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.

Students dropping out of university is something that we need to pay attention to in order to discover the root causes of why students are dropping out. Having a better understanding of why so many students drop out helps students, parents, guardians and universities figure out how to help students in order to prevent them from dropping out. 

Some reasons for students dropping out are acceptable, while other reasons should be rectified. With that in mind, here are 9 reasons why students drop out of university in South Africa.

Table of Contents

1. Students Drop Out Due to Financial Reasons

One of the major reasons that students drop out is because of financial struggles. The truth is, the cost of studying at college or university is expensive. From tuition fees to textbooks, rent, study devices, 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 devices and more.

drop out

2. Students Drop Out due to Work and Family Commitments

In relation to financial issues, students also drop out due to a conflict between their studies, job and home commitments. Many students have to work part-time jobs to keep up financially with their degrees. The demands of the job then affect 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 of University Due to Work or 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. Students Are Not Being Prepared Academically

The academic demands of university are far more difficult than high school, and if a student is not prepared for this jump, they may struggle to keep up with their academic work.

In high school, a teacher is there to keep you accountable for 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 learned to study for themselves and to keep themselves accountable, passing will become incredibly difficult. Eventually, that struggle often leads to students 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.

student unfocused in class which leads to drop out

4. Students Drop Out Due to Their Social Life at University

When you arrive at university there is a newfound 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 while studying at university is learning how to prioritise your studies. If you know that you have an important test in the week, you will need to be able to say decline invites to social events, or reschedule, so that you can focus on your tasks and assignments. 

With that said, having a social life is all part of the student experience and is important. Thus, if you have an exam or assignment coming up, ask your friends if you can see them at a different time or organise your schedule so that you prioritise and complete your university task first before going out.

student considering drop out due to choosing the wrong course at university

5. Students Drop Out Because They Chose the Wrong Course

Realising that you have chosen the wrong course is another reason why many students are unable to complete their studies. Most students start planning for their studies from grade 9 when they choose their subjects, 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 so, if a student discovers that they are studying toward the wrong degree or that they chose the wrong subjects, it can lead to them dropping out.

How to Avoid Choosing the Wrong Course at University

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 that your friends have chosen to pursue.

Ensure that you are choosing a degree with a subject matter that you are passionate about, skilled at and interested in and then decide what to study according to that.

If you’re unsure about your career path, don’t worry! There are tools and assessments that can help guide you through this process so that you can choose the degree best suited to your passions and needs.

A great way to discover your career path is to take a psychometric test. These tests evaluate your skills, personality, cognitive abilities and career aptitudes to match you up to your ideal career.

Where can you take psychometric tests? Let’s take a look.

Take a Psychometric Test with FundiMatch

FundiMatch is a comprehensive psychometric assessment platform that matches students to their ideal qualifications and careers. This unique tool makes use of comprehensive psychometric tests that offer detailed results regarding their skills, cognitive abilities and personality.

Equipped with the results provided by FundiMatch, students are able to make better academic decisions when it comes to choosing their subjects and majors at college and university.

Eager to take a psychometric test with FundiMatch? Here’s the scoop:

  • You can take the FundiMatch psychometric test online at your own convenience.
  • FundiMatch’s psychometric assessments take about 45 minutes to complete and measure a variety of factors, including your strengths, weaknesses, interests and values.
  • Once you’ve completed your psychometric test, you’ll receive a detailed report that will give you insights into your career path and qualifications.

6. Students Drop Out Because They Are Unhappy with the University

There are times when a student is just unhappy with the university they are at, which is another reason why they may drop out. Often, a student is better suited to an alternative way of learning (such as distance 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. Students Drop Out Because of 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 of University Because of an Emergency

If there is an emergency that has occurred—such as illness, death in the family or financial strain—and you absolutely want to avoid dropping out, you may be able to do so! 

Certain universities—including, but not limited to the Univesity of Cape, Rhodes University and Wits University—often plan for these events by allowing students to take a leave of absence (LOA). With an LOA, you can plan to return in 6 to 12 months where you pause your studies and pick them up again when you return. 

student dropping out of university due to emergency

8. Students Drop Out Due to a Lack of 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 with your classmates; some of them may have a better understanding of the subject and may be willing to help you out. 

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 at the university, so be sure to ask them about the best alternatives to get the support you need if that is the problem.

If you are struggling with your studies or need more context for your study material, be sure to enlist in a free online course in order to get that extra support!

Online courses are also a great way to upskill yourself before graduating and will look great on your CV once you start your job search.

9. Students Drop Out Due to 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 as 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 with a university counsellor, and ask your tutors and lecturers questions. Take advantage of the support structures that your university provides. 

student discussing feelings of drop out with counsellor

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. If you want to make sure that you are not one of those students, make sure to get academic 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 with Fundi, and get financial assistance today!

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