Dropping out of university is something that most of us never dreamed of going through. However, sometimes life takes a turn in that direction, and all you have to do is to make tough decisions and put your life back on track. I know this only too well because I dropped out of university myself – a decision that I have yet to regret until now.
In this article, I’d like to address the situation that you might be facing, be it:
- “I am thinking that I want to drop out of university”
- “I dropped out of university already”
- “I am considering going back to university after dropping out”
No matter which stage you’re in, I hope that you’ll get your head back together and have a clearer idea of the pathways you can take next.
The reasons that students are dropping out of university
This section is particularly important for those that fall in situation #1: I am thinking that I want to drop out of university.
If you have yet to make the final call, perhaps there is a way to stop the boat from tipping over. In certain cases, however, dropping out of university could be a good judgement call. Below, I’ll address the four main reasons why students are dropping out of university.
1. I want to drop out of university because I’m unable to deal with the university stress
Can’t take the university stress? Feeling defeated because you keep flunking your exams?
This is by far the biggest reason why students yell, “I want to drop out of uni!” It’s tough to deal with university stress, as well as disappointment after disappointment. You might even be wondering if it’s worth pushing through university when your GPA is looking dire.
If you are already at the point where you are seriously giving up, I’d assume that you’ve tried various options to improve your grades, be it studying harder, working out where you’re falling short, talking to your lecturers, and asking more questions in class.
And if none of that has helped, then I believe there is one main question you have to ask yourself: Did you pick the right course?
If you are truly passionate about what you’re studying, I believe it’s worth trudging through university. You might have to improve your essay-writing skills, work on your memory skills or hire a private tutor, but at the end of the day, you’ll appreciate the knowledge you’ll gain simply because you have an interest in it. Even without a good GPA, you can still squeeze your way into the job role of your dreams and find success from there.
If you have realised that you have made a mistake in choosing your course, then your thoughts on dropping out of university are certainly warranted. Most universities have the option for students to change programme and re-commence their studies in a different course starting from Year 1 again. Look into this option. Students can make a 180-degree turn once they’ve landed on something they’re actually passionate about. Even if you’d failed your exams before, you’re not necessarily a bad student; instead, the course might not be a good fit for you.
If the course that you actually want is not available in your university, or if you are unable to qualify for it, then it’s worth changing schools entirely. And don’t limit yourself to just Singapore. Perhaps you might have to work for a few years, save up, and finally jump into a reputable university abroad that offers your desired course.
Now, if you don’t know what you want to study, then perhaps dropping out of university is not a bad move. You could join the workforce and slowly find the area that you’d like to explore.
2. I discovered another calling
Some of us have had our eyes set on completing university… but along the way, stumbled upon what I’d call a greater calling.
I am one of these people.
I chose to drop out of NUS to start my own companies. I believe there are many other people like me. For example, Jarenis Ho, the founder of fashion label YACHT 21, dropped out of NTU’s Civil Engineering course to embark on her first venture, a TCM-inspired lifestyle concept store. It was only years later that YATCH 21 was born, but eventually, it catapulted her to success.
We live in a time when young Singaporeans are more open to entrepreneurship. Business ideas may emerge in the middle of the lecture hall whilst daydreaming, or while chatting with uni mates.
If the calling is so great; if you have a solid plan; and if you know that waiting to graduate is not a good idea, then go for it – but only after you’ve also considered the possibility of a university leave of absence first (more on this in a later section).
Don’t feel bad if you end up straying from your academic path. Take university as the grounds upon which you discovered what you really want to pursue, be it your own business or something else.
3. I am unable to afford the university fees
Some university students land themselves in a rut when they realise that they’re unable to finance their studies. Perhaps you’d planned to work part-time while studying, and that isn’t quite working out the way you thought. Perhaps you didn’t look properly into financial aid options before starting your studies. Or perhaps your family ran into debts that you have to pay off, like Dennis Foo, the university dropout who retired as the CEO of St James Holdings.
Either way, above anything else, you should look into different ways you can pay for your tuition fees and living expenses while studying. If you’ve made it this far to get into university, you’re better off completing your studies and earning the money back when you start working full-time.
Even if you hold off your studies and go into the workforce with the plan of resuming university in future, because your salary will be lower without a degree, it’ll take you years before you can save up enough. Not worth it, if you ask me.
So, save yourself the previous time by looking into the variety of financial aid schemes that are available out there. If you are unable to qualify for the MOE Bursary because your gross monthly household income exceeds the limit, you could still be eligible for the Tuition Fee Loan Scheme or the Study Loan.
Also, have you used up your PSEA? If you are Malay, did you apply for the Mendaki Tertiary Fee Subsidy? Check out school-based study grants, loans and bursaries too.
Basically, what I’m saying is that there is plenty of financial help available for university students in Singapore. What you have to do is your due research. The application process might be tedious too, but all for good reasons.
