Dropping out of university is not an easy thing to do. It goes against everything you’ve spent so much time and energy working towards. Without sounding dramatic, it truly is a life-changing decision and a defining moment in anyone’s life. On November 1st, 2015 I made that decision and I have never spent a second regretting it since.
The process of getting to university was, for me, a pretty standard one. I had spent the previous two years in sixth form working on my A Levels with the goal of going to university. I looked into different options and I was continuously told to apply to places outside of London. At the time, leaving London felt like the best thing to do… How wrong I eventually was. I ended up putting the University of Winchester as my first choice. I remember liking it when I visited and in my interview I was assured that if I did not get my predicted grades, it would not necessarily stop me getting in.
I ended up getting my predicted grades and I went on to start studying at Winchester in September 2015. I had the same fears that anyone would have prior to moving somewhere new for university – the fear of not making friends, the fear of not liking where you live and, worst of all, the fear of living in halls with five strangers and a shared bathroom. On the day I arrived, it it all seemed fine.
I could do an entirely separate post on the weeks leading up to November when I ultimately dropped out. The short version of it is that I did not enjoy the course, I found Winchester a nice but boring place to live and I hated living in halls… I cannot stress that last point enough.
I did actually have quite a nice set up in Winchester though. I made quite a few friends at the university, I got involved in societies (Pole Fitness was my favourite – see the picture below) and I got a job at the Jack Wills in town. I think working there is why I ended up staying in Winchester until November. It did not take me long to realise that the only thing I was enjoying about living and studying in Winchester was my part time job at Jack Wills… But that was not the reason I was there and it was unfortunately not a reason for me to stay.
So, that brings me to the week I ultimately dropped out. I had been toying with the idea of leaving the university for a while but on November 1st the decision was made. The only way I can describe it is that it felt like something inside of me had snapped. I remember waking up that morning and the first thought in my head was ‘I need to drop out of this university right now’. It was only a few hours later that I went and got the relevant paperwork to make this decision official.
It took me six days to sort everything out and move back to London which I did on November 7th. Today marks two years since then.
The immediate aftermath of leaving university is definitely the worst part. You have to set your life up again and adjust to no longer being in education. After returning to London, I got a full time job in retail which I hated. Working five days a week was never an issue for me, but for a while I had this weird feeling that I have never really been able to understand. It definitely wasn’t sadness but it also wasn’t necessarily relief. It felt weird to just be plucked out of what I now see as one of the worst times of my life. I had spent nearly two months hating being in Winchester and just like that it was over. Writing this two years later makes me think the feeling I had was simply disbelief. It took me a while to get my head around the fact I never had to return to Winchester.
I knew from the day I dropped out that I was going to reapply to university – only this time I knew exactly what I wanted from university and I knew I wanted to stay in London. So, within two weeks of returning I began my second university application. I had no idea exactly which university I wanted to go to at the time, and I honestly felt like that was okay.
I took my time to do some research and felt no pressure from anyone about what I needed to do or where I needed to apply. Not to mention, already having my A Level grades made me feel as though I had the upper hand in some ways – I knew what I could give the universities and this time it felt more about what they could give me.
Now for the part that every student considering dropping out dreads the reality of. Money. One thing I was never told about was how much money I would have to immediately pay back after dropping out. I had just assumed I would not pay a penny until I was earning £21,000 a year or more. I have never been more mistaken about anything in my entire life. I won’t go into specifics about how much I have had to pay back since, but it was one of the worst parts of this entire process. I have thankfully now paid off everything I need to until earning the £21,000 we hear so much about but I would not take the decision of dropping out lightly as it does come with a lot of consequences.
One thing I cannot sugarcoat is the judgement you receive for leaving university. Despite me being very clear to those that knew me at the time about my plans to return to university in 2016, I still received everyone’s opinions on my decision – whether I asked for them or not. To be clear, I did receive a lot of support from my family and most of my friends. But not everyone was quite as nice. I had people telling me I was making the worst mistake of my life, that I was weak for not just staying and enduring it for three years and that I would not be accepted by any new universities once they knew I had dropped out somewhere else. The comments and judgement did not even remotely faze me.
One of the best things this entire process has taught me is to make the decisions that are best for you as you are the one that has to live with the consequences of your actions and, to be clear, two years later I am still able to say this was the right decision for me.
That brings me to the interview process. All five of the universities I applied to showed interest in me and wanted to meet me. I ended up withdrawing my application from two of them as I narrowed it down to three universities and saw no point in wasting the time of the other two. I naturally expected to be asked about the experience I had at Winchester but it was rougher than I expected. One lecturer at a university in London said to me: “You’re just a privileged North Londoner who didn’t like your first choice of university and now gets to take his pick of another.” Well, as he said, I did take my pick. I declined the unconditional offer I received from his university a week later without even thinking twice.
Other universities did ask me about my experience, but I explained to them that this time around I had a much clearer idea of what I wanted from university and that dropping out twice was not an option for me. I ended up getting an unconditional offer from City, University of London not long after my interview and that is where I am still studying today. I am now in my second year of studying Journalism there and I achieved a 2:1 in my first year. To write this all down is funny in some ways as it shows me how things really have come full circle and that everything I had to experience over the last two years happened for a reason.
Had I not left Winchester when I did, there are so many things that I never would have got to experience. Not long after leaving, I found myself on a gap year that I never expected to have. I soon decided that I needed to do something with my time beyond working in retail. So, through CCUSA, I applied to be a Counselor at summer camps in America. I ended up being placed at Camp Homeward Bound in New York, a summer camp dedicated to children who are or were once homeless. Working at this camp has changed my life in so many ways and I am truly grateful for the things it has allowed me to experience. I have been lucky enough to spend my last two summers working at this camp and I really believe that had I not left Winchester, I never would have applied to what eventually became the best and most meaningful job I have ever had (the travelling around America each time wasn’t too bad either).
To say my life has completely changed since the day I signed that last piece of paper confirming my withdrawal from Winchester would be an understatement (have you seen how short my hair is now?) I have an entirely new outlook on life and looking back two years later, I know this was the best decision I have ever made. I am now a year behind where I expected to be at this point in my life but I would not a change any of it if I had the chance to. I am now working at a Jack Wills store in London part time (some things from Winchester never change) and I am in the process of applying to spend a year studying abroad.
For me, everything worked out the way it was supposed to and I can’t bring myself to be annoyed at the less than normal road I had to take to get to where I am today. Although no amount of blog posts will ever be able to tell my full story, I hope this gives you some idea of what the last two years of my life have looked like. There are parts of what happened that I didn’t give much detail on, such as the reasons behind my decision to leave Winchester. The reality is that certain things don’t matter in the grand scheme of things.
I am sure that not everyone has the same experience I have had, but what I can say is that you can only do what you think is the best thing to do at the time. The days I spent stressing about the future in my dingy room in halls two years ago really don’t mean much now. Although the last two years have been extremely hard at times, especially immediately after leaving the university, the lessons I have learned and the things I have been able to experience make me so grateful that it all happened. All I can really say is that if you make the decision that is best for you and your state of mind, you’ll be able to look back without regret no matter how many years pass.