Should You Drop Out of University?

In University by Think Student EditorLeave a Comment

Dropping out of university: most university students think about it, and quite a few students consider it seriously. Every student knows that there are plenty of factors involved in the process of dropping out – your future options, your finances, and most importantly, whether it’s truly the right decision to make. So, how do you really decide if you should drop out of university?

Whether you decide to drop out of university or not is a very personal decision, and one you should take as much time as you need to think over. If you’re experiencing problems at university of any kind, ask yourself whether you can solve these in the short-term, or are more prominent long-term issues. Remember that support is always available and you should talk to those around you about your decision before you make it!

In this article, I’ll be answering your potential questions about dropping out and giving you advice towards your potential decision.

Why might you drop out of university?

The first thing to note is that it definitely isn’t uncommon to consider dropping out, and you aren’t the first student to question whether university is really for you.

The Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI) conducted a survey of over 1,000 UK university students, which found that 7 of every 10 students have considered dropping out. You can read more about this survey on their website, linked here.

There are several reasons why a student might begin to consider dropping out, some of which I’ll cover later in this article. However, 40% of the students in the HEPI survey cited the rising cost of living as the main reason.

Other reasons may include academic stress, mental health, or simply a change in your goals for the future. I’ll talk about these in more detail later on, so keep reading.

Things to consider before transferring or dropping out of university

Transferring or dropping out of university is a serious decision, and one you should put a lot of time and thought into. Every student has their bad days at university but dropping out or transferring is a big commitment.

Needless to say, you may put a lot of time and thought into your decision and still decide that transferring or dropping out is the right thing to do. That’s absolutely fine!

Further in this section, I’ve listed some of the key things you need to consider before you decide to transfer or drop out of university.

1. Talking to your family or your personal tutor

Before you decide on anything for certain, you should first talk to both your parents and your personal tutor.

Your parents need to know if you’re considering transferring or dropping out! Of course, they shouldn’t pressure you to try and remain in your university if you really don’t want to.

Similarly, if you’re an estranged student, the UCAS website has a page with pages you can navigate for support while at university, linked for you here.

As well as your parents, talking to your personal tutor or any academic supervisor may help. After all, they know the university better than anyone, and will have talked to students with a similar issue before. They may be able to help you pinpoint why you’re feeling this way.

I personally have talked to my tutor about feeling like I wanted to drop out of university, and it was really helpful in making me realise I was just burnt out.

2. Mental health

Talking your decision through with your family or personal tutor is a good idea, but if you’re considering dropping out or transferring for mental health reasons, talking to your university’s counselling service may also be a good idea.

You need to ask yourself if your mental health struggles can be helped in the short term or the long term.

If you think talking to someone might help alongside maintaining your degree, then dropping out might not be the best solution. However, if you think university is causing your mental health struggles, then perhaps looking into dropping out further might be helpful.

Remember, your mental health takes priority, even over your studies, and only you can decide what’s best for you.

Every university student gets stressed from time to time, and I’d recommend checking out this Think Student article if you’re seeking advice on how to manage stress at university.

3. Your choice of course/university

While some students certainly have a clear idea of the degree they want to do and their dream university before they apply, many don’t.

For example, in 2021 the University of Bridgeport in the USA estimated that 20-50% of students entered higher education without having decided their major! You can read more about this on their website linked here.

For that reason, it’s no surprise that students start considering dropping out! You might think not enjoying university is a personal problem, but it might be your degree or the university you’re studying at. I’ll talk more about this further in the article.

If struggling with a lack of motivation/interest in your degree is what is prompting you to drop out, it’s a good idea to talk to your personal tutor. They might be able to adapt the way you’re learning to suit you better, but it’s better than resorting to dropping out!

4. Your plans for the future

As I mentioned above, many students don’t know what they want to do later in life. It’s not a problem if you don’t know what you want to pursue after university, and you don’t need to put unnecessary pressure on yourself by worrying about it!

Dropping out of university won’t jeopardise your future, which is something I’ll address later in this article, but before you decide to drop out, you should consider whether a university degree is necessary for potential future professions.

