General Education

How to Return to College If You Flunked Out or Had Bad Grades

How to Return to College If You Flunked Out or Had Bad Grades
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Nedda Gilbert profile
Nedda Gilbert February 11, 2019

Pro tip: Incomplete grades aren't a bad thing—they may actually present you with an opportunity to finish the class!

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Did you drop out of college due to failing grades, or leave under academic probation? Whatever the reason, if your first shot at school didn’t work out, that’s okay. Balancing work, life and finances is no easy task—and colleges understand that many students who drop out may one day decide to return to complete their bachelor’s degree.

Even with bad grades or a less-than-perfect transcript, you can make a fresh start. Here are some helpful tips on how to reapply to college to finish your degree.

Decide where you want to go

Do you want to return to the same institution where you started your degree, or begin a new academic experience elsewhere? This will determine your to-do list and course of action. Deciding to return to your previous school is a personal one; maybe you had a negative experience at your old school and want to move on, or feel the prior program lacks the academic major you now seek. Reasons to stay? You liked the program and you’re at a point in your life where you can stay on course. Many students want to begin at a new college but don’t know how. Read on to learn more about starting at a different school.

Get an official copy of your transcript

To position yourself for re-admission, evaluate your transcript and academic record. Did you have any incomplete grades? Pro tip: This isn’t a bad thing! Incomplete grades may present you with an opportunity to finish the class. Contact the school to see if this is possible. Were you placed on academic probation?

A transcript dotted with bad grades may be disappointing, but it’s helpful to know your academic history. Surprisingly, at some schools a GPA of a 2.0 and below, allows you to qualify for a clean slate. These colleges will not hold your low grades against you.

Trade in your bad grade for a new one

Some schools allow students a do-over. If you failed a class, you can take it again (typically for the full fee). The new grade will be placed on your permanent transcript and the old one will be removed. This may allow you to improve your grade point average, which could advantage you in transferring to a new school or applying for a scholarship.

Determine your status as a returning student

Figuring out what you need to do to return to college can be complicated. You’ll need to research the school’s policy on re-admission. Some schools may classify you as a re-entry student with conditions for returning. Two of the most common conditions may be that you’re in good financial standing (you’ll need to settle any unpaid tuition), and earned a minimum GPA. Others may require you apply as though you are an entirely new student.
There’s also something called academic renewal.

Students accepted under academic renewal can have their failing grades removed from their transcript and get a clean slate. Most schools require students to have been out of school for a range of one to five years to qualify for this. Because the conditions for academic renewal vary by school, you will need to check with the institution to learn of their specific requirements.

Consider the advantages of community college

There are many advantages to attending community college: There are fewer distractions without the lure of dorm life and partying. Staying local may fit better with your lifestyle if you need to work full or part-time. Many community colleges also have partnerships with 4-year state colleges, and community college students with B averages and a certain number of credits may be eligible for guaranteed admission to a 4-year partner school.

Seek out an open-enrollment college

Many colleges offer an open enrollment policy, which means there are no academic requirements for admission.

Earn your degree online

Your return to school may benefit from a different learning environment, and there are many/ advantages to choosing online study: lower costs, convenience, and flexibility. If you need to work full-time or care for family, earning your bachelor’s degree from the convenience of your laptop is now a popular and respected option.

Build your case

If you have your heart set on returning to your original academic institution, you may need to present a strong case for re-admission. Address your situation with humility and honesty. Many young students flunk out, but if you can demonstrate your maturity and a readiness for college this time around, you’ll likely find a receptive audience.
Although many institutions work with returning students, re-admission can still be challenging. Luckily, most schools believe that students like you deserve a second chance.

Questions or feedback? Email editor@noodle.com

About the Author

Ms. Nedda Gilbert is a seasoned clinical social worker, author, and educational consultant with 25 years of experience helping college-bound and graduate students find their ideal schools. She is a prolific author, including The Princeton Review Guide to the Best Business Schools and Essays that Made a Difference. Ms. Gilbert has been a guest writer for Forbes and a sought-after keynote speaker on college admissions. Previously, she played a crucial role at the Princeton Review Test Preparation Company and was Chairman of the Board of Graduate Philadelphia. Ms. Gilbert holds degrees from the University of Pennsylvania and Columbia University and is a certified interdisciplinary collaborative family law professional in New Jersey.


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