Transferring or dropping out of university
If you want to transfer from a degree course or university, or drop out of university altogether, these are the things you should know and consider.
You won’t know if your choice of university was right until you’re there. Sometimes it just doesn’t work out, so you start thinking about other options. Don’t worry, you’re not the first to be in this situation and you won’t be the last.
In 2018-19, 2.39% of all first-time undergraduates transferred university and 8.3% of students dropped out of university altogether (HESA 2018-19). This figure is actually far lower than many other similar countries, including across Europe, the USA and Canada, who have higher drop-out rates.
There are many reasons why you may decide to transfer or drop out completely.
Homesickness and challenges with settling in is fairly common. If not homesick, then maybe you find that you haven’t made enough good friends yet. Or, a boyfriend/girlfriend could be living far away and you miss them – it isn’t easy.
The course you've chosen may not be right for you. Maybe it's too difficult, not enjoyable, or you've decided it isn’t the right route to go down for your future. You may even have personal issues that are making it harder for you to settle in.
If I want to drop out of uni because of mental health
Whether it be a disability, bereavement, mental health reason, or other happiness and health-related issue, there are many valid reasons to transfer or drop out. Universities have help and guidance for students suffering from a wide range of issues that might make them feel like they need to quit.
However, mental health and wellbeing are serious issues and if you need time to reassess your decision to go to university or seek other help, this is perfectly ok. Don't feel bad to do what is best for your mental health, and make sure you talk to someone.
Talk it through
We advise pinpointing exactly what you’re struggling with and ask yourself if you can address these issues before considering leaving.
You can speak to teachers, friends and family. Student welfare such as support centres and groups, counselling, chaplaincy and faith support and students’ welfare officers, are all there to help you through times like these. Talking things through can help you realise things that you may not be able to on your own. They also may have some good ideas of what you could do to make the situation better.
Stick it out
Another question to ask yourself is, could it get better over time? Nothing is going to be 100% perfect, and many people in the same situation feel better and go on to finish their course or at least complete their first year. It's far easier to transfer or take a leave of absence year if you've completed and passed your first year.
Always be honest with yourself and those who support you. Acknowledge the warning signs and don’t push things aside. Ask yourself, would dropping out of or transferring university solve your issues?
Make the most of your opportunity
If you're feeling lonely and struggling to make friends, there are plenty of university societies and sports teams to join. There will be many people in these groups ready to make friends and welcome you in. If you've come to university and find you struggle with social anxiety, this might be a good time to seek out professional help via your student welfare officer who can help you get over your fears and make the most of your time at university.
This has been particularly challenging in 2020 as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. Many universities have adapted well and encouraged students to take part in online activities. In reality, most university facilities have been open from September to December 2020, but with specific restrictions in place that have depended on local lockdown rules.
Most importantly, don’t make any hasty decisions – think things through properly.
What can you do if you're still not happy?
If your reasons for wanting to transfer or quit are down to the university and not personal circumstances, and you feel like they haven’t taken proper steps to correct the problem, there are other organisations that can help.
The Office of the Independent Adjudicator is an independent complaints scheme for students in England and Wales that handles issues such as accommodation, bullying and harassment, procedural irregularities and much more.
The Scottish Public Services Ombudsman (SPSO) is the final stage for complaints about colleges and universities and a whole host of Scotland’s public services. Most public services in Scotland have a two-step complaints procedure and the SPSO advises you check your university's procedures to make sure you have followed them correctly first.
If you're unhappy with your course, see there's a better alternative at your current university –you may be able to transfer onto it.
Firstly, there are a few steps you should go through and things you need to consider before going into a transfer.
Identify the problem
How is the course wrong for you? What would make it better? Is it the course content, or the people? Decide what your issues are so you can make an informed decision of what to do next.
Think about the consequences
If you transfer course and start a new one part-way through the year, you may not know anyone in your course and may feel behind. If you decide to switch course and it's too late to transfer in your current year, you may have to repeat the first year.
Think about it at the right time
Think it through as soon as possible so you can change and not miss too much. Or, decide during the second half of the first year in order to switch when you move into the next academic year.
Figure out what you would have to do
How easy would it be? Would it be possible and worth it for where you currently are in the academic year? Speak to tutors, lecturers, department staff and other university staff who may be able to assist. Work out what your steps are to make the transfer happen.
Working out what’s best
What would be best for what you want? Consider, for example, if you get a good mark in your first year, you may be able to transfer into another course straight into the second year (if it's a similar course).
Changing course partway through a year may not have much financial impact, unless your new course is a different length to your current one. Speak to your student loans company and tell them your situation. If you won’t be starting the course until the next academic year, take a look at our information below.
Transferring universities could be a great idea – it could bring more opportunities and happiness. Universities are ready to accept transfer students and the government is making it easier for students to transfer credits. You could transfer to a similar or different course at a different university.
But, try and complete the year if you can. It's better to leave with good results than nothing at all. Many students in similar positions have found that things can drastically improve with time, and those who thought they were going to drop out, but finished their whole first year, ended up staying at that university and finishing the entire course.
When you have determined what you think might be the main issues, you should be able to understand the situation better in order to make the right move. It’s time to ask yourself some serious questions:
- Is it the size of your university or classes?
- Is the location unsuitable for you?
- Should you consider something closer to home?
- Do you dislike the course content?
- Is university right for you now?
- Should you take some time out to gain some work experience, travel or volunteer?
- How has the university you are at (and the one you're considering transferring to) adapted to the coronavirus pandemic?
