What to Do if You’re Thinking About Dropping Out of University

Uni life isn’t for everyone. Whether your career goals have changed or uni just isn’t what you had in mind, here are some pros, cons and advice to help you make the right decision 👇

There’s no shame in changing your mind about university. If university isn’t for you, it’s better that you know now instead of persevering down the wrong path. That being said, dropping out is a big decision. If you’re on the fence about continuing your studies, read on – we’ve compiled some resources and tips that might be of help.

What's in this guide?

Looking for some specific advice? Here's what's covered in this guide.

👉  Questions to ask yourself
👉  How to decide if you should drop out
👉  Pros and cons of dropping out of university
👉  What to do if you decide to drop out
👉  Student mental health support



What are your reasons for dropping out?

Ultimately, you know yourself better than anyone. If you sense something isn’t right, take time to take stock of the situation and assess the reasons motivating the idea of dropping out. In most cases, these will relate to either your course and career ambitions, your finances or more personal feelings regarding your path in life or the university itself. 

Assess your career goals

University is often the place where we discover ourselves and where our future career starts to take shape. However, that can come sooner to some students than to others. If you’ve had a brainwave or a change of heart about what you want to do in life, a sharp U-turn is better than meandering down a road you know isn’t right. If your degree and your dream job don’t mesh, speak to a careers advisor: they’ll be able to provide some useful guidance on how to move forward. 

Are you on the right course?

It sounded great on paper, but theory is very different to practice. Whether the course isn’t fulfilling enough, is too demanding or you don’t feel it will help you achieve your career ambitions, it’s clear that something isn’t right. However, that may not necessarily mean dropping out. You may still be able to change your course or study a more relevant subject at a different uni altogether. 

The first thing to do is speak to your course tutor or department office – they’ll be able to tell you what’s currently available at the university and discuss your concerns.

Are you at the right university?

While students across the UK will all share similarities in their experience, every university is different. It might be the case that you’re more suited to a big city, and are currently studying at a rural campus, or vice versa. It may be that there isn’t enough support from the faculty, or that you haven’t yet found anyone you really connect with. Perhaps you’re simply feeling that university life isn’t what you had in mind. In any case, your feelings are totally valid and shouldn’t be ignored.

If it’s an issue with the institution, it’s best to stick it out through first year and do your best on exams and coursework. As long as you have the right marks, you may be able to transfer into another similar course at another uni from second year onwards.

Assess your finances

Student loans are helpful, but many students agree that it isn’t enough to cover the costs of uni life. If you’re getting further in debt just to afford university, your first port of all should be the financial support team at your university. There may be grants available that could help you make ends meet if your reasons for dropping out are purely financial. 

If this is just a contributing factor and you don’t feel the degree is worth the long-term debt, that’s a different concern altogether. Will your degree help you to land your dream job? If the answer is no, dropping out may be the best solution. 

Your personal circumstances

Your mental health matters above all. If family issues at home or a recent trauma is becoming too much to balance with your studies or you’re simply feeling isolated in the academic bubble, it’s best to take action fast. If being away from home is making you feel worse or you’re just not able to focus on your studies right now, that’s perfectly okay.

Looking after yourself should be your priority – you can always come back to uni at a time that’s better for you in the future.


How to decide if you should drop out

Leaving uni is rarely an easy decision. If you’ve already spoken to friends or family, your mind might be a big ball of uncertainty and conflicting advice. Sound familiar? Remove yourself from the situation and try to see it objectively. With any big decision, it’s worth mapping out the pros and cons for staying or going. These might include:

👍 Pro: Dropping out doesn’t mean you can’t return to study in the future

Just because you drop out now, does not mean you can’t study at uni ever again. If your concerns are financial, or you’re not ready to leave home, it might be wise to take a job and save up to study next year. People make career changes all the time, even up into their forties and fifties! Dropping out now won’t stop you from revisiting this route in the future.

👎 Con: Your course might improve

Students often drop out because their course isn’t challenging enough, or, on the contrary, is way too intense. In either case, speak to your tutor; the modules to come may be of interest and actually align with your interests. First year is usually an introduction, but as the years go on, the curriculum deepens to explore particular areas in greater detail. If you’re passionate about your subject, check with your department about what you can expect in the future.

👍 Pro: You can start working and earning money immediately 

Uni can be expensive, and student life is synonymous with keeping a tight budget. If you drop out, you’ll have more time to work full time and start earning money immediately, allowing you to afford more than the average student budget can. If finances are the issue, however, we do recommend speaking to your Finance Support team to see if grants might be available. 

👎 Con: It could open the doors to opportunities that may be of interest in the future

Even if your course doesn’t totally align with your current career ambitions, do keep in mind that a degree can be a safety net if you change your mind in the future. You chose your subject for a reason. And, although you may have fallen out of love with it in the short-term, there’s still a chance you could reconcile that passion later down the line.

👍 Pro: You can gain time to recalibrate and plan ahead

When the reasons for dropping out are personal or relate to mental health, giving yourself that break from the pressure of coursework and exams can be just what you need to think clearly about your future. There’s no point piling on the work for something that may not be right for you – ultimately, the headspace you get away from uni will allow you to make the right choice, even if it’s just deferring a year or transferring.


What to do if you decide you want to drop out

When that nagging doubt starts to become a constant in your mind and dropping out feels like the right decision, it’s best to speak to your uni as soon as possible. They’ll present you with several options:

  1. Withdraw from your studies entirely
  2. Suspend studies and return next year (this is important before you do any exams)
  3. Suspend and seek a transfer

If you do decide to withdraw from your studies, there will be some important things to take care of such as contacting Student Finance by phone and letting your university know as soon as possible so you aren’t overpaid in loans.

You’ll still have to repay any tuition fees, student loan and maintenance loan paid to your uni for the period in which you were studying. This will be repaid as normal (i.e. once your salary is above the threshold for repayment. Check out the Government information here for how much you’ll repay and when.

You’ll also have to pay to move your stuff out of your current accommodation. If you’re living in student halls, and are dropping out mid-term, you’ll likely still need to pay the outstanding rent agreed at the start of the year. If you’re staying in privately-owned property and are moving home, give your landlord and roommates enough time to find someone to move in if your absence will make rental costs harder to afford for them.

When it comes to how to withdraw from your studies, all the information for the process to follow should be on your university website. In any case, it’s critical you speak to your course tutor or department. There will be paperwork to complete to make it official.


Student mental health support

Whatever your reasons, dropping out is a big decision – before you rush to pack your things, it’s worth chatting to your friends and family to gauge their views. If you’re worried that their opinions may cloud your mind further, find some time to speak to a support worker from your university’s student mental health team at your union, or reach out to a student mental health charity such as Student Minds for advice and counsel about your situation.

Ultimately, you know best where your heart lies! While it’s a good idea to explore all your options, don’t worry if dropping out is still the conclusion you arrive at – after all, 6 in every 100 students in the UK drop out every year. 

Whether you choose to withdraw, defer or get a transfer, don’t panic: this decision will shape the next few years, but it won’t dictate your future full-stop. You can always change your mind again when the time is right for you.

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