There are many reasons why people want to drop out of college, anything from health issues to bereavement to simply not enjoying your course. College is a lot of work and pressure, and it can be hard for students to understand what their options are in changing college, or even dropping out altogether. Making these decisions is stressful and can feel almost impossible with the many different sources of information out there.
This article we will explain the process of dropping out of college in the UK, as well as what you need to consider before making the decision.
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What should you consider before dropping out of college?
Dropping out of college is a huge decision to make, and you definitely need to consider all of your options and the consequences before you choose what to do. It is important to remember that there are always options in life, and you will never be stuck forever because of one choice. However, trying to make the best decisions for you at this point is key.
What are the consequences of dropping out of college?
One thing you need to consider are the consequences of dropping out of college in the UK. At Sixth Form College you typically study A-Levels, BTEC qualifications, or something similar after achieving your GCSEs. Dropping out at this stage if you are under the age of 18 and do not plan to go on to further study may be illegal, so read the section below to check about this.
I recommend you can read this Think Student article to find out what happens if you drop out of education before 18 in the UK.
Another consequence could be less job opportunities. Having key qualifications such A-Levels give you access to pathways such as university, and often to higher paid jobs because these are the ones available to you without these qualifications. If jobs that you are looking at for the future require these qualifications, then dropping out may not be a viable choice.
Are there options other than dropping out?
You should also consider whether you have any other options before dropping out altogether. Taking a gap year, transferring to a different course, or adjusting your schedule to take less courses or classes at once are options that you can explore by speaking to a tutor or head of department at your college. There is more information about some of these options below.
If you are considering dropping out because of financial problems, speak to your tutor. Many colleges have bursaries available for travel or students from underprivileged backgrounds, and these may be able to help you continue to study. Balancing work and college can be difficult, so if you need to work try and find a job suited to your schedule at college as your education will help you get a better job later on.
It is important that whatever you decide to do, you speak to your college about your concerns. Do not feel embarrassed or worried that they will be angry. Every college has experience with struggling students, and they have lots of support for students considering dropping out, so speak to your tutor or head of course and they will be able to help you make this major decision.
Do you have to go to sixth form college by law?
After finishing GCSEs students are required to stay in “full time education” until they are at least 18 in England. If you are in Scotland, Wales, or Northern Ireland the rules are different and you can leave any education behind after 16. However, even in England, this requirement does not mean you have to go to sixth form college, as there are many other options for education after GCSEs.
The government requires that students do one of the following options. They can stay in college or at a school sixth form, start an apprenticeship or traineeship, or spend at least 20 hours a week working/volunteering while in part time education or training. More information can be found from the government website, here.
For more details about other options for study post-GCSEs, read this helpful Think Student article about apprenticeships. Apprenticeships can be done in many different subjects, and still lead you to gain a qualification while actually earning money. This makes them a great option for students who do not like college but still want to get a qualification post-16.
Are you allowed to drop out of sixth form college?
As a further consequence of the laws about education in England, you cannot just drop out of college without any further education plans. This includes options such as taking a year out for non-medical reasons, as you are required to be in education or training.
However, all of the other options mentioned for education are still open to you if you choose to drop out. Just be aware that some may have closing dates for application, so contact the company or college you are interested in for more details if you want to drop out to move on to a different pathway.
You could also choose in England to study part time, while getting another job or volunteering. This can be a good path for students who feel bored in education, as it allows you to see more of the world and earn money while still studying.
In Scotland, Northern Ireland, and Wales you can drop out of sixth form college without taking further study. This means you can go out and get a job, or even take a complete break, without legal consequences. However, you should still consider future options, such as money and career prospects, before doing so.
How to drop out of sixth form college?
If you have considered all of the above options, then here is a step by step guide to dropping out of sixth form college.
1. Contact your tutors
At college you will usually have a tutor, mentor, or key member of staff who looks after your academic progress and wellbeing at college. Therefore, the first step to dropping out is to contact them and talk about your choice and options. Be prepared to be challenged, as dropping out is a big decision and your tutor will want to ensure you are not making it without fully considering it.
2. Find an alternative if you are in England
As discussed above, in England you must be in education until the age of 18. Therefore, if you are under 18 and want to drop out of college you must have an alternative in place for when you have left that ensures you will continue in education. You can apply while still at college and accept, and this puts you in the best position to be able to leave.
This could include an offer of apprenticeship or traineeship, a place at another college (known as a transfer), or a way to continue studying part time. If you are taking a medical leave of absence this is slightly different, so speak to your tutor about what to do if that is the case as it is different for every student.
3. Check the college website
Your college’s website should have full details of how their procedure for leaving works, including for students dropping out. You may be eligible for qualifications such as a certificate of higher education for your time there, even if you have not achieved any qualifications yet. More information on this can be found from Indeed, here.
4. Complete necessary paperwork
Dropping out of college does require filling in some forms and paperwork, so that the college have legal notice of your decision. Your parents may also have to sign some documents to show they are aware of your choice.
Once you have completed all of these steps you have officially dropped out of college and can go on to whatever next steps you have chosen.
Can you transfer to a different college?
It is a possibility to transfer to a different college if you do not like where you currently study. This is a good option in comparison to completely dropping out, as it means you get to continue with the qualifications you are currently working towards, but change the environment which is not working for you.
