by ANTONY CLAY
NOVEMBER 12 is an important date in the academic year for university students – but not necessarily for the right reason.
That is the most common date for first year students to drop out of their chosen course – with 20,000 calling it quits every year.
This year, the impact of coronavirus and its restrictions may provide extra reasons for students to opt out and leave a university education behind.
But the reasons why a student will make the decision that uni life is not for them are varied – emotional, financial, whatever.
Starting at university can be difficult for many first time students, known as freshers. It is a completely new environment and may be far busier and academically challenging than school ever was, and the new ways of learning through lectures and self study may be challenging.
People may have trouble making friends – though it may be worth remembering that everyone else is probably in the same boat – and being away from the comforts of home can be both liberating and a source of anxiety at the same time. Looking after your own financial affairs, cooking for yourself and being generally ‘grown up’ can make or break a person.
Ofcourse, the vast majority of students learn to cope perfectly well. But some decide that it isn’t for them. Around one in 16 students don’t start their second year.
Leaving uni is certainly not the end of everything. There are viable career opportunities for those taking this route.
Dr Lisette Johnston, head of school at ScreenSpace, part of MetFilm School, said that there are many options still available to young people who feel they may have made a massive mistake in choosing university.
She said: “If young people are worried about their course or university at this point, they are definitely not alone. Many students are feeling exactly the same way.
“They might feel under pressure from their parents to persevere with the course; they might feel afraid to change direction when all their friends seem to be moving on with their lives.
“Dropping out might seem like a radical decision, but remember that three years is a long time and if someone is not enjoying where they are right now, negative feelings might worsen and these can lead to issues around wellbeing.
“If something has to change then the sooner a decision is made, the better.”
Dr Johnston has offered up some top tips for anyone thinking of dropping out from university:
1 Sleep on it
Don’t make a snap decision – you have invested a lot of time and money to get this far. Make a pros and cons list and consider your next move really carefully. Think about your situation when you are in a different frame of mind. If you come back to the same conclusion, then you know you have got make something change.
2 Get some advice
Chances are there are a lot of people around you feeling the same way. Talk to them, talk to students a year ahead of you, talk to the person next door, talk to your family and talk to your lecturers/personal tutor. It is important that you don’t keep your unhappiness and anxiety to yourself – there are lots of people who can advise you. Remember that it is important to seek advice, but in the end, it is your life and your decision. Don’t let others persuade you to stay for the wrong reasons.
3 Research your options
What are you going to do next? Do you need to retake your A-levels? Choose another course? Take a year out? Or are you going to forget about university completely? If you need to research careers or look for an apprenticeship, check out the government’s National Careers Service website.
4 What about the money?
There will be some financial implications – a percentage for tuition fees, your student loan and a percentage towards your accommodation will have to be paid. You will need to discuss this with your university – your personal tutor or the university’s student services department will be able to help you with these.
5 Alternative to leaving
At many universities, you have the option of pausing your degree and taking a year out. This can be a great compromise if you want to take some time to explore your options without shutting the door all together. But if the university you’re at is the main part of the problem, this will just delay the inevitable. You will need to arrange to speak with your personal tutor to explore whether this is an option open to you.
Farris (21), from London dropped out of a university in Hampshire to study at MetFilm School’s ScreenSpace. His experience of racial profiling put him off from the start.
He said: “It was only on my third night it happened. I’d never been to an open day, but I went after they gave me an unconditional offer to study film production. As I walked down the high street, two guys who looked like students came up to me and asked ‘mate, do you sell weed?’ No I didn’t. After that, I felt uncomfortable.
“I was uncomfortable from the start. I felt that I didn’t fit in; there aren’t many black students in Winchester. The whole place didn’t suit me. I didn’t do any freshers’ stuff. I was just unhappy.
“As soon as I made my decision to leave, I looked up vacancies and applied to MetFilm School, London through clearing. I didn’t know then, but that was the last day I could have got on the course. I emailed and heard back within the hour. They were really supportive and told me what I needed to do.”
Emily (19) decided to drop out of a university in Berkshire and retake her A-levels. She is now studying Law at Birmingham University.
Emily knew she’d made a mistake right after Freshers’ Week.
She said: “I was desperately unhappy. Reading wasn’t the right place for me, and the course wasn’t right either. I knew I couldn’t stomach three years there.
“I called my mum one night, quite late, and told her how unhappy I was and she came to get me. I’d been there for seven weeks and hadn’t even met my personal tutor.
“I decided that I needed to retake a couple of A-levels and reapply to a different university. I got a conditional offer from the University of Birmingham and started here in September.
“My experience at Birmingham couldn’t be further from what I experienced at Reading. This is the right place, the right time and the right course from me. Dropping out was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.”