Karen Lomas
July 12, 2018

If your child drops out of university

If your child drops out of university, you might be feeling very concerned about what they are going to do next.

Dropping out of university in the first year of study is not uncommon. On average, in Australia, around 25% of students will drop out of university, and not return to study.

Andrew Norton, refers to the scale of ‘dropping out’ as attrition rates. Norton, from The Grattan Institute, provides an explanation as to why the number is quite so high, part of the explanation being that many will try the course for a few weeks only to reach the payment, or census date, and withdraw.

Some students are more likely to drop out of university than others, and most parents will hope that their child isn’t amongst that number.But what factors are at play in university drop out rates:

Full- or Part-time study

One factor that seems to be important for your child is whether or not they are studying full- or part-time. A student who opts for a part-time study load is much more likely to drop out of university than if they are studying a full load. I therefore would not typically recommend part-time study unless my client has particular circumstances that mean that it is very hard for them to manage the typical study requirements.

Off-campus/online study mode

Another factor that plays a part in whether your child might drop out of university is if they are enrolled as an online, or off-campus, student. This is because a student is not coming into contact with lecturers, or fellow students, and the campus facilities, and therefore they need to to be very self-motivated and not easily distracted.

A low ATAR and other factors

A low ATAR is another predictor of dropping out of university. Here, the university offering, for example, access scholarships (to first-in-family/low socio-economic/rural and regional/Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders), and low ATAR entry offers, needs to consider the very real demands of a degree course for a student. This means the university should offer transition support staff and/or innovative models of first year study. A new first year study model, where one subject is taught at a time, in 4-week blocks,  is available at Victoria University.

Is dropping out so bad?

It could be that your child dropped out of university because they did not receive the best careers support during secondary education. They therefore may have commenced a university course that was simply not the right study option for them. I see many 19 and 20 year old young adults who fit into this group. They may even have dropped out of a course when they might have been advised, by a course advisor at the university, simply to transfer to a different course at the same university. Indeed, it is not unusual for some, when discussing their experiences, to have enjoyed the university, but not the course, and then consider, and often do successfully, re-apply.

There are those who have dropped out who are able to see that a different type of study would be a better option for them. Some students are hands-on, practical learners, and so, with my help, they identify a vocational education and training (VET) course that is better for them.

The ABC Radio National, Big Ideas, conversation, also references the census date. Andrew Norton points out that many students do not know what the census date is. He suggests that a name change is needed, so that students understand that they can drop out of their course without charge before that payment day.  If they struggle on until the end of semester 1, or to the end of the entire first year, they have not only a debt to pay back, but a lot of their time and effort has been taken up studying something they simply do not enjoy. This itself can lead to stress and anxiety.

Course advice

Finally, in this discussion about students who drop out of university, the importance of professional careers advice is stressed. In particular a panelist spoke about the need for careers support that crosses from school into the higher education years, and beyond. This is what I refer to as ‘progressive careers coaching’, meaning an ongoing coaching and mentoring relationship between the student from year 9 or earlier, all the way through to age 25, and beyond.

I will see students during their high school years to help them understand their values and preferences. I pay attention to the development of their skills and attributes over time, so that by year 10 they already have good self-knowledge, and good research skills. A student with this learning will be an efficient manager of their own career development, and will therefore make sound higher education decisions.

So, parents, my message to you is that if your child drops out of university, it may be for a very good reason, and it need not be a disaster. With an experienced and knowledgeable  careers coach, your child can identify their hopes and dreams, preferences and attributes, and discover a better pathway to career success.

Contact me at [email protected] to find out more about my coaching services.






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