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Dropping out or changing university course: the impact on your student finance

Unhappy with your university decision? Before switching course or university – or altogether dropping out – make sure you know what effect it could have on your student finance

Perhaps contemporary circus and physical theatre wasn’t your calling after all, and you have to rethink your university decision?

While it can be disappointing after many months of sifting through university courses, writing your personal statementattending interviews and more, fortunately you do have options available. This could be switching courses, transferring to another uni or coming back a year later.

Watch now: How to choose the right uni course – six factors to look at

Student finance can be a bit of a minefield at the best of times, so we’ve broken down what you need to know if your circumstances change once you begin your course.

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The information below refers to English students applying to begin their first undergraduate course in September 2019 (unless stated otherwise).
 

How much of my tuition fees do I have to pay back?


Most undergraduate students can apply for a Tuition Fee Loan to cover these upfront. Under the current student finance system, the majority of students won't fully repay their loan debt because it's written off after a certain amount of time.

So while interest is charged from the moment you receive your first loan, whatever debt you've racked up will effectively disappear one day in the far future.

That said, you will pay back something when you’re earning above a certain amount – see our guide to how student loan repayments work, or our regional student finance guides for students in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

So how much will it add up to? Tuition fees are paid in three instalments:
  • Term one: 25% of annual tuition fees paid
  • Term two: 25% of fees paid
  • Term three: 50% of fees paid

The moment you leave your course (so you've agreed on an official leaving date with your university department and have completed the necessary paperwork), you'll no longer be entitled to any student loans.

It’s slightly in your favour should you drop out earlier in the year. If you leave partway through a term, you still have to pay the whole fee for that term. 

You’ll pay nothing if you leave before course registration at the beginning of uni. The moment you do register, the Student Loan Company (SLC) will require 25% of the first year’s tuition fees until the end of term one (see table).

If you drop out in your first year of study, here’s what you’ll need to repay in tuition fees:

If you’re a Scottish student studying in Scotland, the Student Awards Agency Scotland (SAAS) pays your tuition fees (so no tuition fee debt for you!).

If you start your course in September and leave before the tuition fee cut-off date (1 December), it doesn’t count as a funded year. Leaving after the cut-off date would count as ‘previous study’ when applying for future funding.
 

When will I have to repay my tuition fee loan?

You’ll start paying back your tuition fee loan the April after you withdraw from your course. As with all tuition fee loans, you’ll only start paying this back once you’re earning over £25,725 (and only 9% of everything you earn above this). Note, this repayment threshold for Plan 2 loans has gone up ever so slightly from £25,000 as of 6 April 2019.

So, if your tuition fees are the maximum £9,250 in England, and you drop out midway through term two, you’ll still have to cover two full terms that’s £4,625 to pay back.

Elsewhere in the UK, the fees for the year are a little different. If you're from Wales you’ll pay up to £9,000 a year if you're staying there to study, and up to £4,160 a year if you're from Northern Ireland and studying there too.

Once you’ve officially left your university, you won’t pay any tuition fees for further terms.
 

How much of my maintenance loan do I have to pay back?

If you're a student in England, once you’ve withdrawn from a course, your student finance entitlement will be reassessed up to the last day you attended.
 
For most people, there’ll be no more funding after the last day of attendance. If you receive a bursary or grant, the potential financial hardship that could occur from stopping student finance for that term, will be considered.

Don’t think your luck’s in if you’ve been overpaid when it comes to your student finance, either. In the event that any overpayment has occurred, it most likely will come to light and you'll be asked to pay this back this may be a problem if you've already spent it.

To avoid any problems, it’s best to contact your institution and finance body as soon as you’ve made your decision to leave and be 100% upfront about this. The funding year runs from 1 September through to 31 August (except in your final year, where it ends on the date you officially finish).

You can work out how much you’re now entitled to with some simple maths. Let’s say your last day of attendance is roughly halfway through term two, and you’re entitled to the maximum maintenance loan for living away from home outside of London (£8,944):

150 days attended ÷ 365 days in a year × (£8,944) original entitlement = £3,676 of maintenance loan you're entitled to

For Scottish students studying in their home country, tuition fees may be free but the maintenance loan has to be repaid. You can apply for a maximum £5,750 maintenance loan, which is paid in monthly instalments – and you’re liable for each one after it’s been paid. 
 

Do I have to pay back university bursaries and grants?

You may also have been entitled to additional funding such as bursaries and grants from your university. 

Because these are awarded by the institution themselves, it’s best to get in touch with them to figure out what happens next. This may be covered in any paperwork you received when first being awarded this funding.

But since the nature of this funding pot is that you don’t have to pay them back, generally you are entitled to the cash up to the date you leave (yay!). 

