If a kid skips a year of college what are the odds she finishes her degree?

First off, not my kid.

But a young woman I’m close to, my oldest’s BFF, has hit a rough patch.

  1. Her step-father (only significant male role model since she was six) died not-unexpectedly last weekend. Brain tumor after a long twelve months.

  2. Her grandmother, who’d been paying for her schooling from investments, told her she couldn’t any more because the market tanked the last few months.

Because of these things the kid announced that she’s skipping a year of school. I’m scared it means she’ll never finish her degree. And she needs to.

  1. Her mom, though I like her, has never been in favor of the kid growing up and leaving the home. The kid’s going to school about 2 hours away - University of SC - and the mom has her coming home every other week while she was in school. The mom’s sort of insecure that way and lives on disability. Doesn’t get out of the house much and spends most of her day watching TV.

  2. The family has no history of attending higher ed. The kid would be the first on both sides to get her degree (Library Science aiming at an MLS). She’d be advancing herself and her family generationally. The kid’s got real academic talent but no academic support. Nothing wrong with working in the trades, of course, but she’s ready to do much more.

  3. I owe this kid a debt of honor. When I was undergoing treatment for cancer two years ago she essentially moved in with my oldest here - also getting away from her mother - to help run my household when I couldn’t leave my bed or couch for weeks on end (chemo and radiation, for those who don’t know, is rough).

I think - but don’t yet know - that I can take the dead step-father’s 401k - which the mom believes is ‘substantial’ and flip it into an IRA for the mom - my CPA partner says that’s do-able - as the beneficiary then use that to fund a 529 (at no tax penalty and getting the SC tax deduction) to pay for the kid’s last two years of undergrad. In addition, I’ve got a very good friend who’s director of libraries for a county up north who’ll give the kid a paid internship after her junior year.

If I can push this kid across the finish line I want to do it. I’d pay for it myself if I could but I single parent and have six more years of college payments facing me (two for my oldest and four for my four-years-younger youngest).

I’m meeting with her and her mom on Tuesday. I’ve been researching why it’s a bad idea to take a year off. Anyone have any numbers about what the degree completion rate is for students who interrupt their studies? I’ll take other arguments. Right now the kid’s plan is to go to work full time in the Goodwill near her home for minimum wage and I’m afraid she’ll never pull out of that path once she starts down it.

Why does she want to take a year off? How satisfied has she been with her college experience so far? What career does she hope to pursue with her college degree? Does she feel she doesn’t belong in college because her family role models haven’t gone? The answers to those questions will determine how likely she is to return to school.

Stats show that 90% of kids who take a gap year graduate from college. I don’t know what the stats are for someone whose gap year is mid-college.

Would she be willing to take off one semester instead of a full year?

My first two years in college were unfocused, couldn’t decide on a major. I took a year off after sophomore year and worked a succession of lousy jobs. That experience was very helpful in my deciding to return to school and get a degree. Nothing like a year of minimum wage work to focus the mind on one’s studies.

I think it’s awesome that you want to help her finish the degree, but it isn’t the kiss of death for her college career if she takes time off. This is called “stopping out” in higher ed parlance, and it’s extremely common. Lots of these students do return to college after a break and complete their degrees. However, one of the big risk factors for not completing a degree is stopping out more than once.

Anecdotally, from what I see with my advisees, I suspect some other risk factors are 1) not being particularly into your degree program, or college in general, in the first place; 2) having unfinished requirements for the degree program in subjects like math or foreign languages, where courses build on each other (so, for example, if you need two semesters of Spanish and you stop out for a year after completing one, you’re essentially starting again from square one unless you’ve had some practice in the meantime. Students often don’t realize this until they crash and burn in Spanish II, or sometimes they do realize it but find it too overwhelming or financially prohibitive to retake Spanish I).

It appears that that a significant number of students take more than 4 years to earn their degrees. But I’m not sure how to answer the exact question about how taking a year off impacts the rate at which students eventually complete a degree.

