Students who drop out of college or take a year off-books are often made to feel like they have failed. After earning a place in college and working hard to get there, stopping in the middle and taking some time out can feel like backtracking. Many students will feel waves of uncertainty regarding their college choice, as it’s only natural to second-guess yourself, especially when coming to college so young. Dropping out or taking some time out is not necessarily the right response to all of these moments of doubt, but in many cases, these feelings of uncertainty become so overwhelming and external intervening circumstances so difficult to ignore that you are left with no choice but to take a break from your studies. Nobody should feel guilty for having to do so.
In January 2017, the Irish Times reported that one in six students in Irish third-level institutions will not make it to second year. However, with 60 per cent of school-leavers continuing on to university or technological institutes, Ireland has one of the highest proportions of young people in Europe pursuing higher education. While such high levels of continuing education can be read as a testimony to the quality of the Irish education system, they can also be read as a comment on how people often fall into the wrong college course, or even end up in college when it is perhaps not suited to them. Indeed, in the same Irish Times report, Carl O’Brien referenced the belief among certain senior academics at an Oireachtas committee who expressed concern that students who are actually ill-suited to university “are being shoehorned into universities by their parents due to a ‘snob value’”. Often, because students know that university is where they should be heading, they don’t stop to think about what they are actually studying, or why they are doing it. Further education becomes a necessity and therefore a chore, and as a result, much less enjoyable. This will catch up with many students who may realise at one stage in their studies that they are in a course or a college community that’s not suited to them.
It’s often a case of all of the aspects of college life adding up to overwhelm, and that any extraneous factor working on top of this can make it all a bit too much
For many, arriving at university is the single driving force of secondary school. College is marketed as a place of entirely new beginnings: once you’ve made it to college, things will be different and you shall come into yourself. Often true, but not always, as many may find that upon arriving in college, after working for years to get there, it is different than expected, and struggle when learning that the end goal of university is much hazier, and anxieties about employment after college are rife. A good academic performance will not translate into a job as neatly as achieving the right number of points in the leaving certificate does into getting a place in college. While this statement is more true in certain courses than others, it’s undeniable that upon arriving in college you will face a whole new set of challenges, with often less support than you’re used to. These multiple factors can often mean that dropping out of college is not always due to simply being in the wrong college course. It’s often a case of all of the aspects of college life adding up to overwhelm, and that any extraneous factor working on top of this can make it all a bit too much.
In an inquiry into the withdrawal from college conducted by Trinity in 2001, it was reported that in Trinity, students with the highest points in their leaving certificate were actually slightly more likely to withdraw than their peers with leaving certificate points in the medium range. The study explained how in college, 12.9 per cent of students in the “high points” category did not complete their studies, in comparison to 11.8 per cent of students in the “medium points” category. These statistics serve as a useful reminder that withdrawing from college has little to do with academic capabilities. Whatever the factors that prompt a student to decide to drop out or take a year off-books, be they personal, financial, medical or another, we must never equate the decision to step back from college with personal failure.
While dropping out of college or going off-books is unlikely to be anyone’s expectation from their college experience, neither is staying enrolled in a college course and community that you are not enjoying
It’s never that simple, particularly because there’s a lot to be said for the significance of realising something is not working in your college life, or is affecting the way you enjoy your studies. Deciding to take some time out is often done so reluctantly, but some time and space from college can be invaluable. Many discuss their experiences with a year off-books as excellent for changing your mindset, for appreciating why you are studying or maybe even for realising that studying is not the best thing for you to be doing at this moment.
As beneficial as it can be, a year off-books is unfortunately not financially feasible for many, with half, or even full fees applying during the time that you are not studying, depending on which point in the year that you apply. On top of this is the issue of grants and financial aid being disrupted when you have more than four years in college. These difficulties reinforce the awkward psyche surrounding going off-books, making the decision to take a break from your studies even more difficult.
While there is certainly room for improvement in college services which would work to keep students engaged with college life, in many cases there is little to be done. They can offer options, like easing the transition to different courses, but sometimes, students can no longer remain enrolled in college. While dropping out of college or going off-books is unlikely to be anyone’s expectation from their college experience, neither is staying enrolled in a college course and community that you are not enjoying for the sake of sticking it out. Realising that time-out of college is the best option for you is by no definition a failure, and in many ways, can be a positive experience.