The reality of dropping out of university

An insight into the stages of chaos you go through when dropping out of university

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Dropping out of uni has A LOT of negative stigmas attached to it. When you have a thousand essays due, your lecturer is being a bitch and suddenly you wonder why you ever chose this degree in the first place. Therefore, it’s probably safe to say that every student at some point in their university career has indulged in the fantasy of dropping out.

For some, however, dropping out of university is more than just a casual joke. There can be some serious and valid reasons for dropping out rather than loving the sesh too much and being behind on all your essays.  There is a certain level of assumption that dropping out of university is a mark of giving up. But, this is unfair, as it takes a lot of guts to come to the realisation that you aren’t on the right path and your aspirations in life lie elsewhere.

It can be terrifying, as university has a lot riding on it. From the crippling debt, to where you will call home for the next three years. Which is why when you consider this, it amazes me how normalised the assumption everyone will go to university is, and how unaware of the implications we are when we are pushed this way as naïve 18-year-olds, fresh out of A level exams and often unaware of our goals in life past getting invited to the cool kids party.

During the decision to drop out of university there is a scope of emotional and practical stages you will go through, below is a selection of these stages that I myself experienced.

The Panic

Realising that you may not be on the right degree or that university isn’t for you, and possibly a mistake can entail a large amount of panic and fear.  The ‘what if?’ questions start flooding your mind.  The consequences it will have on yourself are bad enough but it is also the panic of what to tell the parents in answer to the terrifying debt that is possibly ‘wasted’ in not knowing what you wanted.

The decision

Making the decision is the worst bit, keeping up with uni work and putting on a normal face while inside battling with this massive decision which has both emotional and financial implications.  It’s exhausting. Once you’ve made the decision to drop out, you are then faced with 101 other decisions in regards to what happens next, from re-applying to uni, to travelling or heading straight into a job. Do you stay in the city you were studying in? Do you move back home? The questions much like the options are unending.

‘Breaking’ the news

There is a passing joke that university is just an excuse to be an unemployed alcoholic, but your parents are proud of you. So suddenly when you don’t have ‘University’ to hide behind, everyone wants an explanation. Friends, family, flat mates and distant relatives, you dread having to break the news to them that you are serious about dropping out and your comfortable university life is about to be turned on its head.

Bumping into people

‘How’s uni going’ is the default question, when going home or bumping into anyone. The first few times someone asks you this, you go through the decision process of do I lie, cry or laugh. Normally I just respond by laughing initially before attempting to explain the situation in as few words as possible and avoiding the word ‘drop out.’


There is so much negative stigma towards ‘drop out’ and that you have wasted all this time and money, however, uni is about more than just a degree.

Sophie, 20, who is just one of the many who felt went through something similar had said, ‘At uni nothing got done unless I did it, my parents weren’t there to pick up after me, it was all on my shoulders but before coming to university I didn’t have much responsibility. University was a bit overwhelming but also a taste of freedom.’

Despite the fact I have now decided that the course I was on wasn’t where my career was going, and have changed degrees I don’t regret going. It taught me a lot and allowed me to make the choice I needed to realise what I wanted in life for my own personal development. During your decision, you will spend a lot of time not only trying to justify it to others but also to yourself.

Thou shall not mention the word ‘student finance’

Scary letter after scary letter will arrive, you soon become familiar with the logo and dread it through the post. Without a doubt something will go wrong and it all gets very confusing. Before you know it you have a headache and accumulated the equivalent of a small forest in terms of letters.

Letter 132….

Everything is going to be okay

You have gone through the trauma of the decision and the practically implications and you have finally decided what you are going to do with your life. Things settle down and finally, you can start to be excited about what the future brings.

This close…

If you feel strongly about dropping out and are genuinely unhappy then talk to someone about it, a friend your personal tutor or your parents. Don’t let your mental health suffer at the expense of adhering to the pressures to go to university if it’s not the right degree or decision for you. I personally dropped out of university in order to change my degree to do something I knew I wanted to do, it just took going through a messy break up and gaining confidence and a few horrendous Biomechanics essays to work that out.

At 20 I have my whole life ahead of me and it’s not the end of the world to change course now, even though will be a little older than those straight from A levels. So I urge anyone who is horrendously unhappy with their decision to go to university to talk to someone about it, and anyone looking to go to university to take the time you need to make an informed decision, don’t rush into anything.


Feature pic: photo credits Will Jarvis