Alternatively, university isn’t for everyone! Although it is the most popular form of higher education, it simply might not work for you, and that’s okay.

This page of the Student Minds website discusses some feelings that are normal when you’re starting university, so check it out for some more insight.

5. Student loans

According to the government website, linked here, if you drop out of your studies you will have to repay any student finance loan you may have received. Of course, this depends on when you decide to drop out. Every university course has a different cost, but I have laid out an example of how repaying your loans may work.

  • If you leave in your first term (between September – December), you will have to pay back 25% of your student loan for that year (around £2,312.50).
  • If you leave in your second term (between January – March), you will have to pay back 50% of your student loan for that year (around £4,625).
  • If you leave in your third term (between March – July), you will have to pay back 100% of your student loan for that year (£9,250).

If you do decide that dropping out is the right decision for you, you must notify both your university (who are receiving your tuition fees), and Student Finance (who are supplying your loans).

If you want to transfer, you will have to update your Student Finance information so that the right university receives your tuition fees.

Before you decide to drop out, read over the Student Finance terms and conditions, which are linked on this page of the government website. You should also definitely discuss with your parents your plans to drop out and how this will affect student finance.

Does it look bad to drop out of university?

For most people, dropping out of university doesn’t look bad.

Future educational institutions or employers understand that there are plenty of reasons why a student would want to drop out and shouldn’t hold it against you.

If you really feel that dropping out is the right decision, don’t worry about what other people think! What matters is that it’s right for you.

Does it look bad to transfer university?

Just like dropping out, it doesn’t look bad to transfer university either.

Universities know that universities (including themselves) aren’t perfect, and students may have problems with them for whatever reason. They completely understand if you want to transfer!

Although quite a few universities don’t accept transfers, this isn’t because it “looks bad”, it’s simply because they only have a certain number of places on their courses.

Reasons you may be unhappy at university

As I mentioned earlier, you aren’t alone in questioning your place at university. The Guardian reported that in 2022, over 18,000 students withdrew from university and stopped receiving student loans, over 4,000 more than the previous year. Check out their article linked here.

The “perfect” university experience doesn’t really exist, and there are definitely times where you will feel out of place at university – trust me, every student has been there!

That’s why sometimes you might start to consider dropping out as a serious option, as well as how you feel about your university itself, and just a general change in your plans.

Further in this section, I’ll go through some of the reasons you may be unhappy and considering transferring or dropping out of your university.

1. The university campus

Sometimes, you may not realise it, but the environment you study in definitely has an impact on your studies. If your university campus just isn’t working for you, and you feel out-of-place, it may push you towards feeling like you want to drop out.

The Complete University Guide reported in this article that in the 2019-2020 academic year, 2.6% of UK university students transferred university.

While this may seem like a small percentage, according to this research from the Higher Education Statistics Agency, there were just over 2.5 million higher education students in the 2019-2020 academic year; this means that 65,000 students transferred university that year!

You need to ask yourself if transferring university will solve your issue, or if it’s the process of university that is making you feel this way.

2. Your course

If your lack of interest or enthusiasm in your degree is pushing you towards dropping out, your course might be the reason you’re considering this option.

Whilst continuing your studies, try and branch slowly into other subjects that interest you. Maybe even ask your friends in other subjects how their degrees work. If these seem more interesting to you than your current degree, then perhaps a change of course is the best course of action.

You can speak to your university if you realise that changing your course is what you want to do instead of dropping out.

Your university may allow you to change course relatively quickly, or you may have to wait until the next academic year. Keep in mind that you may not be allowed to transfer at all.

3. Your lectures/lecturers

If you’re encountering any issues with your university lectures or lecturers, you should contact the disability coordinator or your faculty department at your university.

If the format of lectures is restricting you from learning in the way that works for you, your university’s disability coordinator may be able to help and make some adjustments for you.

If there is an issue between you and any of your lecturers, or you feel you are being discriminated against by a lecturer, contact your course’s head of department. I’d also recommend reading your university’s website on the procedure for reporting a lecturer.

