What if University Doesn’t Work Out?


It’s normal to feel apprehensive about Higher Education. Working within University Access and Outreach, we commonly hear students say things like:

  • What if uni isn’t for me?
  • What if everyone is cleverer than I am?
  • What if I don’t fit in?
  • What if I don’t like it?
  • What if I fail?

And we can all be guilty of this kind of “what if” thinking from time to time. But the problem with this type of thinking is that it doesn’t actually help us succeed. In fact, thoughts like these can make it more likely that we won’t even try in the first place, because we’re so scared of things going wrong.

So, what should you do if you’re worried that university might not work out?

The truth is, university probably will work out.

For the majority of people, it does work out. So don’t let your fears put you off from applying to university. Remember: You’ve already lived through a period of unprecedented stress and upheaval during this pandemic. In some ways you’re better prepared for university than any other year group that has gone before you. You’ve already got experience motivating yourself, adapting to change, and studying independently. There’s no reason why you would struggle in Higher Education.

If you still feel as though uni isn’t going to work out for you, then you could be experiencing something known as imposter syndrome. This is what we call the experience of feeling like you’re an imposter, even though you’re not. You feel as if you don’t deserve to be where you are: as if you’re faking, and you’re one step away from everyone discovering you’re a fraud!

Lots of people feel this way about attending university, especially if they are the first in their family to do so, or if they’re attending a prestigious institution. The thing to remember is: Only you are thinking this! We’re all bad judges of our own abilities, and it’s not the case that the most confident people always do the best. So don’t let imposter syndrome stand in your way!

University probably will work out… But what if it doesn’t?

Now, it is still possible that university won’t work out for you. People do occasionally fail their courses or drop out (although it is estimated that only 6 in every 100 students does not complete). It’s very unlikely that you would be one of the small number of people who enrol on a degree and don’t end up completing it. But here are three things to bear in mind if that does happen:

Just because you didn’t complete the degree, doesn’t mean that your time was wasted

We can sometimes be guilty of thinking that dropping out means that all the time and money you put in counts for nothing. But this isn’t true at all! Whatever time you did spend studying wasn’t wasted, whether it was two weeks or two years. Either way, you’ll still have gained valuable knowledge, skills and life experience that you will use for years to come, and that you can still show off to prospective employers. Education is never a waste of time, even if it doesn’t lead to a qualification.

Just because you didn’t complete the degree, doesn’t mean you can’t go back and try again in the future

There are all sorts of reasons someone might not complete a degree. Maybe the course wasn’t the right fit. Maybe you didn’t like the city, or didn’t enjoy living in student accommodation. Maybe it was due to other things going on in your life at that time. But that doesn’t mean you can’t try again when things are looking different. There’s no upper age limit on education. Just ask Charles Beatty, who was awarded his doctorate aged 95! And you can also take as many degrees as you want. So don’t let a temporary setback become a permanent barrier.

Just because you didn’t complete the degree, doesn’t mean you’ll be leaving empty handed

Every year you study for will give you a certain number of credits for the different modules you have taken. Sometimes you can convert these credits and transfer to another course, or use them to achieve another qualification such as a foundation degree. The important thing is to reach out for help if you are struggling, so that student support services can help find a solution that works for you.

Ultimately, if university doesn’t work out then you’ll do something else. Even if it feels like it at the time, it isn’t the end of the world. But what you shouldn’t do is let the fear of failure prevent you from trying. The only way to find out if Higher Education is right for you is to try it and see for yourself!

Still feeling nervous about applying to university? Why not check out Student Minds’ Guide to Starting Uni.

Author: Daisy Lunt, DANCOP West Nottingham College