Yeah, anecdotally, I took a gap year as well between junior and senior year (actually, midway through junior year). But I never had an intention of not returning. I needed to clear my brain, and it was the best decision I made of my academic career (and I wish I had made it the beginning of my junior year.) But this varies so much by individual and their reasons. I personally never had any intention of not coming back–that was not an option. But I knew I needed to get myself mentally in a place where I could concentrate on school better, and I knew taking a year off rather than plodding through it was the right idea. And I went from academic probation in my last quarter/trimester before leaving to Dean’s List when I came back.

So, yeah, you can look up all the stats you want, but it comes down to her motivation to doing so and her plans.

Some people get a job. Then, when they find out that minimum wage sucks, they go to school part-time until they finish their degree.

Some people spend a couple of years in the military, then finish school on the GI Bill and/or a ROTC scholarship.

Some people drop out of school, then found multi-million dollar corporations.

And some people learn to live on minimum wage.

It’s worrisome, but not the end of the world.

Where you said “I can take the dead step-father’s 401k…”, would that really be you doing that? Or the mom? I’m not clear if you would have any control over that unless you were the beneficiary of the 401k.

Since an IRA can be used to fund college expenses, it might be better to flip it into an IRA rather than dealing with the 529.

In the library field, I think having a degree is pretty important to getting in and having a career. I’m not sure she’d get very far in that field without it. But having a degree of any kind can be very beneficial to getting a wide range of jobs, so I would encourage her to graduate even if that meant switching majors or colleges.

How much does the mom need the money from the 401k? They may want to look into colleges closer at home to see if that would be a way to reduce expenses. One way you could help would be to offer to pay for something like her apartment or some part of her living expenses. And how is the kid doing with the college experience? Does it seem like she’s doing well and wants to continue? If she’s excelling then it would be worth continuing, but if she’s indifferent then a break might be beneficial.

I’m sure you’ve thought of this already but she should talk to the school and explain the change in finances and the loss of her stepfather. They may adjust her financial aid package to compensate. (On the other hand, their endowment likely took a hit and they may see less state financing.) And if she does take time off, can she get an internship in her chosen field?

You’re asking about finishing a BA degree.
But from what I have heard, a BA in library science is a useless degree. To work as a librarian, I’m pretty sure the Masters degree is not something to “aim for”–it is an essential requirement for any job.
I may be wrong…but check this out carefully. Maybe start with a phone call to the university’s career counselors.But don’t trust them–they won’t admit that their BA degree is useless. So find other people who work in the field, and ask them, too.
Then talk to the kid and see how serious she is, and does she realize how much effort she will have to invest to get the MLS? Or does she have other career goals that can be achieved with a BA? Or is she so clueless that she has no idea what she wants to do ,and so working for minimum wage seems okay to her?

The real issue here isn’t the gap year…it’s her personality and her ambition. She’s going to need a lot of personal strength and serious ambition to work for the second degree.
Graduate school in MLS isn’t as exhausting as other fields,but it is still grad school, not the fun-and-games of undergrad.

My sister took 10 years off. She dropped out after she got married, moved with her husband when he graduated and got a job, moved a few more times with the next new job, had 3 kids, finished her undergrad degree in a whole new major, was awarded a fellowship to Johns Hopkins University through a Federal agency, and earned her Master’s degree.

Maybe your friend takes a gap year, or maybe she takes a reset. Of the five of us, not one is doing what we majored in when we first went to college right after high school.

Yes, I’d be doing it myself. Or my team would, anyway. I run a small office for a national broker-dealer who would, simply, have a heart attack if I mentioned them here. So everything I outlined I can do. It’s a matter of how and when and what the kid wants. I want her to finish because I’m afraid an interruption will mean a never return. And the kid’s got real talent. She’s just never been praised for it before I ran into her.

