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Academically Dismissed from College? Ten Steps to Move On

This is the third of three posts on College Parent Central considering the realities of academic dismissal from college. Our first post, What To Do If Your Student is Academically Dismissed from College, has been visited most often and received more comments than any other post on this site over the past several years.  We followed with our last post,  Academically Dismissed from College? Time for a Reset, in which we discussed some of the causes and emotions surrounding dismissal.

In this post, we look at potential next steps for parents and students to work together to come to terms with the situation.  Of course, just as the causes for a student’s dismissal are unique and personal, so are next steps.  However, we’d like to suggest a path that might help you and your student move ahead.

Step 1: Accept the reality

There are some truths that you and your student will need to accept.

  • Schools do not dismiss students lightly.  Standards set by schools are usually based on previous experience.  If your student did not achieve or maintain the required standard (usually measured by GPA and progress toward degree), the school does not expect your student to be able to succeed.
  • Your student might appeal a decision, but should give careful thought to whether that is the best thing to do at this time.  (See How to Help Your Student Use the College Appeal Process Effectively.)
  • Your student’s official record or transcript is probably permanent.  Although some schools do have a “clean slate” or amnesty policy for students who are dismissed and return, it is more likely that the student’s transcript is permanent and will follow him to his next institution.  He may be able to explain the situation later, but his academic record is official and permanent.

Accepting the dismissal as real is the first step toward moving forward.

Step 2: Accept responsibility

Perhaps even harder than accepting the reality of academic dismissal is accepting responsibility.  Although there may be extenuating factors such as illness, family issues, or mental health problems, it is important that your student think hard about what caused the situation that led to dismissal.  Getting past blaming others will be important for moving forward.  Whether the responsibility falls totally on your student or is shared, your student needs to consider what he might have done – or not done – to contribute to academic failure.

Step 3: Learn from mistakes

Wherever responsibilities lie, it is important that your student learn from previous mistakes.  What can be changed?  What should – or should not – be repeated?

Step 4: Know that there are options

There are always options.  Some options may be better than others.  Some options are difficult or even undesirable, but there are options.  The path may not be as planned, but there are paths, chances to learn and change.  Your student may take a semester or a year off and then return to the same school.  Your student may take time off and return to another school.  Your student may attend a local community college and then move on to another school.  Your student may need to change major or career plans.  Your student may need to work for a while (a semester, a year, several years) to grow and gain the maturity and motivation to return to school.  There are always options.

Step 5: Do your research

There are always options, but finding them may take some time and research.  Your student should be prepared to do some work investigating – jobs, local schools and admission or readmission policies, alternative majors or careers, or alternative programs such as Americorps, volunteer or community service programs.  There may be options out there that you and your student never considered.

Step 6: Be honest

It is essential that your student be honest with herself about what went wrong, but it is also helpful if she is honest with you, with other family members, with employers and with future schools.  She doesn’t need to share all of the details of her situation, but she can share that school didn’t work at this time and that she is taking a different path.  It is essential that she be honest with a future school.  Any future institution will want to see a transcript.  This is the time for your student to take responsibility for her history, explain what she has learned, and describe her new understanding, maturity and motivation.

Step 7: Set goals – and take action

Help your student think about his ultimate goals and some action plans to achieve those goals. These action steps are critical.  It is important your student feel that each step, however small it might be, is a step toward an ultimate goal.  Your student may now realize that there are more steps than he initially anticipated, but he will be making progress.

Step 8: Make a commitment

Goals, action plans, baby steps.  All of these are important, but all will fall by the wayside if your student is not committed to what she is doing.  If she isn’t sure of her ultimate direction yet, she can commit to actively exploring and finding her passion and path.

Step 9: Be flexible

Your college student is an emerging adult.  One characteristic of emerging adulthood is finding who you are and who you want to be.  Your student has already been forced to take an alternate path.  He will need to be open to what he discovers about himself and about his world as he travels this path.  It may require another change in direction – or several changes of direction.  Goals may need to be reset – perhaps several times.  Each life experience will help him grow toward his ultimate goal – even if he hasn’t quite discovered that yet.

Step 10: (for parents) Be there but stand back

If your student has been dismissed, she may need your support more than ever right now.  You may need to help her get past the guilt and shame she may be feeling. This is important.  Your response will help to set the tone.  But the work of moving on will need to be done by your student.  This is part of what may make the difference moving forward.  Be there – but stand back and let your student take responsibility.

No one starts college expecting failure (although many may fear it).  If your student has been academically dismissed, it feels as though the roadblock is overwhelming.  But finding the causes, taking responsibility, being honest in setting new goals and plans, may give your student a motivation and drive that those students on the straighter path never find.  As difficult as this situation is, help your student find the opportunity that lies in the situation.  You may be surprised, and pleased, at what you learn about your student as he learns about himself.

Related Posts:

What to Do If Your Student Is Academically Dismissed from College

Academically Dismissed from College?  Time for a Reset

Twelve Things You Can Do to Help You Listen to Your College Student

Boomerang Kids: When Your College Student or College Graduate Moves Back Home

Communicating With Your College Student: Is the Climate Right?


1 Aaron { 05.04.13 at 11:22 pm }

I have a student who failed 3 semesters. He is extremely smart but just can’t find the drive to go out and do the work. From what he told me he can’t get himself to go to sleep at night even if he’s tired and sleeps late.. he also is really shy around people he doesn’t know very well. Any ideas on what he should do because he has a lot of potential he just has a hard time.

2 cupcakes { 11.19.14 at 7:23 am }

I was dismissed from my university recently. I dont know what should i do and how should i tell my parents about this since they are always have a high expectation for me, i was scared i will disappointing them if i tell the truth.

3 Mya { 12.17.14 at 2:52 pm }

I was at a on campus university in 2009. I “withdrew” on academic probation and medical leave. I made the mistake of jumping into community college the following year. I was dismissed from community college, last year of july. I was told I could appeal, but I didn’t. I want to come back with some evidence that I have made progress. Like volunteer work, time to reflect, and a job. I haven’t though, I’ve sunken into depression. I feel like I am not being taken seriously by my family as well. I want to say that the reason I was terminated was because of my chronic illness. But the truth is, I haven’t had to the discipline to commit to online coursework either. I haven’t been putting in enough effort. I don’t know what to do at this point. I feel like I am doomed to failure no matter what. I need help.

4 KAREN { 01.10.16 at 8:02 pm }

Unfortunatelly when we read about student’s succes we read almost always the pronoum HE. In order to talk about succes authors use the pronoum HE and curiously when they want to talk about fails they use the pronoum SHE…

5 Vicki Nelson { 01.31.16 at 6:48 pm }

Karen – Thanks for your observation. It is interesting, because I often have the feeling that many people do the opposite – refer to students in trouble as “he” and successful students as “she.” Here on College Parent Central, I try as much as I can to alternate between the pronouns in new posts. The alternative of referring to each student as “they” just doesn’t sit with me grammatically. Your comment is prompting me to go back to look at earlier posts to see whether unconsciously there is a pattern. Thanks for your observation.

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