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9 reasons why students drop out of university in South Africa

by Staff Reporter

University dropout rates in South Africa are incredibly high, with between 50-60% of first year students dropping out. This is something that we need to pay attention to, and look into the root causes of why students are dropping out. When we have an understanding of why so many students drop out, it can help us figure out how to help students not drop out. 

Some reasons for students dropping out are completely acceptable – and actually good, while other reasons should be rectified. With that in mind, here are 9 of the main reasons why South African students drop out of University.

1. Financial reasons

One of the major reasons that students drop out is because of financial struggles. The truth is, varsity is expensive. From tuition fees to textbooks, rent, groceries, and more the costs really do add up. When preparing for university, it is easy to only plan for the tuition fees, without realising all of the other extra costs of getting a tertiary education. 

This pressure can result in students not being able to cope with the financial pressure of studying. Leading to them dropping out.

If you need help with university finances, reach out to organisations that can help. An organisation like Fundi can help you avoid this pressure. Get in contact with Fundi for a holistic solution to financing your degree with student loans for tuition, accommodation, study materials, and more.

Stressed student contemplating dropping out

2. Work and family commitments

Correlated to financial issues, students often drop out due to a conflict between their studies, job, and home commitments. Many students have to work a part time job to keep up financially with their degree. The demands of the job then affects their ability to commit to their studies. 

Once you add different family commitments over and above that, many students are unable to cope. If the student is unable to figure out how to manage the various pressures, it often leads to them no longer being able to study.

How to avoid dropping out due to work and family commitments

If you are heavily committed with studies, work, and family, make sure that you have the capacity to do so, prioritise, and communicate with all parties to make sure that your studies won’t suffer as a result of balancing many commitments. 

You can also speak to your employer as most jobs will allow for study leave to give you extra prep time around assignments and test dates. Asking for help is important as many universities have support centres and may even have daycare and other facilities to help you balance your busy life.

3. Not prepared academically

The academic demands of university are far more difficult than school, if a student is not prepared for this jump, it can lead to them struggling to keep up with the work and passing their courses. In school a teacher is there to keep you accountable with your work and to ask any questions you have. They are far more involved in your learning, whereas at university lecturers are not going to teach you how to learn but rather they will be explaining in-depth concepts which you have to figure out how to learn yourself. 

If a student hasn’t learnt to study for themselves and to keep themselves accountable, passing will become incredibly difficult. Eventually, that struggle does often end in a student dropping out.

How to avoid being academically unprepared

When you are preparing to go to university, you need to start teaching yourself to be disciplined in your studying. Figure out what learning techniques work best for you, start to understand how best you retain knowledge. 

Another very important thing to do is to go to class. While lecturers aren’t going to take registration and hold your hand, going to class is a key element in succeeding at university. It will help you know what to study, and guide you in how you need to be thinking about your subjects.

4. Social life at University

When you arrive at university there is a new found freedom. You no longer have your parents keeping you accountable, or teachers disciplining anyone that acts against the rules of their school. At university, you are treated like an adult. 

Many students are not prepared for this new freedom, and begin to overindulge in the social aspects of the university experience. This often includes an overuse of alcohol and other drugs. 

When this overindulgence happens students naturally are unable to keep up with their academics and other stressors of university life. This can lead to a student failing, and then dropping out.

How to keep your social life in check

The main factor in keeping your social life in check is to learn to say no. If you know that you have an important test in the week, you will need to be able to say no to social events so that you can study. 

When you learn to say no, it will help you say yes when being social will help you and no when it won’t. So, if you want to keep your social life in check, make sure you know how to say no.

Frustrated student

5. Choosing the wrong course

Understanding that you have chosen the wrong course, can be a very good reason for stopping your studies. Most students start planning for their studies from grade 9, and at that age there is still a lot that someone needs to learn about themselves. 

University is a great place to learn about yourself, and if a student discovers that they are studying the wrong degree, it can lead to them dropping out.

How to avoid choosing the wrong course

When deciding what you want to study you should spend time thinking about and trying to understand what you enjoy and will be happy doing every day. Avoid following the pack or picking a degree for the sake of it. Make sure to look into what you are passionate about and interested in, and decide what to study according to that. Fortunately, there are a variety of economic opportunities in a variety of fields, so if you study what you enjoy and work hard, there will be a job for you somewhere. 

Additionally, if you are unhappy with your degree but want to avoid dropping out, you can often change degrees, especially in first year. Chat to the admin department or student advisors at your university to see what you need to do to change degrees – that way you avoid dropping out, and get to study what you truly want to.

6. Unhappy with the university

There are times when a student is just unhappy with the university they are at. This is actually another reason people drop out that isn’t necessarily a problem. Often a student is better suited to an alternative way of learning, or would rather start working straight away. It all depends on what the student needs.

If this is a reason that you want to drop out, make sure that you are truly unhappy with the varsity as a whole and if you can’t change your immediate environment. If not, and you know what you want to do outside of the university, then this is not something that needs to be avoided by a student.

7. Personal emergencies

There are times in life where tragedy strikes, and you have to change plans according to that. When personal emergencies happen, this can often lead to students dropping out of university. Unfortunately, you can’t plan for most emergencies and so in these cases it is very difficult to avoid dropping out due to a personal tragedy.

How to avoid dropping out because of any emergency

If you do absolutely want to avoid dropping out; you may not need to drop out if you plan to return in 6-12 months as you are allowed to apply for a leave of absence (LOA).  A LOA allows you to pause your studies and pick them up again when you return. 

8. Inadequate academic support

As mentioned, you have to start managing yourself when you get to university. However, in some cases universities do not seem to provide enough academic support. Students may go to every class, and work as hard as they can but still fail modules.

How to get academic support at University

If you are struggling with academic support at your university, there are a few things you can do. One is to chat to your classmates, some of them may have a better understanding of the subject and may be willing to help you out. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. 

You can also speak to a tutor or lecturer for extra support. Most of the time they should be willing to help. Another option is to see the different resources and assistance that your university provides. It can be that a lack of academic support, is also a lack of knowledge of resources available.

9. The pressure of being a first-generation student

In South Africa, many first years are the first ones in their family to have the opportunity to study. This means that the university experience is a completely new one. These students aren’t able to lean on their parent’s experiences and talk to them about the university challenges. 

How to deal with the pressure of being a first-generation student

If you are a first-generation student, the key is to find support structures. Find fellow students, going through similar experiences, chat to a university counsellor, and ask your tutors & lecturers questions. Take advantage of the support structures that your university provides. 

A succesful student getting ready to graduate

Get support and avoid dropping out of University

Most of the reasons that students drop out of university come down to either a lack of finances or a lack of support. So, if you want to make sure that you are not one of those students, make sure to get enough support. 

For academic and social support, see what is available at your university, and reach out to people who can help. 

For financial support, simply chat to Fundi, and get financial assistance today!

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