Dropping out of university; real talk

university of leeds parkinson building

Should I drop out of university?

It’s Sunday evening. 11pm. You’re sat by yourself in university halls taking a ‘Should I drop out of university quiz’. It’s dark and you can hear your flatmates through the paper-thin walk playing heavy metal music (there’s always one) and shouting about things that happened the night before. You’ve been thinking about it for a while, but only in a superficial way. Then when you pick back up your assignment at midnight, you question whether this really is the life for you… because it’s certainly not for everyone.

Welcome to my world. I’m a University of Leeds drop out. I’ve come to terms with the phrase now, although seemingly knocking my self-esteem at first, my ‘smart career move’ as I dubbed it 18 months later became the single best decision I’ve ever made in my young life.

With risk of this sounding like a CV…

…my background is extremely academic. As a straight A student (A*AA), outstanding contributor to my sixth form and Cambridge applicant, university success was inevitable… surely? Not necessarily. I have always had to work extremely hard for my grades. I have started the day at 5.45am from the day I turned 17. As a teenager, this was unimaginable to my peers, but real dedication is sometimes what it takes.

My typical day at sixth form would go something like this:

  • 5.45am wake up
  • 6am start studying
  • 8.30am head over to sixth form
  • 9am classes and studying in-between
  • 3pm additional study at sixth form
  • 5.30pm head home

This was every day for two years, consistently putting in 5+ additional hours per day… The point to my long-winded tale is academic success didn’t come easy. This was my first misjudgement in my university saga.

Results day came and I was elated to have been accepted onto the University of Leeds Psychology BSc.

With all my worldly possessions in the back of my mum’s 4×4, I headed off to uni excited for the next chapter of my life. So, what went wrong? Where’s the missing link?

Here are the main reasons I dropped out of university:

Leaving university due to comparison with peers

At a sixth form of 500 students, I was up there with the top performers of the entire school. I was praised for my commitment and achievements almost daily by both senior staff and peers. At one point the school named a transformation project after me, to explain to younger students the possibilities of turning your grades around. But, naturally when you go to a well-respected Russell Group university and study a course with entry requirements of straight A’s, everyone is clever…

Going from a school where I was looked up to and respected to a school where I achieved, quite frankly mediocre grades. The painfully average assignment grades I received back shattered all my academic esteem enough to last a lifetime. Due to assignments literally being ranked, and the best grades given to the students who were ahead of the curve, my average grades persisted. No matter how many report writing manuals I read or feedback sessions I attended, my peers were superior.

As superficial as this reason sounds, I deem my academic ability the leading reason why I dropped out of uni in second year, as this snowballed into a range of other issues.

A life of social comparison and energy drinks

University lifestyle presented challenges

Whether you come from a middle-class suburb or an inner-city flat, the university lifestyle is like nothing else, like Marmite, right? Everyone experience is different, but if you’re reading this blog it’s likely you have just dropped out of university or are thinking about it. The main reasons I didn’t fit in with the university lifestyle is maturity. My maturity was far superior to that of a typical teen.

  • I did not enjoy the lack of sleep due to the constant loud music and shouting.
  • I did not enjoy the absolute filth that my housemates deemed liveable.
  • I did not enjoy being so far away from my friends and family.
  • I did not enjoy the drugs and drink culture that was supposedly acceptable.
  • I did not enjoy walking and using public transport to get around the city with my car being sat on the driveway at my parents’ house.
  • I did not enjoy the constant comparison to my housemates and peers on whether I was putting enough hours into studying.
  • I did not enjoy the blasé attitude of the teenagers I was surrounded by, despite being at a respectable school

Don’t get me wrong, people are completely entitled to do all the things above at university, it’s part of the experience as they say, I am in no way saying it’s wrong to do them. However, this was not the life for me.

University causing declining mental health

Due to the intense academic pressure and not fitting in to the typical university lifestyle, my mental health took a tumble, very quickly and very dramatically. Fuelled solely on red bull and the support of my only friend at uni, I managed to make it to the end of my second years’ first semester… just. Without adding labels, I was chronically stressed and extreme moods triggered from the smallest change. Come December 2017, enough was enough. I packed a case, came home and fell off the train into my mother’s arms.

This seems like reason enough to leave, right? And to think there was a whole host of other things.

Physical health as a result of stress

As a result of the reasons above, I was constantly sick. As well as having a range of infections virus’ due to chronic stress weakening my immune system, my hair fell out and snapped. This was worsened by not allowing myself to rest and get better as my weakened mental health insisted I stuck to routine and carried on, red bull and painkillers in hand.

Retrospectively, completely irresponsible and irrational, but in that situation seemed like the only option. I was in and out of the doctors for months during and after leaving university. It took a long time to recover from the physical illness I had harboured over the previous year.

Are you at university studying a subject you want to peruse in your career?

Often, during sixth form, we dissect which of the subjects we’re currently studying we like the most, and head over to UCAS to study that further. But, is it that you enjoy the subject or it’s the best of a bad bunch? To me, psychology (my chosen study) will never not be interesting, but is it my purpose? My career motivations? Absolutely not. If you’re studying something you don’t see yourself using after university, it can be hard to stay motivated.

Why did you actually go to university in the first place?

When thinking ‘should I drop out of university?’ a good question to consider is your original motivation for going in the first place. Did your sixth form see your academic excellence and push you to apply? Did your parents suggest the idea, and since you weren’t sure what else to do you went along with it? Or did you just genuinely want to gain the qualification?

“Sometimes, reminding yourself of your goals and intentions puts things back into perspective.”

Are you considering dropping out of uni?

All the above reasons are important and certainly played a crucial part in my university journey, but the number one reason is your happiness. You only get this phase of your life once. Live it. And live it well. If you are unhappy, question what changes you need to make to continue on your journey. I did, and although it’s scary, leaving university was the single best decision I ever made.

So, you’ve made the decision… what next? In the short term, there are a few things you made need to sort out before you can leave this chapter of your life. These include, your accommodation, student finance and official withdrawal documents.

But longer term, following leaving university you may not know what to do next. There are various things you can throw yourself into for the meantime while securing something more permanent.

Find out more about dropping out of university what to do next here