Dropping out of university: It's not the disaster you think it is

University life isn't for everyone. There are all sorts of reasons why people drop out of their courses. Lauren Cope speaks to former students to find out why higher education wasn't right for them

The best three years of your life, they say. You’ll hear it a million times before you go, while you’re there, and after you leave: university will be the best three years of your life. But what if it’s not?

What if deep down, you know it isn’t for you? In 2011 a whopping 31,755 of us dropped out of university, up 13 per cent on the previous year, according to data from the Higher Education Statistics Agency, with experts predicting that this figure is likely to rise with the cap on tuition fees.

Starting a new life away from home brings a wealth of potential problems in tow, ranging from finances to the social aspect and even the pressures of having to partake in self-motivated study. Whatever the reason, the association of 'giving up' or being a 'failure' can make the decision a very difficult one.

The course

“I left university because I didn’t enjoy my course,” says Tayla Richardson, a former student of the University of East Anglia. “I don’t regret leaving, because I opened my own business, although I do still think about going back into education, because employers rely heavily on a degree.”

Aaron Gardner, an International Development student at the University of East Anglia also realised quickly he had opted to study the wrong course.

“I stated my first year studying Computer Science, but soon dropped out after the course wasn’t what I expected – there was no way I could have done it for the full three years. I didn’t find the decision very difficult, and I reapplied the following year for a different course. I’m in my third year, and much happier.”

The costs

A dislike of course topic is arguably one of the more solvable problems, with other practicalities forcing some students out of education.

“I couldn’t handle the finances,” comments Emily Chambers of the University of Lincoln. “I wasn’t eligible for much from the Student Loans Company and with accommodation, living costs, a social life and bills, I realised it wasn’t financially viable for me to stay studying – and this was before the raise in fees.”

Mounting costs of living and the hike in tuition fees are likely to make students consider coming to university much more seriously, and it’s certainly likely to encourage them to debate dropping out. In 2012, the Independent Commission on Fees reported 15,000 fewer students than it had previously expected to apply. Despite it being too soon to analyse the effect of raised fees fully, the statistics point to a noticeable impact on applicants.

The pressures

Practicalities associated with university lifestyle may push students away from remaining in education, but it is often emotional and psychological issues that sees student struggle. Toby Collier, a student of the University of Warwick, experienced difficulties after he began his course.

“I suffered from depression on and off throughout my teenage years. I thought coming to university would have the opposite effect, but I found it very difficult to adjust.”

Toby puts his difficulties down to the intense social aspect of university: “The amount of new people I met, the busy nightlife and the importance placed on being an extrovert, so to speak, drove me back in to my shell. I felt I couldn’t talk to the people I’d only known a few weeks about my problems, so I bottled it up.

“I went home for a while, visited my GP and came back to university resolving to stick it out. I explained to my flatmates what had been going on and, unsurprisingly, they were fine about it. I’m happy I decided to stay, but I can understand how challenging those with mental health difficulties can find the transition.”

Not all students are able to recover. A former student from the University of Sussex, who chose to remain anonymous, found university lifestyle too much.

“Moving away from my support network to live with a bunch of strangers and be immersed in a completely different lifestyle was a strain. I’d suffered with social anxiety issues throughout my life and found the change too hard to handle.

“I was afraid of being labelled a failure as my dad had always wanted me to go to university. But I knew it wasn’t for me, so I dropped out six months into my first year. My parents were disappointed, which I found hard to deal with initially, but since I’ve been more settled they realised it was the right decision.

“I do wonder whether I made the right choice, and I may return to university one day when I feel more prepared – I just don’t think I was ready emotionally and mentally.”

For those with mental health or anxiety issues, the move away from family and support, to living alone and being thrust into an accelerated speed of maturing can be too much. However, we can’t ignore that those not facing any mental health challenges may just not enjoy university. It’s widely assumed that higher education is a time for fun, for growing up, making friends and as a natural career step after A-Levels but, for many, it just doesn’t fit.

It just wasn't for me

Anna Jones, a former Marketing student, realised she had made the wrong decision. “I think I knew even before I went to university that it wasn’t for me. I was more comfortable with the idea of getting an internship or going to work, but pressure from my parents and sixth form teachers made me feel as though getting a degree was the only option to get a career.

“For those who settle in, I’m sure those three years are the best. For those who don’t, however, it can be very claustrophobic. The label of ‘giving up’ is a huge pressure to stay and study.

“I dropped out at the start of my second year, and am now in a good position at the company I work for. I’m much happier and, despite my qualms, my family supported me every step of the way”.

Law student Luke Taylor had a different experience, managing to find his feet away from home.

“I didn’t have a particularly sociable flat when I first started university – they never wanted to go out and make friends. My course was more difficult than I predicted, and for the first semester of my first year, I was miserable. I considered dropping out strongly, but knew that I had to stick it out and see whether it got better.”

Luckily, it did.

“In my second semester I started to make friends outside of my flat and had more of the typical university experience. Although my course is still difficult, I’ve adapted to the pace of self-directed study. I’m now in my third year and couldn’t be happier I didn’t drop out”.

