Dominic Claeys-Jackson, Editor
January, 2016

If your course isn't going to plan and you're unsure whether university is right for you, remaining on campus can seem impossible

Although all students may at some point question their choices, thoughts of dropping out of university particularly affect first years. After the euphoria of freshers week wears off and the reality of lectures, seminars, essay deadlines and exams kicks in, doubting the suitability of your course can be difficult to overcome.

Similarly, facing term two is challenging for many. Even if you've had an amazing start to university life, doubts about your course may grow once you've spent some quality time with your friends and family.

Whatever the cause of your uncertainty, you must address the problem to beat it. Here's what you need to know…

Why do students drop out of university?

You may be worried about:

  • university not being right for you;
  • your course being too difficult, or not what you expected;
  • upcoming essays or exams;
  • your struggle to balance work and study.

Spending extended time at home with those closest to you can amplify these doubts. Students who've found it difficult to adapt to living away from home are particularly affected, and may have the added burden of dealing with homesickness. 'The thought of leaving familiarity behind and returning to lectures, coursework and exams may be enough to make students rethink what they want to do,' claims Dr Jane Prince, principal lecturer in psychology at the University of South Wales.

Before deciding the best course of action, you must get to the root of your unhappiness. This will ensure that you don't just change your subject but keep the same problems as before. 'Ascertain the particular reason why you're having doubts,' advises Ruth Unsworth, assistant director of student support at the University of St. Andrews. 'All students are challenged during their time at university, but there is plenty of support available.'

Be warned: don't just stop attending. If you eventually decide to stay, you'll regret missing vital lectures and seminars or, more importantly, essay deadlines or exams. Failing to turn up may also affect your future references. In fact, getting on with your work could actually ease your worries and be the factor that stops you from leaving university.

Who can you turn to for advice?

Such concerns are common, so you're not alone. Plenty of people will be on hand to advise you.

  • Family and friends - They know you better than anyone and will have your best interests at heart.
  • Personal tutor - An expert on your programme, your personal tutor will help you decide whether the course right for you. If the course's core content isn't your key concern, they may even be able to help you change modules or mode of study, or even - if applicable - swap major and minor subjects.
  • Other students - Final-year students taking your course could ease (or confirm) your fears, as they'll be able to tell you how it develops. Speaking to students taking alternative courses that you might be considering is also essential, as you can then compare it to your current one.
  • Student support - Among many things, these services can help improve your academic skills if you're falling behind. 'They will explore the nature of your doubts, and then tailor a package of support just for you,' adds Ruth.
  • 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 offer you guidance on the alternative options available.

What are the effects of dropping out of university?

If you're still convinced that your university or course isn't right for you, dropping out is the best option. However, you must be certain of this; leaving university can be exhausting and have severe financial repercussions. Visit the Student Loans Company or Student Awards Agency Scotland (SAAS) for more information.

Decide what you need to do next to fulfil your long-term career goals and create an action plan before leaving your course. 'Have an idea of what steps you want to take,' advises Jane. 'Have confidence in your ability to decide for yourself, and think about the long-term implications of all of the choices you're considering.'

Most importantly, remember that only you can make the final decision. Take on board plenty of advice, but be certain that the option you're choosing is best for you.