There's a lot to think about when dropping out of university or changing your course. Find out everything you'll need to consider before making the decision

It's difficult to know whether university is right for you until you've experienced it first-hand. Many first-year students have second thoughts for a number of reasons, such as:

  • Career - you've had a change of heart about the career you'd like to pursue, and the course you're on is no longer suitable.
  • Course - you're struggling to cope with the workload or aren't being challenged enough, you don't like 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 don't like the idea of accumulating student debt.
  • Personal - you have health issues or a disability 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.

To avoid making a snap decision about your future, consider the following questions.

Can I leave part way through my course?

It's not obligatory for you to complete a degree course you've started. 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 assignments and exams as a result.
  • Consider the alternatives - a student support officer or careers adviser can discuss the pros and cons of staying or leaving your course with you, and will help you 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 once 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 intent with them. They'll get in touch with you further down the line to discuss the financial side of dropping out.

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.

What are the effects of dropping out of university?

When you withdraw from your studies you'll be liable to pay either a percentage of, 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 where you'd like to head next. Some professions will require a degree, but you'll be able to enter others through alternative routes - do your research before quitting your course. If you've got a career path in mind, visit our job profiles to check its 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 both 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, calculated as follows:

  • If you leave in the first term you will 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 at least £21,000.

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. Beware of the fact that, if you withdrew from a course halfway through the year, this is counted by Student Finance as a full year of funding.

Can I change my course?

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 your current and new departments. Make sure that, when speaking to your new department, your reasons for wanting to move courses prove that 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.

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

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 new department, or even leave the institution and reapply through UCAS for the next joint honours cohort the following autumn.

Should I transfer to another university?

If you're unhappy with your institution you may be able to transfer to another. Do your research and make sure you 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 upwards, although this isn't always the case and you might be required to start afresh in the first year at your new university.

For a definitive answer on whether you'll be able to 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, they might request:

  • information about your current course and modules
  • a transcript of your studies
  • an academic reference.

Can I take a year out?

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

To get the ball rolling, 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 negatively on your transcript when you return.

Many students find taking a gap year is a worthwhile option. It allows them to build up savings or gain valuable work experience while considering their options.

If you end up deciding to take a year out, you'll need to inform Student Finance of your decision. You're usually not entitled to funding while you aren't studying, but should be eligible for the year's funding you missed 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.

There are plenty of ways to improve your situation. 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 feel as though you've fallen behind, discuss repeating a year with your personal tutor. There's also the option of deferring your studies if you need some time out for personal or financial reasons.

If you decide that leaving is the best decision for you, there's no need to feel embarrassed or like you've made a mistake - university isn't for everyone, and you won't 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 an apprenticeship?

Where could I get more advice?

If you're still unsure about the best course of action for you, you can 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 or not taking an alternative course or qualification would be a more worthwhile venture.