It often takes greater courage to admit that you've made a mistake than to stay on a course where you're unhappy.
If you are having second thoughts about your studies or are unhappy at university, you may be considering changing or leaving your course. This guide will help you to understand your options and the help available.
You need to think carefully about the potential implications of changing or leaving your course for your career and your finances. Understanding how to present any change of direction to future employers will help you to be confident about your choices. The financial impact will vary depending on your particular situation, how you decide to change it and how much time you have spent studying already. If you're generally happy with your course overall, you may want to consider making adjustments rather than leaving.
Keep up your studies while you decide what to do
While you are considering your options, you should carry on attending your university lectures and seminars and completing your assignments. This will stand you in good stead whether you decide to stay or to transfer to a different course or university. If you decide to leave higher education and start work, depending on the stage you have reached, you may be eligible for a qualification that reflects what you have covered during your studies so far.
If you're a first year student and are unhappy with your course choice, you should speak to your course tutor as soon as possible, as you may be able to change course early in the academic year but there is likely to be a limited amount of time available to do so. If you are close to graduation, you might be able to get additional support that will see you through the final stages of your studies and help you to complete your degree.
If you are an international student you will need to check with student services how a change in your course will affect your visa. You can also look for information about the impact of changing your course or university on the website of UKCISA (the UK Council for International Student Affairs).
As well as changing or leaving your course, another option you can consider is taking time out. This could be particularly helpful if you have been affected by personal problems. You can explore this option with your course tutor and student services. Make sure you are clear about the financial implications.
Why are you considering changing or leaving your course?
As a first step, before you seek help to explore your options, you need to identity the problem, which could relate to any of the following:
- individual modules
- the course
- the university
- the academic challenges of studying at university level
- personal reasons
The next step is to get advice and clarify the different paths open to you. Then you can weigh up the pros and cons and choose the course of action that will suit you best.
Who can help you change or leave your course?
Course tutor or department office.Your course tutor or department office should be your first port of call, and should be able to advise you on the following:
- how you could adapt or tailor your course to suit your interests, strengths or career plans, for example, by changing the modules you are studying
- how to access help with study skills if you are struggling with study at degree level
- how to transfer to another course
Careers service. Your careers service can give you advice on your career options and the potential impact of changing or leaving your course. For example, if you are studying for a vocational degree but have realised you do not wish to go on to the career your course is preparing you for, a careers adviser can help you get to grips with the different professional paths open to you whether you complete your current degree or seek to change your degree subject. Careers advisers can also suggest ways of presenting any changes you make in future job applications.
Student finance advisors. Speak to student services at your university to find out how your entitlement to funding will be affected by your plans. If you are considering leaving your course because of money worries, student services will also be able to advise you about whether you could apply for any additional support, for example through a university hardship fund.
If you decide to change or leave your course you will need to notify your student finance organisation. If you are changing your course, find out what level of funding you will be entitled to, and if you plan to leave you need to clarify what your obligations will be with regard to repaying loans you have already taken out.
For more information, visit the relevant student finance website:
- Student Finance England
- Student Finance Wales
- Student Awards Agency Scotland
- Student Finance Northern Ireland
Admissions tutor for alternative course at your university. If you want to change to a different course at the same university, you'll need to discuss your choice with the relevant tutor to find out whether you would be considered a suitable candidate. You will also want to find out as much as possible about the course you are considering, including how it is structured and delivered, how long it will take to complete, what subject options are available and how it is assessed.
University admissions officer at alternative university. If you want to transfer to another university, you will need to contact the admissions officer to find out if this is possible and to check whether you meet the eligibility requirements. If you've been studying for a year or more, you'll want to find out whether this will be taken into account or whether you would need to apply to start your degree again from the beginning.
Student services or a student counsellor. They can provide support and advice relating to a range of issues, including the following:
- personal problems such as feeling homesick, lonely, or out of your depth
- health problems
- financial worries
- difficulties balancing studying with other commitments
A student services disability adviser. This specialist adviser will be able to give you information about your options if you have a disability and need additional support.
Financial implications of leaving your course
If you leave your course you will lose your entitlement to tuition fee and maintenance loan payments. You will be required to pay back tuition fees for the time you have spent at university and will pay them back when your earnings pass a certain threshold in the same way as other graduates. Your student finance organisation will get in touch with you to let you know how much you have to pay back.
You will also have to repay any loans you took out to cover maintenance costs and are likely to be obliged to pay student accommodation costs for the whole of the length of the contract you committed yourself to, unless it is possible to find someone else to take your place.
Presenting your decision to employers
Employers value qualities such as resilience, initiative and the ability to solve problems. You may well be able to present any change of direction in a positive light in your applications and interviews, highlighting the problem you identified and the steps you took to tackle it. Our guide to the ten skills that will get you a job when you graduate will help you understand what employers are looking for and how to sell your strengths.
If you decide to take some time out, our advice on dealing with gaps in CVs and applications includes tips on how to account for this when you are job hunting.
Employers will also be interested in the skills you've developed from extracurricular activities and work experience. If you take on a part-time bar job or retail job to help with your finances while you are studying, don't overlook this when the time comes to apply for jobs. Our advice on ten skills you can gain from doing a part-time bar job and ten skills you can gain from doing a part-time retail job explains how to make the most of this kind of work experience.
If you decide you don't want to continue studying full-time at university and would prefer to train and learn on the job, you could explore the option of applying for a higher apprenticeship. TARGETcareers, our website for school leavers, has some useful advice about different types and level of apprenticeship.
Don’t let the pandemic push you off course
With more recorded lectures and the introduction of ‘student bubbles’ (a group of students that live and attend lectures together), coronavirus will make some changes to your university experience. However, we still think sticking it out could be the best option – if this is manageable for you. Universities are working hard to ensure students have the online resources and academic support they need. For some, removing the lure of the club dancefloor or wild house parties might be welcome, as it will free up time for studying and sleeping.
Next year’s cohort of university applicants may well be larger because it will include those who decided to put off applying for a year as a result of the pandemic. Furthermore, the combined impact of redundancies and the recession is likely to make the job market a tougher place to be. That’s certainly not to say getting into your university of choice next year or getting a job that suits you is impossible, but it should be a considered decision.
Particularly if it’s something you struggle with, your mental health should play a large part in your choice. You might decide to get a part-time job near home and return to thinking about your education or future career when the time’s right for you. If you do decide to start career planning, our article on job hunting during the pandemic should give you some useful advice.