However, if you receive any subsequent payments after you’ve officially left, you’ll need to pay it back. Don’t be tempted to let it slide and go on a shopping spree.
 

Do I need to keep paying for my accommodation after I quit?

Whether you’re in university halls or renting from a private landlord, your contract will determine what remaining accommodation fees you’ll need to cough up.

University (and private) halls

Most students will be in a fixed-term agreement for the academic year. As the name suggests, you’ve agreed to pay for your accommodation for that entire period.

The exceptions to this are if there’s a break clause in the contract with a notice period, or if your university housing office agrees to you leaving early (in which case, you'll probably need to find someone to replace you in your halls). 

A periodic agreement – a month-to-month arrangement – is less common, and you’ll need to give 28 days' notice in writing before vacating the property.

Private landlord

As a student renting from a private landlord, you’re likely to have an assured shorthold tenancy.

The agreement will be similar to above, but the fixed term will more likely be for 12 months (or, if you’re lucky, six months). If you stay on in the same accommodation for another year, you might be moved onto a rolling contract. Always check your contract for what it says about terminating your agreement before the end of your tenancy. If something isn't 100% clear, ask your university’s housing office to take a look and decipher it for you.

If you drop out of uni, you might be liable for the rent until the end of your contract. However, if you can find someone decent to fill your room, your landlord will more often than not let the new tenant pick up your contract from there (although there may be admin fees to pay). Therefore it’s probably best to stay on your landlord's good side.

Keep in mind that finding someone to take your place in a house or flat-share, partway through a term could be tricky. Read more about moving out before the end of your tenancy.

Calculate your living costs
See how much you'll need to live on at your chosen university, with our student budget calculator.
See your living costs

Can I reapply for student finance?

Your future entitlement to student finance may be affected by dropping out, too. You’re able to get a tuition fee loan for the full length of your course plus an extra year (for just such scenarios). So if you throw in the towel in your first year, you should be covered for another three-year degree.

But if you’re in your second year or later, you might have to self-fund one or more years of study for a subsequent course. You’re usually still able to secure a maintenance loan, even if you’re paying for the tuition fees out of your own pocket, but anything you still owe (if you were overpaid previously) will be deducted from your new entitlement. 

If you didn’t already apply for a scholarship the first time around, this might be worth looking into. Check out these tips from students who managed to secure extra cash.
 

The costs you can't put a price on

It’s not just money that you'll forfeit if you drop out from your course or uni. Personal investment comes in many forms.

Before you make a big decision, consider these other non-monetary factors:

​​​​Time and effort: Time is a commodity you won’t get back, and you’ve probably put a fair bit of effort into getting into uni (eg interviews, open days). The good news is that if you've gone to university straight out of school, you still have the rest of your life ahead of you!

Loss of earnings: You might wonder how much you could have earned from a job or a degree apprenticeship – where you earn while you learn – in the time you were at university. Mature students with dependants (ie children) may feel the pinch more so.

Friends at university: While the course or university might not have been right for you, you may have made some great mates in your time there. While you can make plans to meet up, this might not be easy if there's a fair distance between your uni and where you end up next.

Disappointment: Quitting any endeavour can be disappointing, both for you and – although it’s something out of our control – possibly for our friends and family too. Try to stay focused and learn from this experience when deciding what's next for you. 
 

What are my options if I withdraw from my course?




If you do decide to withdraw from your course, the world isn’t over! You’ve got plenty more options.

Change course

Switching course within the same institution or to a different one is possible, but far from guaranteed. If space allows, you present the right number of credits and it’s as early as possible in the year, you might be in luck. You'd be hard pushed to slip on to a competitive course like medicine, though.

Try an apprenticeship

If uni didn’t work out for you, you can’t undo the debt you’ve already accrued. But you might want to reduce owing anything further by gaining a degree without tuition fees through a degree apprenticeship

Plus, you earn a small salary while you learn.

Get a job

Getting a degree isn’t the only way to achieve your career goals. There are many vacancies out there that don’t ask for a degree-level qualification. Getting an entry-level position and working your way up is just as valid, and it can give you experience across more areas or departments in a company.

If you impress the right people, there may be opportunities for further training or education to fill in the gaps in your knowledge or skills.

Take a year out to travel

You’ve been in non-stop education for way over a decade. It would be perfectly understandable to want a break to figure things out (if you have the funds).

You might work for half a year to save for six months of travel, or work abroad to do both at the same time. We’ve got some useful tips on how to travel on a budget.

Volunteer

Potential employers look highly upon volunteering, so it’s a great way to give back while sharpening your CV at the same time.

By volunteering, you can make contacts and develop new skills, which is especially useful if it’s in the area or industry you want to have a career in. 

Get on top of your finances at university with our student budget calculator. Plus browse our full student finance advice.

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