Out of gas and 
thinking about dropping out?
December 2022 | The Learning and Wellbeing Team

At some point during their studies, most students will wonder whether or not attending college and university is right for them; some will think about dropping out, and as many as 1 in 6 students (15%) drop out of university or college after the first year. Research shows that most students (75%), if they drop out, do within the first two years. If it is going to happen, it’s likely to happen relatively early on in your studies. It also means that if you are at risk of dropping out and you want to do something about it, you will need to put a plan in place as soon as you possibly can. In this article, we’re going to go over what puts you at risk, the benefits of staying in school, how you can reduce your risk and, if you are thinking about it, what your exit plan should include. You can also calculate your risk for dropout by taking a short survey.

Who is at risk of dropping out?

Research from large studies has identified a number of factors that can increase or decrease your risk of dropping out. Students who have a GPA of 60% or lower at university are at a greater risk for dropping out than students who have 70% or above, and students who report thinking about dropping out regularly are also at higher risk for dropping out. Although not surprising, these two factors, namely grades below 60% and regular thoughts about dropping out, represent important markers of risk. These are like an engine check or warning light telling you that you need to do something about it now.

Other studies have shown that high levels that academic skill deficits at the start of university are one of the strongest predictors of thinking about dropping out. About 50% of students identified as “at risk” due to a high level of skill deficits report thinking about dropping, whereas virtually all students (95%) who arrive at university with significant skills deficits report thinking about dropping out.

However, a number of factors can reduce your risk of dropping out, including joining clubs and groups on campus as well as volunteering. Having someone to talk to on campus about personal issues was one of the most important factors in reducing risk. Students who do not have strong social connections with others while at school are 1.19 times more likely not to finish. Students who do not have someone to talk to on campus about personal issues were 1.54 times more likely to drop out.

What’s the take-home message?

If your grades are below 60% and you are thinking about dropping out, it is time to develop an action plan. Getting more involved with others on campus, volunteering and boosting your study skills will help you turn things around.


Not sure what that ‘out of gas’ feeling is all about?

Most students start feeling ‘out of gas’ at the end of semester. The technical term for that feeling of ‘Out of Gas’ is academic disengagement. There are a number of different factors that can lead to academic disengagement, including a Loss of Interest, Lack of Drive, Disengagement, and Giving upThe Out of Gas questionnaire can help you pinpoint the reasons behind the feeling that you are Out of Gas and help get you started on a plan to get you back on track.  

If you are leaving, make sure you are leaving with an exit plan in place. 

Once you decide that it is time to interrupt your studies, talk to an advisor at your school to develop a plan on how to return to school, if you decide to return. It may be as simple as having the name of someone to contact once you start thinking about returning, or it may cleaning up your transcripts, so that once you do return there are no hurdles to re-starting your studies.  

Why stay in school?

Whether it is college, university or any other program after high school, there are a number of important benefits to staying in and finishing school. Completing an additional degree after high school is now the norm. In 2019, some 73% of people had attained some type of degree or certificate in addition to high school. To remain competitive in the job market – not just now but throughout your career, you will need some kind of degree after high school. Completing a degree will also improve your financial health. Men and women with a university degree reported earning about 50% more than a student with just high school. Men and women with college degrees will also earn substantially more than students with just high school diplomas.  

What’s your reason for dropping out?

There are so many reasons why students change, interrupt and discontinue their studies. For many students, it is financial. The high cost of education is simply beyond what they can afford. For other students, it’s the high level of stress associated with demanding courses and not doing as well as they would like to do or feel they should be doing. For some students, it is the onset of a physical or mental illness that interferes with studying so much that they can no longer complete the work or get the grades that they need to remain in their program. And for many others, it’s a feeling that they just are not good enough or did so badly they don’t feel they belong  

But there are also many good reasons to interrupt, discontinue and change your program of study. Each year, as many as 10% of students end up transferring to a different program or school. Many students discover that they are studying the wrong thing, are at the wrong institution or were just not ready to move away from home to go to school. Whatever the reason is to interrupt or discontinue studying in your program, it is important that you develop a plan to complete your education in a manner that allows you to have the career you would like.

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What to do if you are thinking of dropping out.

No matter what your reason is for interrupting or discontinuing your studies, it can be helpful and perhaps critical to talk to someone before you do so. Before you leave, rather than dropping out completely, you may be able to develop a plan that will allow you to keep studying, take one semester off, reduce your course load, access some health or mental health services on campus, locate a work program that will allow to make ends meet. 

Here is a short list of hurdles and possible solutions.

In the left-hand column, you will find a list of potential hurdles, and in the right-hand column, a number of potential solutions. Every one of the solutions includes “talking to someone.” At college and the university, there are a number of services and programs that are run by the university and an equal number of programs that are run by students at your school who volunteer to help out other students. You need to find people in both groups – including people who work at your school (e.g., student services) and students who volunteer to help out other students (e.g., peer mentors, peer support, student associations).


Possible Solution

School is unaffordable

Talk to someone at your school about any loans, bursaries or work programs you may qualify for.

Attending school and working is too demanding

Talk to someone at your school about reducing your course load – either by dropping a course or spreading courses over the entire year, so that you can better juggle the demands or even work a bit more to cover your costs.

Mental health or physical health challenges

Talk to someone at your school about accessing some mental health services on campus or in your community.


Talk to someone at your school about getting an accommodation and reducing your course load while you are addressing those health and mental health difficulties.

I don’t feel like I can do school

Talk to someone or spend more time with people who can motivate you.

Poor grades

Talk to someone, such as an academic advisor, academic coach or a tutor, about how to boost your grades. 

Academic difficulties

Talk to someone at your school about resources, programs and even courses that will help you develop the skills you are missing.

I am not finding my courses or program of study meaningful or enjoyable.

Talk to someone at your school about finding a course (or even programs) that is more in line with your strengths and interests

Feels like I don’t really matter to anyone at my school.

Talk to someone at your school about how you are feeling. You are certainly not alone in feeling that way. There are a number of things you can do, including joining a club, peer-support group, etc.




Census of Population( 2016). Does education pay? A comparison of earnings by level of education in Canada and its provinces and territories. Statistics Canada.
Childs, S.E., Finnie, R. & Martinello, F. Postsecondary Student Persistence and Pathways: Evidence From the YITS-A in Canada. Res High Educ 58, 270–294 (2017).
Ma, X. & Frempong, G. (2013). Profiles of Canadian Postsecondary Education Dropouts. Alberta Journal of Educational Research, 59(2), 141-161.
Shaienks, D., Gluszynski, T., & Bayard, J. (2008). Postsecondary education, participation and dropping out: Differences across university, college and other types of postsecondary institutions.
Zeman, K. & Frenette, M. (2021). Portrait of youth in Canada: Data report: Chapter 3: Youth and Education in Canada. Statistics Canada.


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