Which? University estimates the cost of dropping out to be in the tens of thousands of pounds

Which? University is warning that the cost of withdrawing from a degree course in the first year could leave students tens of thousands of pounds out of pocket, and is urging prospective students to thoroughly research their options before accepting a university offer.

Which? University has assessed the financial costs incurred through dropping out in the first year of university, estimating the cost of withdrawing in the middle of the year to be in the region of £10,500 – and for students dropping out later in the year, potentially over £18,000.

As many A-level and Scottish Higher students are now considering their university offers, Which? University is advising students to thoroughly research their options before making their UCAS decisions, to help to reduce the risk of dropping out later down the line.

The most recent data from the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) indicates that 6.4 per cent of undergraduate students in the UK withdraw from their course. The worst dropout rates in the UK were at London Metropolitan University, where one in five students withdrew from their course (19.5%), and the University of Bolton where 17 per cent of students withdrew.

What’s more, nearly one in four (23%) graduates in Which? University’s most recent graduate survey said that if they could go back in time, they would not take the same course again, further highlighting the importance of researching your options before making your UCAS decision.

Students who make the decision to withdraw from their university course in their first year could, depending on what point in the year they drop out, be liable for up to a year’s fees and maintenance loan repayments. For a student in England dropping out halfway through their course in the second term, this could cost as much as £10,528 – rising to £12,328 for students in London.

Students living away from home would potentially also have to consider money lost on accommodation costs, and those in receipt of any bursaries or grants would need to check the terms on which they were awarded in case they need to repay anything towards them.

For first year students outside of London, the worst-case situation could mean repaying the cost of a year’s tuition fees at £9,250, and a maximum maintenance loan repayment of £8,944 – a total cost of £18,194, rising to £20,922 for students studying in the capital.

Debt incurred from dropping out in the first year of a degree would be in addition to any further student debt obtained if they chose to return to university later down the line, and would be repaid in line with standard loan repayment terms. A percentage of maintenance loan payments may have to start being repaid straight away though, depending on when the student withdrew from their course.

To illustrate the variables that can impact the cost of dropping out, Which? University compiled profiles of three example students, demonstrating the financial costs associated with dropping out of university for students in a range of different circumstances.

The profiles took into consideration tuition fees and maintenance loans, and looked at how variables like the time of year, place of study, and living situation can affect how much it could cost someone to drop out of university.


Student A studies in Manchester, lives at home, and withdrew at the end of their first year of university.

  • Dropping out in your third term means having to repay the whole year’s tuition fees – a maximum of £9,250, plus interest (calculated at the rate of RPI + 3%).
  • Student A claimed the maximum maintenance loan available for students living at home, at £7,529 a year. As all three instalments will have been paid at this stage, they would need to pay back the full amount, plus interest.
  • Total financial loss = £16,779 (plus interest)


Student B studies in London, lives away from home in student halls, and dropped out in the November of their first term.

  • As they dropped out in their first term, they will only be asked to pay back the cost of their first semester, working out at 25 per cent of their year’s fees – assuming they paid the maximum annual tuition fees of £9,250, this would come to a total of £2,312.50, plus interest.  
  • They claimed the maximum maintenance loan available to them – £11,672 a year for students living away from home in London. As they dropped out in their first term, they will be required to pay back their first loan payment – costing £3,851.76, plus interest.
  • This student would also have to consider the terms of their agreement with their university halls, and make any relevant repayments as a result of moving out before the end of the fixed term agreement.
  • Total financial loss = At least £6,164.26 (plus interest)


Student C studies in Glasgow, is a Scottish national living away from home in private rented accommodation, and dropped out in the February of their second term.

