Financial strain and remote learning amidst a global pandemic has taken a massive toll on university students, with 71% of students having 'seriously considered' dropping out, according to the 24/7 online study support service, Studiosity. The stigma that surrounds being seen as a dropout only makes things worse in terms of the wellbeing of students today, with mental health services already overstretched as they were well before COVID-19, bringing with it a whole host of new problems for students to deal with.

In December 2020, I decided to drop out of my Fine Arts degree at Leeds Arts University. Whilst this was undoubtedly the right decision for me to make personally, it didn't make the decision any easier, and I had a hard time accepting the fact I was a 'dropout'. However, once I realised that dropping out is not synonymous with failure, I felt empowered and excited by the freedom that I was presented with.

A month after dropping out I set up my own business, designing and selling silk scarves, as a way to fill the urge to express myself creatively and to make good use of the time I had to create something for myself without having to adhere to briefs and mark schemes. I named my brand 'art school dropout' in an attempt to break down the negative stigma attached, not only to the term 'drop out', but also that which surrounds arts degrees and their value.

Image of 2 of the headscarves I design and sell through 'art school dropout'.

Through explicitly declaring myself an 'art school dropout' through my business, I feel I give less power to those who would perceive my situation in a negative light; creating something I don't allow to be belittled through reclaiming those terms that are so often stereotyped.

If dropping out were to be more accepted in society, I believe it would have huge benefits upon the mental health of students today. Nowadays, attaining a university degree is perceived to be the be-all and end-all in terms of establishing a stable and successful career, and this has ultimately lead to unhappiness among large portions of the student population.

Image of one of the scarves I designed and sell through 'art school dropout'.

We need to de-stigmatise the term 'drop out' in order to tackle the mental health epidemic across UK universities. In some ways I almost feel proud to be a 'drop out' as it reminds me of the self-confidence I needed in order to follow through with my decision and, looking back, I realise how unhappy I was in my course. With dropping out came relief and opened me up to a wealth of opportunities I doubt I ever would have explored if it werent for taking that risk.

I think the main thing to consider at university is one's happiness; if university life or a degree is not making you happy it isn't worth the potential mental nor financial strain.

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