Switching universities to make yourself happier could still have some unintended consequences. Before you make the leap, consider the following outcomes:
- You will still be liable for fees for the whole year at your first university
- You may also have to pay for the remainder of your accommodation costs that you signed a contract for, unless you can find someone else to take your place
- You may have to repeat the first year in your new university
- It may be difficult to find decent accommodation at your new university
- You may not settle in as easily, or feel integrated with the student body if joining the university later on
- Re-applying through UCAS could be hard if you have not passed your first year
- Sometimes, transferring is not an option, and you will have to reapply to university through UCAS afresh
- If you leave university without transferring straight away, it could create a gap in your CV. This will make future employers ask questions, which you will need a good answer for. So, we would suggest volunteering, travelling or trying to gain some work experience.
Transferring university during the first year
In some cases, the earlier you transfer, the better. You may be able to catch the final days of UCAS applications and go through Clearing. But if you only have minor doubts, do try and stick it out for as long as possible.
December to January is a crucial time when students decide whether they’ve made the right choice. The Christmas period may help you take a step back and think things through objectively, especially if you haven’t been home for the whole of the first term.
There is the opportunity to start a new course in the new year as some universities have January intakes, two-year accelerated or fast-track degrees. This could mean you still graduate at the same time as your friends. A longer route could be to change your full-time study plans to a part-time route, so you are still on track to complete a degree but alongside work or training.
Transferring university during the second year
If possible, stick out your first year and perform your best. If you get a good mark in your first year, you may be able to transfer into another similar course straight into the second year. After January, you can start to look at what's available to transfer to with the credits you’ll have at the end of the year. You will have something to offer regardless of what you do next. Always think about the long-term.
Remember, you'll need to drop out of your current course before starting a new one. It will depend on when you drop out and are planning on reapplying. Ensure you allow enough time to do proper research and ensure you choose the right new university and course.
- What will you need to do before applying for a new course?
- What will you have to do after you have accepted?
- What are the requirements?
- Do you need a certain amount of credits?
- Could you ask to transfer to a different course at your current university?
- Will the same course elsewhere be making the same mistake again?
- If you’re looking for a different university, find out what courses are available that have similar modules to the one you’re currently in
- Consider the pros and cons for transferring or restarting in September or January
- Consider a full-time course, two-year accelerated degree or part-time study route
Speak to the right people
When you have identified a course (either at your current or new university), approach the admissions team and talk it through with them. Find out how you'll need to apply and if you need to drop out of your current university before you transfer. You can expect the admissions team to ask you to send your transcript for your first-year credits, and information about what subjects you're studying. They may call you in for an interview. Some universities have online application forms called APLs (Accreditation of Prior Learning).
It’s also really important to talk through plans with your family and friends, and even former teachers and advisers.
Student loans and transferring universities
You'll need to speak to your student finance company. Make sure to explain your situation.
Regardless of what point in the term you leave your course, you'll have to pay for the full term of tuition fees. If you leave university in your third term, you'll have to pay for the full year of fees. If you're starting at a different university in the next academic year, be aware that in most cases, you can only receive student loan for four years in total.
This is still the current situation despite the coronavirus pandemic, but contact the Student Loans Company for the most up to date information
Lastly, think about the whole picture. When would you start? What do you need to do about accommodation? Think back to when you applied to university before, and prepare in a similar way.
If you're applying to a different course at the same university, you may only be able to transfer credits if the courses are very similar.
If you have to re-apply via UCAS to a new university you may be given the option to transfer your credits over. It's then up to you to decide whether or not to stick out the year and work for credits to transfer you straight into year two at your new university, or leave straight away and start again from year one next academic year.
If you're transferring credits in order to start in year two, you must remember to state on your UCAS application that you want to join the second year.
If you can't transfer your credits over, this will mean you have to start again, and not only will you have to pay for a degree you didn’t finish, you may not receive the full funding for the second one – especially if you leave in the second or third year.
University isn’t for everyone. If you feel like dropping out of uni, sometimes the best option could be leaving and pursuing a different route. This could be entering into full-time employment, undertaking an apprenticeship, volunteering or travelling.
However, there are some consequences to dropping out to consider:
- If you leave after the first term, you may be liable for fees for the whole year
- You also have to pay for the remainder of your accommodation costs that you signed a contract for, unless you can find someone else to take your place
- You'll stop receiving any loan payments and student benefits
- If you stay in your accommodation and you’re not a student, you'll have to pay council tax
- You may receive limited funds if you decide to go back to university in the future, regardless of what point in the year you dropped out
- Leaving university could create a gap in your CV; future employers might ask questions about this and you'll need a good answer
Dropping out of university advice
We advise you to try and complete the year, if you can. It’s better to leave with good exams results than nothing at all. If you have some grades from your first year, this may help if you wish to apply again in the future. If you don’t, at the very least it will show future employers that you worked hard at something before giving up.
Many students in similar positions have found things can drastically improve with time and those who thought they were going to drop out but finished their whole first year ended up staying at that university and finishing the whole course. However, if you are adamant on leaving university and not returning (at least not just yet), either leave as soon as possible, to avoid paying fees and/or accommodation for the entire year.
Student loans and dropping out of uni advice
You'll be required to pay back the student loans you've received. How much you'll have to pay back will depend on when you leave university. It's much the same as if you transfer:
- Leave midway through a term and you'll have to pay for the full term of tuition fees
- Leave university in your third term and you'll have to pay for the full year of fees
- Get in touch with your student finance company and talk through what will happen
You'll begin repaying your loan in the same way as if you finished your entire degree. This is from the April following your departure from university, and when you have started earning more than £26,575.