4. Other students at your university

Bullying is never okay.

If the behaviour of other students is making you feel like you want to drop out, speak to anyone in a position of authority at your university. This could be your course’s head of faculty, your personal tutor, or simply someone you trust.

Your university should also have a page on their website where you can find information about support if you are being bullied. For example, this is the page on the University of Portsmouth’s website with their resources.

If you are being bullied, remember that it is never your fault, and never deserved. There will always be people to help you.

5. Your long-term goals

It’s not unreasonable for your goals for the future to change over time. This includes university – part way through your studies, you may realise that university isn’t what you want and won’t serve you later in life.

Also be prepared for the fact that if you drop out, this may change again, and you may want to restart university! While it’s important to think carefully before you decide anything major, don’t ignore or suppress your gut feeling.

University is a more ‘traditional’ form of higher education, but it isn’t the only form. If you think another path of higher education may suit you better, or even none at all, dropping out of university is a completely viable option.

Advice for students dropping out of university

As I’m sure you know, a big decision doesn’t come without its consequences.

I can’t stress enough that you should think this decision through as much as possible. You definitely have options after you drop out, but there’s no point dropping out unnecessarily just to restart the process all over again.

That being said, if you’re absolutely sure you want to drop out, don’t be ashamed to start the process. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to drop out if it’s the right thing for you!

Most importantly, talk to the people around you. Your family, friends, university tutors, they all know you well and will be able to advise you on what to do. Having multiple opinions can help you make an informed, balanced decision!

1. Future studies

All hope is not lost for your future studies should you decide to drop out!

You’re allowed to reapply for UCAS as many times as you’d like, so long as you aren’t making more than one application in the same academic year.

You may have begun university and realised that a gap year may have been a better decision. If this is the case, you’re allowed to drop out, take a gap year, and then reapply next year.

Alternatively, if you want to drop out of university and apply for something like an apprenticeship, you can do so as long as you have the right qualifications. University is not the be-all and end-all of higher education!

2. Future job prospects

University is not compulsory in the UK, which you can read about in this Think Student article. Future employers should not discriminate against you based on whether you have a university degree or not.

There are plenty of ways to enter employment without a university degree. You could start an apprenticeship or enter employment without higher education qualifications (if your employer doesn’t require them).

If you still want a degree but don’t want to go to university, I’d recommend checking out this Think Student article with advice for how to do so.

Future Learn has a list of the 10 highest paying UK jobs you can do without a degree on this page of their website, so check it out for some inspiration!

3. Managing your mental health

Your mental health is another thing you have to balance alongside all your other priorities at university, and it’s understandable that for a lot of students, mental health is often sacrificed for something else.

If you think your mental health would be significantly improved by dropping out of university, don’t be afraid to do so. Your struggles are real and valid! As I mentioned earlier, you are able to reapply for university for the next academic year if you want to try it again.

However, remember that dropping out is a last resort option, and there are always people you can talk to whilst you’re at university, such as your university’s counselling service.

I know people who have dropped out of university for mental health reasons, and whilst they were initially worried about whether it was the right decision, they realised it was the best thing they could do for themselves at the time. Always do what’s best for you!

How to transfer or drop out of university

Now that you’ve decided you definitely want to transfer or drop out of university, the first step is to talk to the head of your department or your academic officer for your university.

You’ll need to notify them as soon as you know for certain that you want to leave your current university. If you want to transfer, you will have to contact your university of interest to find out if a transfer is possible. Not all universities accept transfers!

The UCAS website has a short guide on transferring, which you can read here. Alternatively, check out this Think Student article for a full in-depth guide on how to drop out of university and this article on how to transfer university.

What can you do if you drop out of university?

Once you’ve dropped out of university, sorted out your student finance and potential UCAS reapplications, you’re essentially free to do whatever you want.

If you don’t want to go back to university, you can consider going into employment, but many students who drop out consider taking a year to travel and do the things they enjoy.

