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

Thoughts of changing programmes or leaving university usually affect first years and there are a number of reasons why they occur:

  • Career - You've changed your mind about your career direction and the course is no longer suitable.
  • Course - The content isn't what you expected, you don't like the teaching or assessment methods, the workload is too much or you find the subject boring.
  • Finances - You can't afford tuition or accommodation fees or you're struggling to cover living expenses.
  • Institution - You're having second thoughts about the location, you'd prefer to be closer to/further away from home, or your subject department is too big/small.
  • Personal - You're feeling out of your depth or homesick, you're suffering from illness, or finding it hard to make friends.

To avoid making a rash decision you'll need to consider the following questions.

Can I leave part way through my course?

Yes, but while you're weighing up your options it's vital that you attend lectures and seminars. If you eventually decide to stay, you'll regret missing classes and, more importantly, essay deadlines or exams. During this time it's advisable to talk with a student support officer or careers adviser to come up with a viable career plan if you do leave.

If you decide to leave you'll need to make an appointment with your course leader or personal tutor to inform them of your plans. You'll then need to fill in the necessary withdrawal form, obtained from your faculty office and submit it for approval. Your faculty office/course leader will then liaise with you to arrange an official leaving date. You need to write to Student Finance England (SFE) to inform them of your intention to withdraw from university.

Before leaving you should request references from your course leader and check with your personal tutor whether you're entitled to a certificate or diploma for completing either the first or second year. Entitlements for these awards will vary by course and institution.

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 no longer be eligible for maintenance payments. You will also no longer qualify for student accommodation and you'll have to start paying council tax.

You may also need to rethink your career goals as some professions require a degree. However, you can gain entry to certain careers via alternative entry routes so it's wise to do some research to see if these are available before quitting your course. To check the entry requirements of your chosen career visit our job profiles.

Choosing to leave needn't have a negative impact on your employment prospects as long as you can explain to employers why the decision to leave was a positive step. Some recruiters may even look favourably on your logical thinking and proactive approach to making a change.

When would I need to repay my student loan?

While you actively attend lectures and seminars you are entitled to tuition fee and maintenance loan payments - as soon as you stop attending your entitlement ends.

When you withdraw from your studies SFE will reassess your student loan entitlement and send a notification letter detailing the new amount available to you. If you withdraw during the academic year, you will need to pay tuition fees for all, or part of that year. How much you are charged depends on when you leave the course. It's calculated like this:

  • if you leave at the end of term one you will be charged 25% of the tuition fees for that academic year;
  • if you withdraw at the end of the second term you'll be charged 50%;
  • if you leave at the end of the third term you'll be accountable for 100% of the tuition fees for that year.

Once a term has started you are liable to pay tuition fees for the full term, even if you leave half way through.

Where maintenance loans are concerned SFE will reassess these funds from the first day of the academic year to your official withdrawal date. Any funds you have received in excess of this will need to be repaid.

You will start making these repayments in accordance with normal guidelines - in the April after you leave your course as long as you are earning more than £21,000.

If you want to return to university in the future you can reapply for student funding but any previous study will be taken into account when calculating your entitlement. Usually students are entitled to funding for the duration of their course plus an extra year. However, SFE will subtract any period of previous study. If you withdrew half way through the first year of a previous course this will be counted by SFE as a full year of funding. Subsequently, you'd only receive three years of funding for a future course instead of four.

You'll also still need to pay accommodation fees. If you're staying in university halls it's likely that you've signed a year's contract, no matter when you leave you'll still have to pay the full amount. The same applies to privately rented accommodation unless you can find someone to take over your room.

Can I change my course?

It is possible to transfer to another course at the same university as long as the new programme has sufficient places and the transfer is agreed between your current and new departments. Before making your application talk to your current personal tutor and lecturers from your new course to discuss how the move could affect your career plans.

Transfers can be arranged by filling in an internal transfer form. In order for this to be approved you will need to meet the entry criteria of your new course.

In some cases, but not all, it may be possible to transfer credits from your old course, which could lead to advanced entry onto a new programme. The possibility of this varies by course so check with the admissions/course team of your new programme.

Changing courses can have financial implications so contact SFE as soon as you've made your decision to find out what your new loan entitlements are.

If you would like to change modules this usually requires the completion of a 'change of module' form which needs to be approved by your course team. Compulsory modules cannot be changed and individual universities will have their own cut off dates for changing modules, typically within the first few weeks.

Should I transfer to another university?

If you're unhappy with your institution you can transfer to another university. You will need to fully research your new programme and meet all of its entry requirements.

Some universities will require you to reapply through UCAS so be prepared for this process.

Previous credits may be taken into account if they are relevant but it’s not always possible to transfer into the next year and you may be required to repeat the first, different institutions have different rules and requirements. In most cases universities prefer students to take at least 50% of their degree with them. For a definitive answer on the transfer of credits and the possibility of advanced entry contact your new university admissions/subject faculty office.

Your new university may request:

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

What are my other options?

Before changing or leaving your course consider ways of improving your current situation. For example, if you're struggling with full-time study weigh up the pros and cons of switching to part time. If you've missed some classes or feel that you've fallen behind discuss repeating a year with your personal tutor. If you need some time out for personal or financial reasons think about deferring your studies and returning to them at a later date. During this break you could work full time to gain experience and build up savings or you could take a gap year to assess your options.

If you feel that leaving your course really is the best decision there's no need to feel ashamed or embarrassed, after all, higher education isn't for everyone. There are plenty of alternatives to university and if you still like the idea of studying but would prefer to be in the world of work why not consider an apprenticeship?

Where could I get more advice?

At some point most students have doubts about their studies so bear in mind that you're not alone. Missing home comforts is bound to take its toll but there are things that you can do to combat homesickness. If you're still unsure about the best course of action, seek additional advice. You can turn to:

  • Family and friends - They know you better than anyone and have your best interests at heart.
  • Personal tutor - Can help you to decide whether the course is right for you. They may even be able to help you change modules or mode of study.
  • Other students - Final-year students taking your course could ease (or confirm) your fears. Speaking to students taking alternative courses that you might be considering is also essential.
  • Student support - These services can help improve your academic skills if you're falling behind.
  • Students' union - This will help you integrate better into the university; its welfare office will also be able to advise you on how to better manage your workload.
  • Careers service - They will advise you on how well your course fits your future ambitions, and can offer guidance on the alternative options.