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Dropout from Courses

Students drop out of college for a variety of reasons, which can be personal, financial, academic, or a combination of factors. Most students get through third level without problems and can start their careers on the foundations of a good qualification. However, there are several issues that may cause problems for others.

Many students leave college because they couldn’t find a healthy school-work-life balance. The time spent on class lectures, projects, tests and studying prove to be too much. College is a multiyear commitment, and many students drop out because they just don’t have that kind of time to complete their degrees. Life gets in the way. Work gets in the way. Health gets in the way. Even distance gets in the way for students who travel every day.

The following are some of the issues that might cause problems.

Financial: College tuition, fees, and living expenses can be prohibitively expensive for many students. Financial difficulties may force some students to drop out to work full-time.

Academic: Some students may find the coursework too challenging or may not receive adequate support to succeed academically. This can lead to frustration and a feeling of being overwhelmed, ultimately resulting in dropping out. Poor study methods are of concern here.  To succeed in third level a student needs to be able to study independently and, in some cases, students hang on to restrictive study methods from secondary school. The HEA found that lower Leaving Certificate points were strongly associated with a lower rate of progression.

Motivation or interest: Some students may realize that their chosen field of study is not what they expected or lose interest in their academic pursuits. Without a clear sense of purpose or passion for their studies, students may decide to drop out. Just getting sufficient points is not enough.

Personal or family issues: Personal problems such as health issues, family responsibilities, or emotional struggles can interfere with a student's ability to focus on their studies. In such cases, dropping out may be seen as a necessary decision to address these issues.

Inadequate support services: Colleges vary in the level of support services they offer to students, such as counselling, tutoring, and academic advising. Students who do not receive sufficient support may struggle to navigate college life and may ultimately drop out. In too many cases students drop out without engaging with the support services.

Work commitments: Some students may need to balance their college studies with work commitments to support themselves financially. The demands of work may become too burdensome, leading students to drop out of college.

Mental health: The stress of college life, combined with academic and social pressures, can exacerbate mental health issues such as anxiety and depression. Without proper support and resources, students may find it difficult to cope and may choose to drop out.

Lack of a sense of belonging: Some students may feel isolated or disconnected from their college community, especially if they are unable to find a supportive social network. Without a sense of belonging, students may struggle to engage with their studies and may ultimately drop out.

Social Life: The unlimited freedom of being away from home can easily damage as students progress. By the time the first exam results are in it may be too late to act.

Commuting: With the high cost of accommodation lots of students opt for commuting to college. This can be very demanding and may limit the chances of getting involved in some of the extracurricular activities in the college. It can also make for a very long day, cutting in on study time or relaxation.

Overall, dropping out of college is a complex decision influenced by a multitude of factors. The consequences are very serious for the student and family. From a career point of view a lot of the dropouts do not return to higher education again.

The best advice is if you find yourself struggling – get help at once.  If you postpone this the situation can get out of your control and leave you with the worst option of all – dropping out.

Action required

It is not possible to prevent all cases, but significant progress can be made by discussing the issues before students start in Third Level. Alerting them to the warning signs of trouble and what to do at an early stage while the problem is still manageable can be a very effective exercise. This is a conversation that should occur in school and at home.

If a student is struggling, it’s important that they seek the help they need and investigate all the different options offered by their college, whether it be a counsellor, an advisor or into different programs and plans.


Research your course options especially minimum entry requirements.  Maths and Science can cause big issues if you are not up to the level required by the course.

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Sources of further information

Advice before you leave - Spunout

Retention Rates in Schools

Completion Analysis by HEA

Comment piece in Breaking News

Comment from CSO

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