Picking up the pieces and restarting an online bachelor’s program following an unsuccessful first attempt is difficult but admirable. Returning to an online college may also still be the best path to academic recovery as a working adult.
Here are five steps to take if you’re ready to return as an online student after previously failing or dropping out of an online undergraduate program. Be sure to also consult an adviser with questions along the way.
1. Assess what went wrong the first time around: Learn from your previous mistakes. Students who fail or drop out of online degree programs usually cite poor time management, unexpected life circumstances, financial hardship or academic unpreparedness.
When restarting an online bachelor’s degree, pick a program with courses that align well with your weekly schedule, academic needs and finances. For example, if you had issues during your previous program making time for synchronous online classes, or those held via videoconferencing in real time, consider a program where courses are primarily or completely self-paced.
2. Research readmission or new applicant requirements: Reapplying to the same school or degree program after dropping out will likely involve more layers of review than the first time around, such as an essay or interview to explain how you are currently better positioned and prepared to succeed.
Online bachelor’s programs have different admissions requirements, and previous course failures can be a red flag. Speak with an admissions counselor to determine your options. Ask if you can start by taking just one or two classes as a nonmatriculated student to rebuild your GPA either online or at a local community college before being fully admitted.
If you have a lot of course failures on your previous transcript, ask if you qualify for academic clemency, a process that differs among schools but essentially removes some of the lowest or failing grades from a transcript after several years away from the university.
3. Reacquaint yourself with online education: Before diving in again as an online student, you can readjust to virtual learning through free or low-cost online classes. For example, companies such as Coursera and edX in collaboration with universities offer massive open online courses, or MOOCs, that allow anyone to audit recorded lectures at no charge.
4. Consider other transfer credits: If you don’t seek academic clemency, once admitted you may want to accelerate your time to graduation by determining whether you can receive credit for in-person or online courses you previously completed or even for work or military experience. Often, this involves proving a previous course or training is equivalent to the one at the new school.
Typically, online programs require a minimum course grade – such as a C or better – to transfer in credits. Those credits will usually count toward graduation, but the previous grade typically won’t factor into your GPA, unless you’re returning to the same institution.
5. Defer previous student loans: If you are still repaying a student loan from your first college attempt, you may be able to consolidate that debt or defer repayment until after you complete your online degree. Talk to a financial aid officer for more information.
The takeaway: Re-entry to online college can be more complicated than the first time around. Research your options; get financially, mentally and academically prepared; and approach your second attempt with a newfound commitment to complete your degree.