We are all too familiar with that Sunday night feeling and the dread of going back to class after a long break. The thought of the early mornings, the piles of readings and the pressure of participating in class is enough to give every student the heebie-jeebies. But what if that Sunday night feeling was enough to stop you going back to university altogether?
If it is, you are not alone.
New figures have shown that a fifth of university students do not want to return in January. Over Christmas the website My Voucher Codes surveyed 1,204 university students in the UK, asking: “Are you planning on going back to continue your studying at university after the Christmas break?” They found that 73% were confident they would be going back, whilst 20% said they would not be and 7% were undecided.
In the year 2013/2014, the University of Edinburgh sat below these numbers; 231 students dropped out or interrupted their studies. Although this is less than 2% of Edinburgh’s student population at this time, this number discards those who withdrew or interrupted their studies within five weeks of the beginning of semester one. Home students were more likely to drop out than international students. But why are those 2% leaving university before they had originally planned?
More pertinently, why do more students drop out in January than in any other month? Although ‘January Blues’ is very much a thing, it is often something more. The voucher website found that having chosen the wrong course or feeling discontent with the university itself were amongst the most popular reasons for dropping out.
Ailsa Brown, now in her fourth year of studying English Language and Literature at Edinburgh, set out studying law in first year. “By January, I realised the course wasn’t the right one. My grades were good – but I just didn’t find the course interesting and couldn’t picture myself doing it for the full four years”. Ailsa said she was relieved she changed, but the process of switching courses was an arduous one, and there was no guarantee she would be accepted onto the English course after she withdrew from the Law course.
Calum Mackie, who started studying Maths but is now reading English Literature, dropped out because of his course: “I really enjoyed my first year but the only major downside was that I hated my degree courses. The maths modules were not what I had expected. I found the work very challenging, and did not get on very well with the others on the same degree programme”. He also found the process of transferring from one school to another convoluted. “In the end I decided the best thing to do was to drop out entirely and just reapply through UCAS”.
The University of West Scotland has the highest number of students dropping out. Rachel McHattie, who studied Commercial Music at their Ayr campus, spoke to The Student about her reasons for completing only three years of the four-year course. “I dropped out because I just didn’t enjoy it and the course wasn’t very structured. We’d have a lecture in the morning and because the university board told the lecturers we had to be in for longer, the rest of each day we were just told to do a pointless task or a guest lecturer would come in and talk about something irrelevant. I realised after the end of first year and at the beginning of second year that I didn’t want to be there but I thought I should stick it out until the end of third year to at least get something out of it.” Rachel graduated with an ordinary degree in the place of Honours.
Across the UK, Computer Sciences was the area with the highest drop-out rates. Medicine, Veterinary and Dentistry courses had the lowest.
Mental health issues are also a main factor in the January exodus of students leaving university. Many students struggle with the individuality of studying at university, and many lack the support system of family that they had at home. Society’s expectations that university will be the pinnacle of one’s life can weigh heavily on student’s minds. Surveys have shown that 18-24 year olds are four times more likely to be lonely than over 70s.
Following the statistics concerning student withdrawals in the past, the University of Edinburgh said that they had invested more in student support. They cited personal tutors as one of these examples of student support, but most students did not see a difference between this and the old system with the director of studies.
Many students think that the University is not doing enough to help its students. A lot of the initiatives to alleviate student health issues come from the student body themselves. On Monday 25th January, The Health and Wellbeing society are hosting an event taking place outside the library titled ‘You are more than your marks’. They are inviting students to collate their own positive non-academic achievements. They said, ‘We all achieve incredible things, which have nothing to do with our marks, and these things need to be brought into the spotlight’.
Mark Pearson, founder of My Voucher Codes said, “Leaving home for the first time, surrounded by strangers and studying can be too much for some students, coupled with self-doubt and financial worries, so it’s understandable that there is just too much pressure for some students and they end up leaving their course before completion.”
Financial worries were also a reason for students dropping out. Before getting to University, it’s often hard to carefully plan a budget. The University recommends working no more than 15 hours a week alongside an undergraduate degree, and finding this work/ study balance can often be challenging. The University offers a discretionary fund for those facing financial difficulties.
Dropping out can also be a very positive event. Pearson said: “For others, gaining a full time job in the sector you wish to work in before you have finished your degree might be a prospect that’s too good to turn down as well, especially with the rising costs associated with gaining a degree. For some students, the costs don’t always outweigh the benefits, especially considering the current job market and issues young people in the UK face can leave many feeling discouraged with the whole further and higher education system.”
Calum told The Student, “It was scary dropping out right before I was due to start second year but I knew that it was the best thing to do and looking back I can see it definitely was. Maths wasn’t the right degree for me, but I eventually realised that just because a particular course isn’t for you, it does not mean that university is not for you.”
Students thinking of dropping out can seek advice from The Advice Place, the chaplaincy and their personal tutors.