Whatever its stem, feeling trapped at university whilst everyone around you has the time of their life is an isolating experience. The huge transition into the ‘university bubble’ is not an easy one by any means and a large proportion of students suffer with homesickness initially. However, if you are aware that you aren’t happy at university and feel like you can’t stay any longer, don’t bottle it up. There are people on campus to help: advisors, lecturers and support staff amongst others. You can also turn to your GP or friends and family. Making the decision to leave university is one that shouldn’t be taken lightly, but you should never feel like a failure if it’s not for you – if you’ve made an informed decision, only you can decide what’s your best option.

Names changed by request.

Lauren Cope is a final-year law student at UEA. Follow her on Twitter at @laurenjcope

News
Young Winstone: His ‘tough-guy’ image is a misconception
people
Sport
Adnan Januzaj and Gareth Bale
footballManchester United set to loan out Januzaj to make room for Bale - if a move for the Welshman firms up
Arts and Entertainment
Ellie Levenson’s The Election book demystifies politics for children
bookNew children's book primes the next generation for politics
News
Outspoken: Alexander Fury, John Rentoul, Ellen E Jones and Katy Guest
newsFrom the Scottish referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones
film
News
i100
Sport
Yaya Sanogo, Mats Hummels, Troy Deeney and Adnan Januzaj
footballMost Premier League sides are after a striker, but here's a full run down of the ins and outs that could happen over the next month
News
Nigel Farage celebrates with a pint after early local election results in the Hoy and Helmet pub in South Benfleet in Essex
peopleHe has shaped British politics 'for good or ill'
Sport
Tim Sherwood raises his hand after the 1-0 victory over Stoke
footballFormer Tottenham boss leads list of candidates to replace Neil Warnock
Voices
Strictly Come Dancing was watched by 6.9m viewers
voicesIt has been hard to form generally accepted cultural standards since the middle of the 19th century – and the disintegration is only going to accelerate, says DJ Taylor
Arts and Entertainment
Roffey says: 'All of us carry shame and taboo around about our sexuality. But I was determined not to let shame stop me writing my memoir.'
books
News
Danielle George is both science professor and presenter
people
News
i100
News
Caplan says of Jacobs: 'She is a very collaborative director, and gives actors a lot of freedom. She makes things happen.'
people
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Student

Ashdown Group: 1st Line IT Support - Surrey - £24,000

£20000 - £24000 per annum + training: Ashdown Group: Graduate IT Support Helpd...

Recruitment Genius: Graduate Audit Assistant

£19000 - £21000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Audit Graduate Opportunities ar...

Guru Careers: Graduate Marketing Analyst / Online Marketing Exec (SEO / PPC)

£18 - 24k (DOE): Guru Careers: A Graduate Marketing Analyst / Online Marketing...

SThree: TRAINEE RECRUITMENT CONSULTANT - IT - LONDON

£20000 - £30000 per annum + OTE £50k: SThree: SThree are a global FTSE 250 bus...

Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

War with Isis: The West needs more than a White Knight

The West needs more than a White Knight

Despite billions spent on weapons, the US has not been able to counter Isis's gruesome tactics, says Patrick Cockburn
Return to Helmand: Private Davey Graham recalls the day he was shot by the Taliban

'The day I was shot by the Taliban'

Private Davey Graham was shot five times during an ambush in 2007 - it was the first, controversial photograph to show the dangers our soldiers faced in Helmand province
Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Many flyers are failing to claim compensation to which they are entitled, a new survey has found
The stories that defined 2014: From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions

The stories that defined 2014

From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
Stoke-on-Trent becomes first British city to be classified as 'disaster resilient' by the United Nations

Disaster looming? Now you know where to head...

Which British city has become the first to be awarded special 'resilience' status by the UN?
Finally, a diet that works: Californian pastor's wildly popular Daniel Plan has seen his congregation greatly reduced

Finally, a diet that works

Californian pastor's wildly popular Daniel Plan has seen his congregation greatly reduced
Say it with... lyrics: The power of song was never greater, according to our internet searches

Say it with... lyrics

The power of song was never greater, according to our internet searches
Professor Danielle George: On a mission to bring back the art of 'thinkering'

The joys of 'thinkering'

Professor Danielle George on why we have to nurture tomorrow's scientists today
Monique Roffey: The author on father figures, the nation's narcissism and New Year reflections

Monique Roffey interview

The author on father figures, the nation's narcissism and New Year reflections
Introducing my anti-heroes of 2014

Introducing my anti-heroes of 2014

Their outrageousness and originality makes the world a bit more interesting, says Ellen E Jones
DJ Taylor: Good taste? It's all a matter of timing...

Good taste? It's all a matter of timing...

It has been hard to form generally accepted cultural standards since the middle of the 19th century – and the disintegration is only going to accelerate, says DJ Taylor
Olivia Jacobs & Ben Caplan: 'Ben thought the play was called 'Christian Love'. It was 'Christie in Love' - about a necrophiliac serial killer'

How we met

Olivia Jacobs and Ben Caplan
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's breakfasts will revitalise you in time for the New Year

Bill Granger's healthy breakfasts

Our chef's healthy recipes are perfect if you've overindulged during the festive season
Transfer guide: From Arsenal to West Ham - what does your club need in the January transfer window?

Who does your club need in the transfer window?

Most Premier League sides are after a striker, but here's a full run down of the ins and outs that could happen over the next month
The Last Word: From aliens at FA to yak’s milk in the Tour, here’s to 2015

Michael Calvin's Last Word

From aliens at FA to yak’s milk in the Tour, here’s to 2015