A BA in LIS theoretically prepares you for paraprofessional positions in libraries, but the reality is that you’re competing with folks who have the master’s for many (not all) of those entry level jobs. If she had specific goals around becoming a librarian, she’d potentially be better served by thinking about an undergrad major that supports that. For example interested in being a children’s or teen librarian? Look at early childhood education or middle/secondary ed as an undergrad major. Want to be an academic research librarian? If you can manage a science undergrad major, it’ll help tremendously with that.

Agreed: a gap year isn’t a problem as long as you have a plan and don’t get distracted from going back for it. For me, the LIS grad program was…no more difficult than my undergrad, not really. It was a hoop to jump through - more important when it was time to apply for jobs was the work experience in libraries.

All this said: I don’t have experience with gap years/time off personally. But if she wants to talk/email with someone who’s been in the LIS field for a while, I’m happy to be a resource if wanted - feel free to DM me and I’l give you a contact email.

Another anecdote: I took off three quarters between my junior and senior year to move back to NC from WA. Lived with roommates for part of that time until a love triangle got suuuuuper dramatic and then moved back in with my dad for the last couple of months. Went back to finish the degree on time.

I suspect that the risks of taking a year off have less to do with the year itself, and more to do with whether the student has a plan. Is she the planny sort, responsible enough to know how many credits she has, how many she needs, responsible enough to contact administration and work through it with them?

If so, it might be a great thing. Especially if her aim is to work at Goodwill: there are few things more motivating for getting a degree than working a minimum wage retail job.

My god, I could have simply copied this post under my own handle.

I have no idea what the larger stats are but I know that both people I knew personally and school administrators tried to talk me out of it (I suspect that the school officials were mostly interested in a returning tuition payment – unknown Delta House member: “we need the dues, man!”) and it’s possible that I was increasing my risk of finishing by sitting out a year. But I knew that the shitty jobs were all that I was going to get otherwise and was determined to get my degree. And it worked out exactly as I hoped.

Reach out to the school to a) change in financial situation and b) get stats on those who take a year off.

Based on my experience, those that take a year off with a serious plan to accomplish something, usually come back. In my case, I could not afford the cost of junior year abroad, but I was able to barely afford to teach English in Taiwan while studying Mandarin. Heck, I even saved some money. Resumed studies at University the next year.

Those that take a year off because of stress or can’t deal with it seemed to me to just waste a year. My acquaintences that did so didn’t take that year to get their shit together but used it to procrastinate.

If stress or family tragedy, if it’s affordable, then better to struggle thru that period at school. Straight C’s never hurt anyone, and have school as a constant and a way to bull thru a rough patch works for many people.

Or take the minimum time off, with a real plan, and then work that plan with the end goal of back at school by a hard deadline. You could really mentor during this period.

The above is bit rambling, but if it’s taking a year to find myself working crap jobs to save money, odds are high of not returning. While it might be good for some people, I suspect not for most.

I know a guy who went to 4 schools in 4 years so his degree was in general studies. His last 2 years were at the school that gave him the degree. Very common now for Engineers and similar majors to take 5 years.

Like I said above, YMMV. For me, I needed to take a year off to clear my head – which falls under “stress” or not “deal[ing] with it.” My only regret was not doing it earlier, when I first knew I needed it.

Anecdote, not data…

I dropped out after two very unproductive years at college, and it was the best decision I ever made. My parents went berserk, swore up and down I’d never go back, and more or less disowned me for a couple of years. Meanwhile I had it in mind to do it when I was ready. And I was, about four years later.

Second time around, I was a sponge and I believe I got more out of my education than many. Paying for it myself motivated me to get my money’s worth. Got my master’s a year later. I worked in my field of study for ten years before moving to my current career.

It’s not the right move for everyone, but it worked for me. I was wasting my time the first couple of years when I went direct from high school. And I was lucky I was able to do it later on my own terms.

Seems like I just saw something about Bill Gates and Bill Jobs both starting (but neither finishing) college. Just saying that the landscape is shifting. Maybe finishing the degree isn’t as automatically important as it once was. Do you know what is? I don’t…