How Parents Can Help Their College Student in Difficulty

When your college student began college you both had high hopes and expectations.  You knew that there would be challenges ahead, but you both did everything that you could to prepare.  Now your student seems to be struggling and having difficulty at college.  You may be feeling helpless and concerned for her.  Perhaps she hasn’t applied herself to studying, or perhaps she doesn’t understand what is required to succeed in college, or perhaps she has worked hard but is still unable to accomplish what she needs to do.

Whatever the reasons may be, your college student is now struggling and you want to know what you can do to help.  Obviously, every situation is different and every family dynamic is different, but here are some posts that may help you as you try to decide how you can help support your student as he works to improve his situation.

The Crisis

What To Do If Your Student Is Academically Dismissed From College

What To Do If Your College Student is On Academic Probation

Helping Your College Student Avoid ”How Do I Tell My Parents?” Fears

What Do I Do If My College Student is Homesick?

Is Your College Student Academically At-Risk?

Should My College Student Consider Withdrawing from a Class?

What to Expect from Your College Student’s First Semester Grades

Help!  My College Student Wants to Drop Out of College!


Understanding Causes and Difficulties

Help Freshmen Understand the Differences Between HS and College

Help Freshmen Overcome First Semester Challenges

The Path to Graduation: What’s Your Student’s Timeline?

Are There Secrets to College Success?

Helping Your College Student Make Sense of Midterm Grades

Why is My Student In ”Developmental Classes”?

Beating the Procrastination Monster: How College Parents Can Help


Taking Action

The Course Syllabus: Roadmap to Success

Who Is Advising My College Student About Academic Issues?

Helping Your College Student Find Support on Campus

Should My College Student Consider Summer Classes?

Helping Your College Student Be a Better Student: Twelve Questions to Ask

Location, Location, Location: Where’s Your College Student Studying?

Ten Suggestions to Help Students Through the Stress of Midterm Exams

Why Your College Student Should Talk To Her Professor If She’s Struggling

How Parents Can Help College Students Value Their Mistakes

The Semester’s Final Push — Can Parents Help?

Parenting Your College Student Through the Transfer Process — Part 1

Parenting Your College Student Through the Transfer Process — Part 2

Parenting Your College Student Through the Transfer Process — Part 3

Many students may encounter difficulties at some point during their college career.  The lessons that they learn from these difficulties, and the way in which they handle these difficulties, can be some of the most valuable lessons of college.  As a parent, you can help guide your college student towards possible solutions.  Remember that you are both on the same side — you both want a successful outcome.  Your support and guidance can make the difference in how your student faces his challenges.

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16 thoughts on “How Parents Can Help Their College Student in Difficulty”

    • Patrick – This can be a scary situation – for both you and your student. One option is certainly to take a break and spend some time thinking about a new direction, but if your student has come this far, it is hard to step out. There are some other options to discuss with your student. We have a post that might be helpful. It was prompted by a question from a mom whose senior decided she didn’t like her major. At least your junior may have some more time to make some changes. Check out this post: When Your College Senior Hates Their Major

  1. How do I get through to my daughter about priority of finances?
    She has found an amazing group of kids to hang out. They have encouraged weekly core groups, conference trips and mission trips. Trips to Texas, Georgia and Africa. We live in Ohio. She has raised 95% of the money for the mission trips. My largest problem is this year our finances changes and we said to her that she has to step up and get a job to help pay for her apartment and food and necessities. She keeps complaining that she barely has anytime. Now she has signed up for another mission trip to Africa and is raising money. How do I get through to her that her focus should be school and paying for her needs and not missions?

  2. Diana – You are about to begin a busy, stressful, and very exciting year for both you and your daughter. Congratulations to her on her lofty goal of being a trauma surgeon. The best first place to begin is with your daughter’s high school guidance office. She should make an appointment to meet with her guidance counselor to talk about her goals and ways to begin to narrow down possible schools. You and your daughter can also talk about important factors such as finances and scholarship, type of school (large, small, public, private) that she’d like to attend, and other factors such as distance from home. All of these things will begin to narrow down the choices. The guidance counselor can also help with the process of SAT exams, applications, essay, scholarships, etc. Be sure to visit schools so that your daughter can get a feel for the campus. Take it one step at a time and TRY not to get too stressed.

    And, of course, keep reading lots of our articles on College Parent Central. There’s information here that should help. Good luck!

  3. Hi my daughter is starting her senior year in September 2017. We are starting to get information on how to get into college, she’s the first in my family to try and get into a university she wants to be a trauma surgeon it is very overwhelming and I don’t know where to start we want to help as much as possible.

  4. Linda –
    The best place to start is with the college. Have your son ask at the tutoring center what kind of help they might offer. If your son’s school has a first year program or first year studies office, that is also a good place to start since so many first year students need that sort of help. Your student might also talk to his advisor to see if he/she is aware of anything that the school offers. If your son’s school has nothing that can help him, you might also investigate commercial test prep or study skills programs.

    Good luck to both you and your son. The first step toward success is recognizing the need for help.

  5. My son is struggling in college. Where can I get him help with test taking and study skills as opposed to traditional tutoring?

