Dr. Kelly Meier earned her doctorate from Minnesota State Mankato in Educational Leadership. She is the author and co-author of 12 books and serves as a consultant in K-12 and higher education. Dr. Meier is is a regular contributor for The Equity Network and has worked in education for more than 30 years.