With one in 10 students dropping out of university in the UK every year, you’re far from alone in how you feel. Even with what feels like years of preparation, the truth is, you won’t know if university or the course you have chosen is right for you until you’re there. It certainly isn’t uncommon for reality to fall short of your expectations, nevertheless, acknowledging that you aren’t enjoying yourself can be difficult, especially if it feels like all of your peers are having the times of their lives. It is not an easy position to be in, but it isn’t one to be ashamed of or embarrassed about, either.
The first and arguably most important step in moving forward in your situation is to pinpoint what exactly it is about university you are struggling with. It could be the financial stress involved in attending university, it could be the course itself, or perhaps the pressure of living up to the student stereotype is having a negative effect on your mental health. It might even be something more personal, such as health issues or struggling to balance university life with other commitments.
It goes without saying, pinpointing the cause of your unhappiness will help you to better devise a plan of action. Take the time to ask yourself questions such as: Can you address and work to resolve the issues before considering leaving? Could your situation get better over time? Is dropping out of university the only way to solve your issues? Be honest with yourself, think things through properly and talk to someone about it, whether it be your friends, teachers or family. After all, the very last thing you want to do is to make a rash decision that you may later grow to regret.
Transferring to another course at the same university
If you are struggling with your course, you may be able to find a better alternative to transfer onto at your current university. Start by asking yourself key questions that will ultimately help you to make an informed decision, such as: What exactly is it about the course that is making you unhappy? Is it the course content? Is it too challenging, or perhaps not challenging enough? Do you dislike the teaching methods, or perhaps are you struggling to integrate with your peers?
If you are struggling to integrate with others on your course, consider speaking to tutors, lecturers, department staff or other university staff who could help you to work to resolve the situation in a way that is best for you. It may also be worthwhile to open up about the problem with friends and family, as they may have some good ideas of what you could do to make the situation better.
If the course content is the problem, you might benefit from transferring to another course at your university. Many are put-off by the consequences of doing so, such as financial impacts, or the prospect of starting a new course part-way through the year and not knowing anyone or feeling behind. If you are concerned about how your decision might effect you in the long-term, take the adequate time to work out the best steps to take to make the transfer happen, before being hasty.
If you do decide that it’s what you want to do, then speak to the appropriate university staff who will be able to assist you. If you are in your first year, you may be able to transfer course as soon as possible so that you do not miss out on much. Or, you may come to the decision towards the end of first year, in which case, you can make the transfer for when you go into the next academic year. In some cases, you may need to repeat first year. However, if you received good marks in first year are transferring to a similar course, you may be eligible to go straight into the second year.
If you are worried about the financial impact that transferring to another course might have, speak to your student loans company and ask for their advice on your specific situation. If, for example, you are transferring part-way through the year, it may have little to no financial impact whatsoever, that is unless your new course is a different length to your current one. For that reason, it is important to be aware that in most cases, you are only eligible for four years of student loans in total, which is also something to consider if you are transferring course the next academic year.
If your unhappiness at university goes beyond your course alone, transferring to a different or similar course at an entirely different university could be the answer to the problems you are facing. Perhaps the location of your current university is unsuitable in terms of finances and travel, therefore something closer to home may work better for you. Perhaps you feel put-off or intimidated by the campus culture. Whatever your reasoning may be, transferring is certainly an option. In fact, now more than ever, universities are ready and willing to accept transfer students.
That being said, such a decision certainly doesn’t come without its consequences, therefore, thoroughly researching your options before you make any hasty decisions is crucial. If you come to the realisation that your current university isn’t right for you during your first term, you may be able to start a new course at a different university in the new year, as some universities have January intakes. However, this is not always an option, and so instead you will have re-apply through UCAS, which can be difficult if you have not completed your first year and gained credits.
With that in mind, it’s imperative that you consider the long-term in this particular situation. If possible, stick out the remainder of first year whilst also looking at your transfer options with the credits you will have at the end of the academic year. It’ll help to motivate you through the remaining months at your current university, until you can transfer to where you really want to be.
It goes without saying, but you should also make every possible effort to ensure you are choosing the right university and course. Identify what exactly it is that is making you unhappy— otherwise, will taking on the same course elsewhere only mean you’re making the same mistake twice?