If you plan on reapplying for university after you’ve dropped out, for a different or the same course and university, you can reapply on UCAS for the next academic year. Duplicate applications are deleted, according to the UCAS website – in other words, you can only apply once each academic year.

If you are a student who’s decided university just isn’t for you, then there are plenty of options for you to consider. You may even want to jump straight into the world of work with an entry-level job to start earning money immediately. Here are a just a of the few options you might want to take.

1. Do a degree apprenticeship

This is a great option for students who want to earn their degree without spending all of their time on purely academic study. Degree apprenticeships tend to only be available for subjects listed under the STEM title.

A degree apprenticeship allows you to combine your study with some hands-on, practical work too. This option can last from three to six years, depending on what it is you are studying, and your employer. The best thing about this option is that both your training and tuition is paid for, which means that you won’t have to deal with student debt like you would after university! Also, because you are being employed by whoever you are doing the apprenticeship with, you will be given a salary, which makes this option a good idea if you are looking to save up money. You will be required to pay for your accommodation while you complete your degree, so this salary may help you cover the expenses.

For more information about degree apprenticeships, check out this Think Student article.

2. Get an entry-level job

You may have decided that you want to jump straight into the world of work by getting an entry-level job. Depending on what the job entails, qualification requirements vary for each one, and they are an excellent way to start earning money after your A-Levels. If you are looking to get a job immediately after dropping out from university, it’s a good idea to have at least some work experience on your CV – this will make you look more appealing to potential employers and give you a real insight into how jobs work. Work experience is mostly gained from putting yourself out there and volunteering. For ideas about gaining work experience, check out 50+ Ideas For Work Experience.

The benefit of getting an entry level job so early is that it will give you time to work your way up in your job, and subsequently get paid more. For example, you will have more of a chance of working your way up to management than someone who was employed later than you.

The best place to look for entry-level job opportunities in your area is online, so get searching! Search ‘entry level jobs near me’ to get started.

3. Take a gap year

If you are not sure as to what to do after dropping out of university, you might want to take a gap year. Many students travel abroad to gain work experience, do volunteering, or simply just to take a break after their A-Levels and get away from studying for a while. Money is an extremely important factor in taking a gap year. It’s definitely best to sort out where you’re going, for how long and where you will be staying before setting off on your adventure.

Gap years are particularly popular with students looking to improve their language skills – teaching English as a foreign language is a popular option and traveling to countries which speak the language you are looking to get better at will only improve your skills.

There is no specific age requirement for going to university, so you can always take a gap year before deciding to go. A gap year may give you the time to fully process what each option entails, and the understanding to make an informed decision.

For some interesting ideas as to what to do and where to go in your gap year, have a look at UCAS’s Gap Year page. You may also be interested in this Think Student article, which discusses whether you should take a gap year, and this helpful article, which guides you through the process of taking a gap year.

4. Start your own business

If you think you are an entrepreneurial young person, maybe starting your very own business is the path for you. This option allows you to be self-employed and gives you the chance to explore your passions in order to make a living. Small businesses are being created all of the time; providing hundreds of different services and catering to all types of people and businesses. You could begin a business for dog-walking, crafts, website design and many, many other things. If you’re looking for ideas for a business that can be run from your own home, check out these 70 small business ideas.

You have to bear in mind, however, that starting a business requires resilience and determination – you must be totally passionate about what you’re doing and willing to carry on, even if something doesn’t go the way it was planned.

This option is probably the riskiest one you could take. Many young people tend to have a backup plan if they are starting their own business – usually a degree apprenticeship or part-time/full-time job, as stated above. This is a great idea, because it gives you something to fall back on if the business doesn’t work for you.

5. Do a traineeship

Traineeships are often taken by people who need the experience in order to go on to a complete apprenticeship or get a full-time job. They are much shorter than apprenticeships are, but they can take as short as six week or as long as six months.  A traineeship is probably the best option if you are lacking in qualifications or need some work experience – the whole point of a traineeship is to make sure that you know skills that are important in a workplace, and to give you the skills to go on to further things.

I recommend you read this Think Student article to learn more about traineeships.

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