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Some guidance to mark Uni Defection Day

What to do if you're considering dropping out of university


Freshers’ week feels like a distant memory and the reality of university life has set in - you’ve got your routine of lectures, course work and social activities. Maybe you’re having a blast - and that’s great news if you are! But what happens if you’ve realised that university might not be for you?

It can feel incredibly isolating when everyone around you seems to be settling in, making friends and getting on with student life. But you need to know that you’re not alone. Whether you’re finding that the course content doesn’t meet your expectations, you haven’t met like-minded people, or you just don’t feel that you’re getting bang for your buck when you think about the fees that you’re paying to be there - rest assured, there are other students feeling exactly the same way. And there are plenty of students who decide each autumn that it’s not too late for them to change their mind about how they want to spend the next three years of their lives.

November 12th marks University Defection Day: statistically, the date when first year students are most likely to drop out of their course. The idea of leaving university can feel daunting. You might feel under pressure from your parents to persevere with higher education; you might feel afraid to go against the status quo when all of your friends and peers seem to be set on getting a degree; you might just have no idea what you’d be doing right now if you weren’t at university. All of these are legitimate concerns! And it’s certainly not a decision you should be taking lightly. But don’t forget that paying £9,000 a year in tuition fees alone is a massive investment in your future - and if you’re genuinely not bought into the experience, then you need to think seriously about re-considering.

So what are the steps to take if you’re considering dropping out?

  1. Sleep on it. We’ve heard from so many life gurus and professional coaches that you need to consider a big life decision in as many different moods/states of mind as possible. So think about this when you wake up; when you’re lying in bed about to go to sleep; when you’re tired, sad, happy, bored, busy, exercising, sitting in the library, sitting at lunch. Come at this from different angles! If you keep coming to the same conclusion, then you’ll know there’s something in the way you’re feeling.
  2. Speak to people around you. Voicing your concerns and how you’re feeling will make this feel so much more manageable than if you just keep it all bottled up. You might find that your parents are more supportive of you changing your mind than you feared; you might find that a student in the year above felt exactly the same way as you do now, until they started a fresh module and realised that the course was great! Try to gather as much context and evidence for your decision as you can. That said, you might find you encounter a whole load of peer pressure from friends to stay! Remember that it’s important to look for advice, but ultimately it’s your life and your decision - so if leaving university really feels like the right option for you, don’t let others convince you to stay for the wrong reasons.
  3. Research your next options. If you’re considering leaving university without a degree, it’s important to have a game plan for what you’re going to do next. This might mean going to speak with your university careers adviser, who will be able to give you some guidance; or it might mean taking matters into your own hands to line something up. If you still want to gain a qualification but are looking for a different learning experience, you might decide that leaving university and starting an apprenticeship is for you. Check out the current apprenticeship roles at WhiteHat to see if any of the roles would work for you.
  4. At most universities, you do have the option of simply pausing your degree and taking a year out. This can be a great compromise if you want to take some time to explore your options without shutting the door all together. You’ll need to arrange to speak with your personal tutor about this decision, who will help you through the necessary paperwork to make this a reality.

Making it a reality

There are several practical elements to consider when thinking about dropping out of university.

The process

If you do decide to leave, you'll need to meet with your personal tutor to tell them about your decision. You'll then need to fill out the necessary withdrawal forms provided by your course faculty office. Once these have been submitted and approved, you can agree on an official leaving date with your department.

The money

Once this date is set, you'll need to write to Student Finance to formalise your decision with them. They'll get in touch with you further down the line to discuss the financial side of dropping out.

You will lose the financial support that comes with being a student, which means you’ll probably need to move back home for a little while, until you’ve figured out your next steps. Is this an option for you? You’ll also still be liable to pay for the tuition you’ve received so far. Here’s how the financials work out:

  • If you drop out in your first term, you will be charged 25% of the tuition fees for that academic year.
  • If you leave at any point during your second term, you'll be charged 50%.
  • If you withdraw at any point in the third term you'll have to pay for 100% of the tuition fees for the year.

You'll have to start repaying this debt in the same way that a graduate would - from the April after you leave university, if you're earning at least £21,000/year.

As well as your tuition fees you'll be expected to cover your maintenance loans, including your accommodation fees. When you moved into your student accommodation you probably signed a contract of either 40 or 52 weeks - this will still need to be paid in full. Finding another student to fill the room and take over the payments is the only way to avoid these costs.

Even though this might all feel like a daunting prospect, remember that three years is a long time and if you’re not enjoying where you are right now, that feeling of resentment/purposelessness might only deepen. The sooner you can make a decision to change your path, the better!

Anoya’s Story: why she chose to leave university and start an apprenticeship

Anoya at a Google networking event, as part of her apprenticeship

I studied paramedic science. I had completed one year of my degree, but decided not to continue because it wasn’t a career I could see myself in ten years’ time. I had a little pressure as I had to look good and smart for society and I did enjoy my time at Uni, although paying £8,000 to attend two days a week and not getting taught what I learnt when I was working, wasn’t worth it. Financially I had to think, “If I continue uni I will end up going into debt.” Eventually, my parents and my siblings helped me decide it was a good idea for me to drop out and not continue. It wasn’t about what society thought of me but it was about my life and not doing something just for someone else.

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