  6. Anne M.
    Thank you for your comment. I suspect you are voicing concerns that many parents share. It’s important that you not “beat yourself over the head” about trying to help your son make this decision. You are being a parent in the best way that you know how and you are concerned for your son’s welfare. That definitely does not deserve beating yourself up over.

    The combination of worrying about your son’s special needs and the financial burden creates a very difficult situation, but as worrisome as the finances are, it is essential that your son “own” the decision about which college to attend. There is clearly something about the school that he chose that feels right, and that will make the difference in your son putting the effort in to make the experience work. If you had succeeded in convincing him to choose something else, and things did not go well, it would always be “your fault.” As difficult as it is, try to congratulate him on making this big decision and let him know that you will support him – even if it is financially tough to do so.

    I’d recommend that you keep searching for scholarships or grants to help. With your son’s special needs, there may be some special funds somewhere. Keep working with the financial aid office or any local organizations that may be able to help. I’m glad that you’ve found College Parent Central. I hope that you continue to read our articles and find them helpful.

    Remember, this is a great accomplishment for your son. Yes, you will continue to worry, and perhaps struggle financially, but let him know how proud you are of him and his ability to make this important decision on his own.

    Good luck to all of you!

  7. I did everything wrong in assisting my son in choosing a college. I wish I came across your site in April. I am now beating myself over the head for steering my son in the wrong direction. I thought I was helping my son decide on which college he wanted to attend. I knew where he wanted to go…the college with the worst financial aid package. He had $35,000, $25,000, and $20,000 renewable merit scholarships to great colleges. He chose the one that gave $17,000 in financial aid that is not renewable. There is a huge gap of $24,000 as compared to three other colleges. I am so emotional, because we can’t afford this college, and we already accepted while declining others. We have a small business where we have struggled for the past 7 years. Thankfully, my father will help us so we don’t go into default on loans. It bothers me since I’ve never asked for my father’s help in 52 years. I wish I had convinced my son to choose one of the colleges with merit awards. Though, he has Asperger’s Syndrome, and he was showing signs of anxiety leaving home. After talking with his pediatrician, she told us to ask him where he wanted to attend and forget the money situation. She assured us that we could get loans. He chose the school closest to our hometown. Honestly, I am going out of my mind with his decision. My family and friends tried to convince me to accept it, but I keep thinking about the financial burden. Also, I wanted him to attend a small, liberal arts college since he has special needs instead of a medium-sized university. If there is anything you can post that will calm me down, I would sincerely appreciate it.

  8. Anne, thank you for sharing your comment. The frustration and concern that you express are shared by so many parents out there. Part of the difficulty is that there really is no advice that anyone can give because you are the only one who knows your son, your situation, and your family dynamic.

    If you feel that your current approach isn’t working, insist that he sit down with you and talk about it. This won’t be an easy conversation, but he may appreciate that you draw him into the discussion of the problem and the search for a solution. Don’t preach. Don’t ask any questions that he can answer with a yes or now. Ask him if he recognizes the problem. If he doesn’t, try to objectively explain it from your perspective. Don’t tell him what his problem is (lazy, immature), tell him what your problem is (sad at wasted potential, concern about timeframe for money) and why this is a concern. Don’t decide ahead of time what you want the solution to be, keep an open mind for his suggestions. But do decide ahead of time on your own limits. Let him know what they are. Will you continue to let him live at home without rent if he isn’t doing well in school? Will the money continue to be available for classes? If so, then perhaps you need to back off and let him fail. It may be the way that he will need to learn. This is a difficult time for all of you.

    If you haven’t looked at them yet, check out some of the posts in the Communicating with Your College Student section of this website. This may help you get ready for a hard conversation with your student. Good luck!

  9. What do you do it if your son has been lying about going to a class he took an “audit” in? He has all the support at his college but he does NOTHING to utilize it. He has no student loans, his grandmother left him money for every single thing for college and he is throwing it all away.
    He is commuting and spending too much time in the gym and playing videos games STILL! We already went downt hat path and now, he is revisiting it all over again. He has the aptitude, he is LAZY, and does not spend the time needed for college.
    I actually feel he is too immature. The money is only available until he is 25. He needs to step up and grow up. I have been encouraging and loving throughout every ordeal.
    I am losing faith about now. My heart is broken because he is really a nice kid.

    • This is a very difficult situation and it is difficult not to feel helpless right now. There are so many factors that might be at work here that it is impossible to answer this in a general way. Being supportive of your daughter right now is probably the most important thing.

      I’ve responded further in a separate e-mail.

  10. Hello Loretta,
    What a difficult situation this must be for you! Has your student tried to work things out with her roommates? If she’s tried everything that she can and the RA can’t help, she might try a Residence Director or someone else in housing. Moving her to a different room is one possibility, but they might also be able to help mediate the conflict. Keep encouraging her to deal with the situation and continue to look for help, but let her handle it if she can. Step in if you feel that you need to.

  11. What do you do if your student is being harrassed by 3 roommates, and the RA does nothing, and housing will not switch her into a different room.


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