If you're thinking about dropping out of university or changing your course, take stock of your options before making this big decision

What are the main reasons for dropping out of university?

It's difficult to know whether undergraduate study is right for you until you've experienced it first-hand. Many first-year students have second thoughts on their decision to go to university for a number of reasons:

  • Career - you've had a change of heart about the career you'd like to pursue, and the course you're enrolled on is no longer suitable.
  • Course - you're struggling to cope with the workload or aren't being challenged enough, you don't respond well to the teaching and assessment methods or it's simply not what you expected.
  • Institution - the university you've chosen is too big/small, you've stayed close to home and would like to move away or you moved further afield and are feeling homesick.
  • Financial - you can't afford tuition or accommodation fees, living costs are out of your budget or you're not comfortable with the idea of accumulating and dealing with student debt.
  • Personal - you have a disability or health issues that are making university life difficult to cope with, you've suffered a bereavement at home or you're finding it difficult to balance your studies with other commitments.

Where can I get advice?

Whatever you're struggling with, remember that there are always people you can speak to before choosing the best course of action for your circumstances. You can always turn to:

  • Friends and family - they know you on a personal level, and will have your best interests at heart.
  • Other students - final-year students on your course could ease (or confirm) your doubts and offer you advice, with the benefit of hindsight. If you're planning to change courses, talking to students on the course you'd like to move to will give you a flavour of what you can expect from the switch.
  • Careers service - a careers adviser will discuss how well suited your course is to your career ambitions, and whether taking an alternative course or qualification would be a more worthwhile venture.

Can I leave part way through my course?

It's not obligatory for you to complete a degree course you've started. However, before you officially state your intention to leave, you should continue attending your lectures and seminars. If you change your mind and decide to stay, you'll regret missing classes and may suffer in terms of handing in assignments and sitting exams.

As you consider the alternatives, it's worth talking through your options with a student support officer or careers adviser. They can discuss the pros and cons of changing or leaving your course, and help you to come up with a viable career plan for once you've left.

If you decide to leave, you'll need to meet with your personal tutor to inform them of your plans. You'll then need to obtain and fill out the necessary withdrawal forms provided by your faculty office. Only when these have been submitted and approved can you arrange an official leaving date with your department.

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

If you're leaving in your second or third year, it's worth checking with your department to see if the time you've already put into your course makes you eligible for any certificates or diplomas - see our guide to qualifications.

What are the effects of this?

When you withdraw from your studies, you'll be liable to pay either a percentage or the entirety of your tuition fees, and you'll stop being eligible for maintenance payments. You will also no longer qualify for student accommodation, and you'll have to start paying council tax.

If you're leaving university for your career prospects, you'll need to think about what you'd like to do next. Some professions will require a degree, but you'll be able to enter others through alternative routes. Be sure to carry out research before quitting your course. If you've got a career path in mind, visit our job profiles to check the entry requirements.

You won't be able to join a graduate scheme without a completed degree - the majority of schemes will ask for a high-standard undergraduate qualification as a minimum requirement.

Employers shouldn't view your decision negatively, providing you can explain how your decision is a positive step towards achieving your goals.

When would I need to repay my student loan?

You'll lose your entitlement to tuition fee and maintenance loan payments with immediate effect when you leave your course.

You'll be required to pay the tuition fees for all, or part, of the year you're in. Student Finance will assess your financial situation and send you details of the loan amounts available to you and those you'll have to pay back. How much you'll be charged will depend on when in the academic year you've decided to leave. This is calculated as follows:

  • If you leave in the first term, you'll be charged 25% of the tuition fees for that academic year.
  • If you withdraw in the second term, you'll be charged 50%.
  • If you leave in the third term, you'll be accountable for 100% of the tuition fees for the year.

Even if you decide to leave halfway through a term, you'll be responsible for the entirety of its fees.

You'll be expected to repay the debts you've accumulated in the same way a graduate would - from the April after you leave university, if you're earning over £25,725.

As well as your tuition fees you'll be expected to cover your maintenance loans, including your accommodation fees. More often than not, when you moved into student accommodation you'll have signed a contract of either 40 or 52 weeks. This will need to be honoured in full and you'll have to repay any loans you took out to cover these costs. You can only be released from this contract by finding another student to fill your room and take over the payments.

If you decide to return to university at a later date, you'll still be able to apply for student funding. However, your previous funding history will be taken into account and deducted from what you're entitled to in the future. Also, if you withdrew from a course halfway through the year, Student Finance counts this as a full year of funding.

Can I change my course at university?

It's possible to transfer onto a different course at the same university, as long as there's enough space for you on the new programme and the transfer is agreed between the departments. When speaking to your new department, you'll have to provide reasons for wanting to move courses and show you're taking your studies seriously.

To transfer, you'll need to fill in and submit an internal transfer form, which you can request from your current department. This will be approved once it's been confirmed that you meet the entry requirements for your new course.

Switching courses at university can have financial implications for a number of reasons - for example, if you're transferring onto a longer or shorter course. Contact Student Finance as soon as you've made your decision to find out your new loan entitlements.

Changing modules on the same course is a much simpler process. Request a 'change of module' form from your department, and you'll be transferred over if there's space on the new modules and they don't clash with your existing timetable.

Bear in mind that you won't be able to drop any compulsory modules and individual universities will set their own cut-off dates for module changes, typically in the first few weeks of term.

Changing from single to joint honours is more complicated. You may be asked to submit another personal statement, attend an interview with your prospective department, or even leave the institution and reapply through UCAS for the next joint honours cohort the following year.

How do I transfer to another university?

If you're unhappy with your institution you may be able to transfer to another. You'll still need to do your research and meet the entry requirements of the university you'd like to move to.

Your previous credits might be taken into account if you're hoping to join a new university for the second year onwards. Alternatively, you might be required to start afresh in the first year at your new university.

For a definitive answer on whether you can transfer, contact the admissions officer at your new university. Be prepared for the possibility of having to reapply through UCAS to restart your course, and the financial implications of this. As part of your application, the university might request information about your current course and modules, a transcript of your studies and an academic reference.

Can I take a year out from study?

If you have a good reason - you're feeling stressed, unhappy or are in financial trouble - you'll likely be granted permission to take some time out from your studies. This can be anywhere from a term to two years, depending on your circumstances and the institution.

To get started, arrange to meet with your personal tutor to discuss the situation. You'll need the go-ahead from them to leave - don't just stop attending lectures and seminars, as this will impact on you negatively when you return.

Many students find that a gap year is a worthwhile option. It can allow you to build up savings or gain valuable work experience while taking stock of your career options.

If you decide to take a year out, you'll need to inform Student Finance. You're not usually entitled to funding while you aren't studying, but should be eligible for the missed funding when your return. Contact them directly for more information.

What are my other options?

Swapping courses or leaving university entirely isn't always the answer, as there are often plenty of ways to improve your situation.

For instance, if you're struggling to balance full-time study with other commitments, consider dropping down to part time. If you've missed some classes and have fallen behind, discuss the possibility of repeating a year with your personal tutor. You may even be able to defer your studies if you need to take some time for personal or financial reasons.

If leaving is the best decision for you, there's no need to feel embarrassed or as if you've made a mistake - university isn't for everyone, and you won't always find this out until you've given it a go.

Explore all the alternatives to university, or if you still like the idea of studying but would prefer to be gaining work experience at the same time, why not consider a degree apprenticeship.

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