For your convenience, here are the links to the financial aid departments in a few universities:
4. I have health issues to take care of
Health problems can be burdensome to the extent that they seriously affect your studies. If you are dealing with this, stop to consider taking a university leave of absence instead of dropping out of university. Almost all universities have this option for students, and they are typically granted based on three reasons:
- Medical reasons
- Academic reasons (eg. to take part in external academic activities)
- Personal reasons (eg. to take part in competitions, sports, community services, or to attend to matters like maternity.)
To apply for a university leave of absence based on medical reasons, your application should be supported by a medical practitioner.
If you are suffering from a mental illness such as depression and anxiety, don’t rule yourself out of a leave of absence. While mental illnesses is an issue that doesn’t get much visibility, it is very, very real. If you’d like to know, “dropping out of university depression” is a very common search phrase. I find this alarming. Students who are battling this issue should certainly turn to their university for their help in granting them a university leave of absence. Perhaps you will be dealing better with your illness after a university gap year.
I dropped out of university already – now what?
Here comes the part on what happens if you drop out of university. Whether you fall in situation #1 and are weighing your future options, or whether you fall into situation #2 (I dropped out of university already), this section will be important for you.
Joining the workforce
This is a pretty obvious option. Life does not stop after dropping out of university. If you have been uninspired to pour through the books, this is your chance to escape academic life and try out the working life.
The only problem is that those who only have an A level qualification will be limited in terms of the jobs they can take up. Students who came from polytechnics and have been awarded a diploma, on the other hand, would be at a much better advantage.
Whatever it is, don’t lose hope. You can always start from the bottom of the company and work your way to higher positions. It’s also a good idea to start with an internship. Getting the first job would be the tough part as most employers look at academic qualifications in their first hire, but once you’ve done that, future employers would value the relevant work experience that you possess.
In the midst of your working life, you might just discover what you’re interested in. Honestly speaking, I believe that it’s hard for students – especially those fresh from JC – to actually decide what they want to do in life.
Unless you’ve done very extensive research and talked to people who have gone down the career path you’re thinking about, do you really know what it’s like to be an accountant or a lawyer? I know many people who graduated from university with an accounting or law degree, went into the workforce for a few years, only to become disillusioned and then jump ship to a completely different line of work. By giving yourself time to experience the working life, you might just be saving yourself from this sort of uncertainty.
Switching to a polytechnic or another university
If you are unable to cope with university life or are unable to qualify for another course that you’d like in a public university, you should consider switching to a private university.
It’s no secret that students from private universities often lose out to students from public universities. The stats say it all: 47% of private students find full-time work within six months after graduation, as compared to 78% for public university grads. The monthly salary could be lower by hundreds of dollars too. On the bright side, the stress will be less, plus you can still study what you enjoy.
Instead of going back to university after dropping out, you can also consider enrolling in a polytechnic for a diploma in the field that you’re interested in. I won’t sugarcoat it for you, though – you’d have somewhat wasted your two years in JC. But if you feel that you’re better off with a diploma from well-recognised polytechnic as compared to a degree from a private university, then your reasons are justified. On top of that, you could progress to a top university in future, when you are ready again, based on your performance in polytechnic.
Apart from going to a polytechnic or private university, you should also look into reputable universities abroad. This is especially so if you had been studying in NUS or NTU – two of the best universities not just in Singapore but also the world. You may not have realised it, but the stress in these schools is particularly high because the competition is tough.
If you’ve spoken to students who did an exchange semester abroad, you’d hear a common narrative about how easy it was for them to score well in exams without any “mugging”. Perhaps you’re better suited to a university abroad that is highly-ranked but have a more relaxed curriculum.
Pursuing your passion
Of course, if you’re one of those who dropped out of university with a plan in mind, there’s hardly a need for me to tell you what to do.
Going back to university after dropping out
Now, if you dropped out of university to join the workforce or to sort out your life, you will reach a time when you start to think about going back to university after dropping out.
The good news is that you should have no problems with applying to university after dropping out. The university may take into account your background, and you may have to go through a round of interview, but don’t worry – you’re unlikely to have been blacklisted or anything like that.
Just take into account the Tuition Grant Scheme that all Singapore citizens are qualified for. In total, you have eight semester’s worth of tuition grants you can avail. Dropping out of uni after first year would mean that you had used two semesters of your tuition grant. Therefore, if you are accepted into a four-year course, you may have to pay a year’s worth of unsubsidised fee. Please do enquire with MOE’s customer service centre if you’d like to confirm this.
All the best!
Whatever you choose, just don’t be afraid of dropping out of university and starting again. You have plenty of options after dropping out of university.
You might take one step backwards now, but you’ll have the rest of your life to make many leaps forward. And in fact, for some of us, dropping out of university isn’t even a step backwards but rather just part of the journey to greater heights.