Furthermore, it’s important to remember that transferring university can feel like preparing for university for the first time all over again. Don’t forget about key details such as accommodation— what do you need to do to secure a place? And can you find any social media groups that will help you to find like-minded individuals at your new university with whom you can integrate with?
As well, you will need to sort out your student finance. If you are unsure where transferring to a new university leaves you in terms of finances, speak to your student loans company and explain your situation to them. If you leave before completing first year, you may have to pay back fees. Again, do remember that in most cases, you are only eligible for four years of student loans in total.
Transferring university can seem like a daunting and complex process, but both your current and new university admissions departments are there to help you. Don’t hesitate to approach them to discuss your options, ask relevant questions and find out what your next steps should be. It’s also just as important to talk your concerns and plans for the future through with family and friends.
Dropping out of university
At the end of the day, for any number of reasons, university isn’t for everyone. Acknowledging that fact is certainly nothing to be ashamed of and sometimes, leaving altogether and pursuing a different route could be the best option for you and what you have in mind for your future.
Again, that’s certainly not to say that dropping out of university won’t come with its own set of consequences. There are a number of factors to consider and such a decision should not be made with haste. If you think it’s what you want to do, take some time to talk it over with your family and friends, and even with appropriate university staff, to gain different perspectives on the situation.
Perhaps two of the biggest factors to consider ultimately come down to finances and what it will mean for your future. In terms of finances, if you leave after the first term, you may be liable for fees for the whole year. As well, if you signed a contract for your accommodation, you may have to pay the remainder of those costs too, unless you can find someone else to take your place. You will also stop receiving any and all student loan payments and benefits immediately, so it is highly important that you have a plan in place so that you are not risking leaving yourself out of pocket.
It’s also important to keep in mind that you will be required to pay back any student loans you received in the same way as if you had finished your entire degree. Exactly how much you will be required to pay back will ultimately depend on at what point you actually decide to leave university.
In terms of what it means for your future, dropping out of university mid-way through the academic year could potentially create a gap in your CV that future employers could raise questions about. You’ll need a good answer if you hope to one day land yourself in your dream role. In that respect, it may be worthwhile to consider dropping out at the end of first year, so that you can at least leave with good exam results under your belt and can show that you made the effort to work hard.
However, whether you leave mid-way through the year or after you’ve completed first year, you do have other options despite the consequences. University certainly isn’t the be-all and end-all to your career— there are plenty of other avenues you can go down to get to where you want to be.
If you find that university isn’t for you, you might be interested in heading straight into the world of work, and there are plenty of options available to help you do so. You might take on a work experience or voluntary role to get your foot in the door of your dream career, or perhaps you might even start your own business with advice and support from the Prince’s Trust or your local government. If you’re unsure where to start, contact your local careers advice service and explain your situation. They can help shine a light on what you need to do to get to where you want to be.
Degree apprenticeships allow you to get the best of both worlds— essentially, you can earn while you learn and gain qualifications. Your employer covers the cost of your degree, which means that you won’t have any student debt hanging over your head when you graduate. This, combined with the fact that you will be paid a wage, means that it could be a hugely beneficial alternative option for anyone intimidated or concerned about the financial impacts of attending university full-time.
It’s certainly not a decision to make lightheartedly. Taking on a degree apprenticeship requires a high level of focus and determination, as you will be working as well as studying. That being said, it can be an invaluable opportunity— will be learning specific job skills which are highly sought after by employers, a well as gaining a degree. By the time you finish, you will be highly employable.
Taking a gap year
Perhaps you want to take a break from study and instead earn money or gain new skills and experiences, or perhaps you feel like you need more time deciding what you want to do in terms of education. Taking a year out isn’t an option that is suitable for everyone, however, a gap year spent productively offers you the invaluable opportunity to gain skills and life experiences which can be used to enhance your CV. You could spend your time travelling, working or even volunteering. There are plenty of ideas you could consider— however, it’s really important to form a plan, as an unstructured year out could actually become detrimental to your future. You’ll need to consider the cost, what it will mean for your long-term plans, and how you will feel returning to study afterwards.