Some other colleges may also offer more support pastorally, which is good for students that may be struggling mentally or with disabilities. This is definitely important to look at, along with many other factors when choosing a new sixth form college that are discussed in this Think Student article.
While it is relatively common to transfer to a different college, there are some common problems to consider. For example, you need to ensure that the college you are transferring into has the same options of subjects as you currently take if you want to keep taking them, and that they do the same exam board.
If your new college does not offer the same subjects and exam boards you may have to restart some or all of your qualifications. If not, the subject content may not be the same and it is hard to catch up if you are a long way into your course. Another consideration is whether the content is taught in the same order as your old college, as if it is not then you may miss out on key units which again will mean you are unable to complete the qualification by transferring.
If these are the case, then ask what you’ll be able to study and your options beforehand. Many colleges are willing to help students catch up if they have not missed much of the courses, but this will take extra work on your part to make sure you are at the same level.
How do you transfer to a different college?
Transferring college is a process that starts by looking at all of the options in your local area. If you have already looked around before then this will be easier for you but remember that things may have changed since you last looked. Make sure that whatever you dislike about your current sixth form is not the same in the new one.
As mentioned above, check the subjects offered by the college and in what order they teach content. If you are willing to change subjects this will be easier but try and be flexible. You may have to restart your course or subjects if you cannot take the same ones at the new college.
Information about actually applying to the new sixth form will be available on their website, or by speaking to the head of the college or admissions. Usually you will fill in forms, there may be an interview, and they may ask for a reference from your current teachers about how you work and your skills.
Once you have a confirmed place at the new sixth form, you will need to withdraw from your current one, the process for which is outlined above. They may ask you where you are transferring to, so it is important to have the place confirmed before you apply.
It is also important to note that you may only be able to transfer at the start of a new academic year, in September. Some courses will be more lenient and allow you to transfer during the year, particularly if you are very near the start of the course so contact your chosen college for more details.
A helpful Think Student guide to transferring to a new sixth form college with more detail and helpful considerations can be found here.
Will dropping out of college affect your job prospects?
If you drop out of college and do not finish your course it will likely impact your job prospects. This is because employers look for people with good qualifications on their resume as part of a job interview, and without these you are likely to be disadvantaged compared to other candidates who have them.
Some jobs may also require you to disclose that you dropped out of college during the application process. This may again put you at a disadvantage and be a difficult question to answer in job interviews. If you have good reasons for dropping out, such as medical needs or going on to a more appropriate qualification this is good, but without these it may make you look uncommitted, or reflect badly on your character.
Furthermore, in some jobs or pathways there is simply a requirement to have certain qualifications. If you want to go to university, then without a further education qualification that you would gain at college you cannot enter the course. If you want to go on to a career where you need a degree such as medicine, law, or a similar choice, this will be impossible without any qualifications at the college level.
Can you take a leave of absence from college?
All of the reasons discussed above are very valid reasons to feel you need to drop out of college. However, in some cases there is the option to take a leave of absence. This is a period of often around a term where you do not have to attend college and can focus on recovering or getting better in order to then return to college.
Some of the most common reasons for a leave of absence are health issues, including mental health problems, bereavement or very traumatic events. If you are going through any of these it can be very hard to cope and also go to college and pass your course, so there is absolutely no shame in considering a leave of absence or even a gap year while you get ready to return.
Again, the most important thing to do in this scenario is to speak to your college. It may be that if they are aware of your reason for needing support, they can put accommodations in place to help you keep going to college. For example, you might be able to attend partly online, or to reduce the number of classes you are taking at once.
Will you have to give back any financial help you received?
While college in the UK is typically free for under 18s, if you have paid to attend the course or been given financial support you may have to pay back some or all of it.
Any scholarships you have received may no longer be applicable if you are no longer a student, and if it has not been the period that the scholarship what given for you will be expected to pay back the money. For example, if you have a bursary given on a termly basis and you complete a term, you will not have to pay that amount back, but if you only complete half a term you may have to give back half or all of the money to your college.
If you leave in the middle of the term, you are likely to have to pay for at least the rest of the term at that college, or even the year, even if you are no longer attending. You also must pay for resat years. However, if you have overpaid for tuition that you will not take up, universities may in some cases refund you, so ask if you are eligible for this.
If you live away from home, such as in a student flat, you may continue to need to pay bills and council tax even if you are moving back home, as it would not be fair on your housemates to leave them with extra to pay.
Furthermore, if you are an international student and you drop out of college you may no longer be eligible for a student visa. Speak to an immigration advisor if this is the case, as your college will report your change in circumstances to UK immigration, and you may need to return to your home country if you have no other education set up.
What financial support is available to college students?
As suggested above, one of the common reasons students feel they have to leave college is due to financial concerns. However, there is a lot of support available for students, particularly those aged 16-19, to keep them in education.
There are 2 main types of support, according to the government website here, bursaries for vulnerable groups, and bursaries from institutions themselves (such as colleges), using their own criteria. The vulnerable groups include those in care, care leavers, those receiving income support or universal credit, and those receiving disability benefits and universal credit.
Students who meet these criteria and have financial needs can apply for a bursary to help them with the cost of college. If this is an option for you and it will help you to not drop out, definitely apply, as staying in education should not be prevented by financial pressure, and that is what these funds are to prevent.