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Why do students drop out of college?

  • More than one million students drop out of college each year. In fact, 36 million Americans hold some postsecondary education or training without completion. The overall college dropout rate in the U.S. is 40% for undergraduates, wherein the U.S. ranks 19th in graduation among 28 countries in OECD studies. In this article we identify the main reasons why students drop out of college, the ramifications of doing so, as well as some of the ways to avoid dropping out. 

    According to a recent study by the University Professional and Continuing Education Association (UPCEA). About 42% of college students drop out because of financial reasons, while 32% drop out because of family commitments and 30% due to the college not being the right fit for them. 

    A second study showed similar results in that finances, college fit and family issues are the main reasons that a student drops out of college. Distance from home is another key reason that many students drop out of college, another important element of college fit.

    With regards to student-athletes specifically – the NCAA graduation rate for athletic scholarship student-athletes (any amount of money received) that graduate from the college they enroll in full time as freshman is roughly 60% within 6 years of enrollment.

    So why does this matter?

    While dropping out of college is not always a negative thing, it can have very negative consequences for a student. A college dropout on average earns 35% less than a college graduate per year. Dropping out of college often means a higher likelihood of unemployment. You may face other consequences too, for instance, if you took out student loans or grants, you may have more immediate debt than you realize. The school you attend may also require you to pay them directly for any tuition you would have owed (CreditDonkey).

    Looking at the reasons why students drop out of college helps us to formulate some strategies to avoid this outcome. While some of the reasons for dropping out may be completely out of your control, there are a number of things that aspiring college students can do before going to college to help maximize their chances of graduating, and in 4 years.

    First, Finances.

    As you can see from the above research, one of the biggest reasons that students drop out of college is because of the significant finances involved. There are a number of strategies to help deal with the financial side of college.

    Many students, and student-athletes, aim to overcome the financial burden of college through working while studying. While this is a great way to help offset the cost of college, it can also have a negative impact if too many hours are worked, as shown below.

    Students should be conscious of the demands of the educational component of their college experience when looking at the overall financial picture and their ability to work. In addition to offsetting the cost through work, there are a number of other options available to help pay for college. These options should be thoroughly evaluated before committing to go to any college.

    Federal grants

    A Federal grant is free financial aid, from the U.S. Department of Education, that is awarded to students and families based on their financial needs. Federal grants don’t have to be repaid, which is a huge help for the students who qualify for them.


    Just like grants, scholarships are free aid that doesn’t need to be repaid. However, scholarships are distributed based on merit or other factors, not financial need.

    Merit-based scholarships are offered by a college based on prior academic performance — like your child’s Grade Point Average (GPA) or standardized test scores. This is determined when the school reviews your child’s college application.

    Aspiring student-athletes can also look for athletic scholarships to help offset the financial commitment of their college degree.

    Once you’ve exhausted all sources of free aid, college savings, and payment plan options, take a look at the leftover cost. How much more do you need to bridge the gap? It might be time to check out available federal and private loan options.

    College Fit.

    The research shows that a significant number of students drop out because they decide to go to a school that is not a good fit. This is usually the result of a flawed college search process that does not consider the correct factors when determining which schools to attend, or in other words, which schools are the best fit.

    Athlete Match created the 10 Fit Points below, designed to assist students, and student-athletes, find their best fit schools.

    The Athlete Match Platform helps you to find colleges that are a good fit, using the 10 Fit Points mentioned above. Athlete Match incorporated 30 years of experience with colleges and college coaches in creating the college search and filter tool you need in order to find your best fit college.

    The comprehensive college search and filter tool allows you to find schools based on the academic, social and athletic factors mentioned above.

    For more information on finding colleges that are a good fit for you, click here.

    Family, Time Commitments & More

    Some of the other reasons for students dropping out of college include: family, time commitments and distance from home. In terms of family, when a student is going through the process of evaluating which college to attend it is important that they plan with their parents. Parents definitely have a role to play in helping their kids find the right college and can help them to navigate each stage of the process. 

    Time commitments are also another important factor to consider when deciding on a college, particularly for students who will be playing a sport in college or working more than 15 hours a week to help pay for college. The amount of time available to get good grades needs to be evaluated before committing to a certain college destination.

    Athlete Match

    Athlete Match can help you with your college search. Create a Free Profile today to begin your journey to your best fit college, or try our search & filter tool for free.

    For more college recruiting information visit the AM College Recruiting Blog.