What if I drop out of university?

Annie Gainsborough

Annie Gainsborough is a Senior Consultant at Gradconsult. They support students and graduates to flourish as they move from education into the world of work, with a personal interest in equality and inclusion.

If you are worried you might not graduate or are thinking about dropping out of university, you are not alone.

Seven in ten students have considered dropping out of higher education since starting their degree, and almost a tenth of students leave their first degree with no degree awarded. You may have caring responsibilities or a family emergency; or it might be for financial reasons or to prioritise your mental health. It might simply be that you have lost interest in your chosen subject or university life isn’t for you. If academic study isn’t for you right now, it may not feel entirely within your control, but prioritising other things over graduation is a brave decision. Self agency is positive for our overall well being, demonstrating important skills such as self-awareness and resilience.

It is important to look after yourself and seek support during a big decision like this, so we are here to share some answers to common questions on this topic and help you consider what your next steps might look like.

Can I go back to education in the future?

If completing your course now isn’t a possibility, that doesn’t mean you have to leave your studies behind forever. One option might be completing your course at a later date, or at a different institution. Perhaps you can defer to the following year or transfer your credits to a university closer to home. There is no time frame of when to finish university, so don’t worry if you think university is something you would rather come back to in the future. It may help to think to yourself and to tell others: “My timelines have slightly shifted”, “I haven’t graduated yet”, or “I am taking a different route to achieving my goals.”

There is no shame in taking a break or deciding university isn’t for you, especially when it is to take care of YOU. University can be redone. There is no set timeline or plan you must follow in life. Go where you need to go.

What if I have a graduate job offer already?

If you have already received a job offer or are taking part in graduate recruitment processes, it is worth speaking to the employer about your situation. You don’t need to share the full details, but if they require a degree or particular grade, it is important to let them know if your circumstances are changing. Depending on the sector and size of the organisation, they may be able to offer different kinds of options.

SMEs (organisations with fewer than 250 employees) are often more flexible than corporate businesses or structured graduate programmes, and so you may be able to request to start work part time while you complete your studies. You may also find that SMEs are more interested in your transferable skills and values, than your degree - even if they initially advertised their role as a graduate position. In our experience, once an SME has interviewed and got to know a candidate, this relationship becomes more important than a candidate’s qualifications on paper.

In fact, some businesses are considering offering students unconditional offers (without any qualifications attached). While this is rare for graduate roles in the UK, it is common practice in parts of Eastern Europe. One business - HPE (Hewlett Packard Enterprise) - is increasingly in favour of allowing strong applicants in some countries to leave their studies and start work earlier.

While certain sectors may be able to offer this kind of flexibility around your degree - for example, FMCG (fast-moving consumer goods), tourism or retail - in regulated sectors like teaching, engineering, banking or accountancy, your options may be more limited. However, it is still worth requesting a phone call with these employers, as you may be able to request to defer your start date while you resit exams or finish the year.

Will employers value my skills without a degree?

We know that academic grades tell employers very little about a candidate and how well they will perform in a job (except for highly academic fields such as medicine and law). And so, in the last 10-years, we’ve also seen a 15% drop in employers using 2:1s (or similar educational qualifications) as minimum requirements. As the kinds of skills needed to succeed in the workplace change and the working age population in the UK shrinks, employers will need to rethink the need for degrees or specific academic requirements if they want to find the best people for the job.

Some key skills employers look for (and can struggle to find) in students and graduates are resilience and self-awareness, as well as self agency and a willingness to make difficult decisions. These are all skills you are demonstrating if your situation is changing, and you take the decision to prioritise something else over your studies. If you aren’t able to complete your degree, you will still have developed transferable skills through your experiences both within and outside of university and these attributes will be valued by future employers. So spend some time reflecting on your learning and identifying the skills you have developed to help you discover what might be right for you next. Listen here to Tariro talking about how she used the Ikigai model to help her figure out her next steps.

Where can I go for more career support?

Whether or not you graduate, now or in the future, your university careers and employability service is there for you after you leave – increasingly as a lifetime offer. If you need support exploring options for next steps, they are here to help. We have discussed a few options in this article, from going back to university in the future, to requesting part time work or deferring a graduate job offer. These are only a handful of the options available to you and your careers service will be able to support you to discuss these further, advocate for yourself with employers and consider the plethora of non-graduate routes out there. Conduct some research or ask your careers service to help you explore other routes into employment: apprenticeships, direct entry jobs, accelerator or academy programmes. You may also want to seek independent advice on financial implications so you are fully aware of what leaving university before graduating could mean for you.

Whatever your experiences, there are still plenty of options open to you. The most important thing is to take care of yourself and your mental wellbeing, allow yourself to experience any emotions that come from this decision and use the support available to you. To learn more about how to take care of your mental wellbeing, have a look at our article on healthy habits to help your mental health.

University support icon

Find support services provided by your place of study

Page last reviewed: November 2023