Many students think that once they begin a course, they should stick it out. After all, the decision was theirs and they made it. But in reality, it's not uncommon to complete part of a course before realising that it's not really for you. You may decide you want to make the switch to a different course or institution, change subjects or drop the course altogether. Whatever your reasons, here's what you need to know about changing direction.

Changing your course or institution

There are a number of reasons why you may want to change your course or institution. You may want to change courses because you didn't do enough research to begin with and have realised that the course you've chosen isn't what you expected. You may also have been influenced by parental pressure, found another course you think you'd prefer more or — after being exposed to the course at tertiary level — simply come to the conclusion that it's not the right choice for you or your career path. In other cases, it's the institution itself that isn't working. Maybe you've discovered that the prestigious university you've enrolled at is lacking in practical experience or that your institution's teaching style doesn't fit your style of learning. Alternatively, you may just want to transfer to an institution in another area, be it because you're sick of commuting or wish to experience life in another part of the country.

How do you change your course or institution?

The good news is that changing your course or institution is generally quite simple, although this will depend on the change you are making.

If you are thinking about changing courses within your institution (an internal transfer), you might be able to apply through the online application portal, through a form that you submit to your preferred faculty, or even through your state or territory Tertiary Admissions Centre (TAC). There may also be slight differences depending on whether you transfer within or across faculties.

For external transfers, there are two main processes: applying directly to the institution (either online or by submitting a relevant form) or through the TAC. This varies both across the states and territories and between institutions, so it's best to contact your institution's admissions office for advice. Application processes may change depending on whether you are applying for semester one entry or for mid-year intake.

In each case, you may need to meet special requirements such as having completed a certain amount of study or maintaining a stipulated academic average.

Are there consequences?

Although making the decision to transfer can feel like a huge relief, it's worth keeping in mind that there may be some consequences. It's important that you change your enrolment before your institution's census date (usually a few weeks into each semester), otherwise you may still be liable for tuition fees (which can reach thousands of dollars!). It's important that you research new options carefully — you don't want to face the same issues you did the first time around. Keep in mind what your current course or institution isn't doing for you and what the new course should. For example, if you want to leave your course because it doesn't offer you the flexibility you need, you should ensure that the new course does.

Changing your subjects

If you have a chat to graduates, you'll be hard-pressed to find anyone who doesn't regret a subject choice they made during their degree. You might have chosen a subject just as a timetable filler, or because it allows that extra shift at work or a Monday morning sleep in. On the other hand, it may be impossible to fit a subject into your schedule. You might find that you're not coping with a full-time subject load or need to take on a subject that's less theory-heavy. Sometimes it's the content itself you don't enjoy or maybe the subject doesn't meet your expectations — either way, these are not things you are going to realise until you're actually sitting in lectures or tutorials.

How to change your subjects

Withdrawing from a subject is usually a very simple process; in most cases, you can expect to be able to uncheck a box in the online enrolment system or submit a change request form to your faculty office. In some cases (if, for example, you want to drop a core subject and complete it later in your course), you may need to obtain permission from your course coordinator.

Are there consequences?

While dropping a subject can feel quite liberating, it can also have its consequences — especially if the subject you drop is compulsory or listed as a prerequisite for one you plan to complete further down the track. As we've described above, you may also find yourself liable for course fees if you don't manage to withdraw your enrolment before the census date. If it looks like dropping a subject might cause issues with your enrolment, it may be better to tough it out.

Before you change, ask yourself the following:

  • How will it affect my course progress?
  • Is the subject an official or suggested prerequisite for another subject I'm interested in?
  • Is it essential to my learning?
  • Will dropping the subject benefit or hinder my study experience?
  • Is the subject compulsory? Will I have to pick it up again before I finish my course?

Dropping out of tertiary study

Although there is a stigma attached to dropping out, for many students it can seem like the only option. Even with the possibility of changing courses or subjects, sometimes you really just need some time out — whether it's to travel, work full time or just take a break to figure out your next step. But before you make your decision, consider the following:

Ask for help

If you're struggling academically or you're not sure whether your course is taking you in the right direction, it's worth exploring the student support services offered at your institution. Academic support can help you make sense of the course material and improve your grades, while career advisers can talk to you about your future career goals and help you map out your available pathways. If your motivations are financial then it's best to talk to financial services.

Change your course load or defer for a semester

If it's tertiary study itself that you're struggling with, it might be a good idea to take some time out. Dropping back to part-time study or deferring for a year (or just a semester) can help you to clear your mind and will give you some extra time to explore your options outside of university. You could consider working full time for a bit to explore career options that don't require tertiary education. If you find that you miss the study lifestyle (or discover that you do need a degree for the career you want), you will at least be able to return to your studies with a full bank account.

Do your research

If things are looking really bleak and you've made up your mind to drop out, it's worth doing your research before acting so you don't cause yourself more hassles down the track. Always talk to a course adviser to check whether changes to your enrolment will cost you more money or jeopardise your academic future. Perhaps more importantly, you should be sure that you will be happier out of the course than in it. Will this decision benefit your future career? Try to find out where your current course is headed before making any decisions.

Talk to your course coordinator

If you are determined to follow through with your decision then you need to book an appointment with the coordinator (or the equivalent) of your course. They will talk you through the steps you need to take and put you in touch with the correct administrative bodies. You do, however, need to be prepared to justify your decision. Keep an open mind because they will most likely present you with new solutions to steer you in the right direction — or make you reconsider.

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