  • Dropping out in the second term ordinarily makes you liable for 50 per cent of your tuition fees. However, as Student C went to university in Scotland and was entitled to free tuition as a Scottish resident, they would not owe any money in tuition fees.
  • Student C claimed the minimum maintenance loan in Scotland of £4,750 a year. Student loans in Scotland are paid monthly, and so the student would need to repay the months that had already been paid, including the double payment in the September of their first term. At the point of dropping out, they would have received six monthly payments, totalling £3,325, plus interest.
  • If the student needed to end their lease early to move back home, they would need to check the terms of their lease for a break clause. It’s also important to check what kind of lease has been signed, as a joint tenancy means either a replacement tenant would need to be found, or the outgoing tenant may still need to cover their share of the rent, creating additional costs.
  • Total financial loss = At least £3,325 (plus interest)


Alex Hayman, Which? Managing Director of Public Markets, said:

“Striking out on your own for the first time is as scary as it is exciting, and securing a place at university is a huge achievement – so coming to terms with your university choices not living up to your expectations after enrolling is difficult enough, even before considering the financial burden that comes with dropping out of university.

“While not every situation that leads to dropping out from university can be avoided, there are steps that you can take to reduce the likelihood of regretting your university choices. Research your options thoroughly, take your time making your decision, and don’t be swayed by external pressures or influences – so you choose the path that’s right for you.”


Advice for prospective students making their UCAS decision:

  • Review the course content and ask yourself whether you’ll be happy studying the modules on offer
  • With your firm choice, consider whether the offer is achievable, or flexible if your grades fall short
  • Ensure your insurance choice is one you’ll be happy with if you don’t manage the grades for your first choice
  • Before making your decision, go to open days to get a feel for the university – it’s also a good idea to talk to current students while you’re there
  • If getting a high grade is important, take a look at how many students achieve top grades for this course
  • Get in touch with the university directly to ask any already unanswered questions
  • Examine the drop out rate of the course – if it’s high, this might be a red flag
  • Check that the university has the facilities that are important to you (e.g. gym, disabled access, decent study spaces, transport links back home, etc.)
  • If finance is a worry, look into whether the university offers any additional funding  (such as scholarships and bursaries)
  • Look at contact hours and the expected level of independent study to make sure these will be feasible with any other commitments you might have
  • Read reviews from current students online – Which? University’s university profiles are based on real students’ experiences of each institution


Notes to editors:

  1. Latest drop out rates based on UK full-time undergraduate degree students aged under 21 who entered in 2015-16 and were no longer in higher education a year later. Data published by the Higher Education Statistics Agency’s UK Performance Index, March 2018. Source: https://www.hesa.ac.uk/news/08-03-2018/non-continuation-summary
  2. Figures for tuition fees and maintenance loans reflect those for 2019/20 academic year and accurate as of March 2019: https://university.which.co.uk/advice/student-finance/student-fees-and-finance-for-where-you-live
  3. £10,528.04 figure based on dropping out in the second term of the first year of university, assuming the student is paying £9,250 in tuition fees and claiming the maximum maintenance loan (for students living away from home outside of London) of £8,944 a year. Typically, dropping out in your second term means re-paying 50 per cent of the year’s tuition fees, and two-thirds of the year’s maintenance loan – (9250 * 0.5) + (8944 * 0.66) = £10,528.04
    1. Typically, dropping out in your first term means re-paying 25 per cent of your tuition fees, and one third of your maintenance loan. Dropping out in your third term means re-paying both in full. Students should speak to their university about their specific fee charging policy though. Source: https://www.ucas.com/finance/student-finance-england/suspending-or-withdrawing-your-full-time-studies
    2. Students would still be charged for a full term, even if they dropped out halfway through.
    3. In line with other student loans, these debts would only be repaid once the person is earning above the threshold for repaying their student loans – currently £25,000pa – and would be wiped after 30 years.
  4. Which? University is a free and independent website to help students make more informed decisions about higher education, featuring more than 30,000 courses and 281 universities and colleges to search and compare. We bring together facts and statistics from official sources including UCAS and the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA), and combine these with real-life insight from students and the unbiased, expert analysis you’d expect from Which?
  5. Prospective students can see how different universities perform across a range of criteria in the results of Which? University’s latest student survey: https://university.which.co.uk/advice/student-life/which-university-student-survey-the-results
  6. They can also explore their options for where to study by using Which? University’s free institution search tool: https://university.which.co.uk/search/institution

Press Release