College Dropout

4 October 2016

Lynn was lying on the sofa. After packing for six whole hours, she wanted to sleep but sleep eluded her. It was 15 June. It was four in the morning. Lynn was leaving Melbourne. Perhaps for forever.

She was a college dropout.

As a first-year Arts student at the University of Melbourne, Lynn said she felt “tortured”. Endless readings, essays and worry for the future became even bigger challenges because she was a non-native speaker

“I thought I could beat it, and I tried hard to achieve it, but my results were not as good as I expected.”

Like most Arts students, she was also worried about finding a job after she graduated.

“Useless Arts degree, isn’t it? Your gain is unequal to your pain.”

She dropped out of university after a long argument with her parents.

“I still love Arts, but as an international student, I pay a large amount of money. However, the skills that I’ve learnt, things like how to write an essay, aren’t needed when hunting for a job. People ask for computing skills, math skills and work experience. Also, computer science and commerce positions are in high demand.”

Lynn is not alone in dropping out of university after only a year. According to The Age, the Department of Education found that more than 100,000 first-year Australian students drop out every year. In 2014, an astonishing one in five students left their courses in Victorian universities.

At the University of Melbourne, 7.5 per cent of all first-year students leave their courses, while one in 12 overseas students discontinued their course after two semesters in 2016.

Why does this happen? In the same study, students cited personal reasons, such as depression and feeling pressure, but also high living expenses and dissatisfaction with their chosen courses.

There may also be issues at a systemic level. Richard James, the Pro-Vice Chancellor (Academic) at the University of Melbourne, told The Age this year that institutions that apply a demand-driven system have the highest dropout rates because the entry requirements are lower.

Indeed, the number of students at the University of Melbourne is booming. But coupled with continued study in a degree that leads to uncertain job opportunities, it is no wonder that a higher dropout rate occurs, resulting in additional expenses for both taxpayers and students.

Lynn started a degree in Science at a university in Sydney this semester. She felt better than three months ago.

“I became busy after studying Science, but I won’t worry about either my essays or my future. After all, it will be easier to find a job related to science after graduation.”

But it’s not just first-year students having problems. Even older students who seek tertiary education after working in the real world can feel uncertain or disillusioned.

“I asked for a one-year leave of absence after I studied for a year at the University of Melbourne,” says Summer, a Masters student majoring in Arts and Culture Management.

Summer decided to be a post-graduate student out of her passion for Arts. After working for several years in an advertisement company as an associate account director, she considered changing careers.

“After a year’s study, I found that some of the courses did not match my expectations,” she says.

Some subjects restricted their focus to Australia, and lacked a more globalised outlook necessary in today’s workforce. “I had to spend a lot of time on domestic research in order to meet the subject requirements.”

But Summer still felt conflicted as to whether she should quit or continue her studies.

With universities reluctant to make big changes, it seems it is up to students like Lynn and Summer to make personal yet practical choices for their futures.

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