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 them to their next institution.  Your student may be able to explain the situation later, but their 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 they 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 in their own mind about what went wrong, but it is also helpful if they are honest with you, with other family members, with employers and with future schools.  They don’t need to share all of the details of their situation, but they can share that school didn’t work at this time and that they are taking a different path.  It is essential that they 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 their history, explain what they have learned, and describe their new understanding, maturity and motivation.

Step 7: Set goals — and take action

Help your student think about their 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 they initially anticipated, but they 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 they are doing.  If they aren’t sure of the ultimate direction yet, they can commit to actively exploring and finding their 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.  They will need to be open to what they discover personally and about their world as they travel 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 your student grow toward their ultimate goal — even if they haven’t quite discovered that yet.

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

If your student has been dismissed, they may need your support more than ever right now.  You may need to help them get past the guilt and shame they 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 they move ahead.

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?

25 thoughts on “Academically Dismissed from College? Ten Steps to Move On”

  1. I was academically dismissed from my Junior College. A combination of lack of direction, lack of good study skills and a sudden discovery of beer and women lead me down to a “Blutarski” moment in the Deans Office. GPA….0.7….fat, drunk and stupid is no way to go through life son.”

    So I went took a full time job at the McDonalds I was working at as the Maintenance Man. Get up at 4AM every morning to go clean and fix stuff. Did that for a year and took on a second job. After working for a year, I realized, this job was hard….College wasn’t. After cleaning the stagnant grease out of the sink trap (its a smell like no other and I grew up around cows) I decided to re-apply. They let me back in for one night course. Got an A. So they let me take two courses the next semester… an A and B. Then they said I could come back full time but would need to maintain my grades to stay. I quit my McD’s job the next semester and went back full time. Made up some courses and graduated with an Associates. Went to a 4 year school to get my Bachelors. Made Deans List 3 out of 4 semesters and graduated 2 year later. Cum Laude with a 3.6/4.0 GPA with a BS in Computer Science. Took 7 years…but I finally had my 4 year degree. Only had one interviewer that took exception to my “divergence” of studies. Left that interview….got a job with a DC Beltway Bandit, then the CIA, then I found the contracting world. Been rocking a well paying career ever since. Suck it up, straighten yourself out, adjust your attitude and swallow some pride. Go back and prove yourself. It’s hard….but second chances are always harder than your first. That’s life.

    • Thanks for sharing this story, JJ. It sometimes takes this kind of wake-up call and it’s encouraging to hear stories like yours where it pays off. Congratulations on taking the time and having the patience to work your way back and to make it pay off. I hope others can be encouraged by your story.

      • Thanks for sharing your response, BK. It is so inspiring to hear from people who have been there. I appreciate JJ’s story, too.
        Dismissal is hard on students and parents, too. I hope some of our articles here can help both you and your daughter. So many students go back to school eventually and shine. Take it one step at a time.

  2. I was academically dismissed from my college some ten years ago. I failed calculus numerous times and tried to cover the failure. Mean while my GPA went to 1.8, below the 2.0 required to be enrolled. I started working after dismissal and actually excelled at my job. The problem came when it was time for promotion. I was passed over. I’ve reached a level in my field where I can no longer advance. Next level is managenment and I can’t get into management without a degree.. I amassed 100+ credits at time of my dismissal.. At this point I am at a loss on what to do next. I cannot re-admit to my previous college ..already tried.. Searching for ideas on next steps.. Would love to complete that degree…

    • AJ – So many students find that returning to college to complete their degree after spending some time successfully working is what they need to do to move ahead. College makes so much more sense to some after some time has passed. Congratulations on making the decision to try to complete your degree. If you are sure that you cannot return to your former institution, you’ll need to explore other options. One decision is whether you want to try to complete your degree with an in-person or online program. Think carefully about how you think you can find the best success. Then begin to explore options by searching general admission websites or specific college websites. Once you’ve narrowed your choices, reach out to their admission offices and ask them to review your transcript to find out how many of your credits will transfer. Different schools may accept different things, so check with multiple places. Then you’ll be able to evaluate both the program and which school will accept most credits. You aren’t alone in going back after time away and many schools are eager to admit transfer students who have real experience behind them. Good luck!

    • Apply for part time. Take a night course. Get an A. Then repeat. Salvage some GPA then ask the Office of the Dean of Academic Affairs for an interview and convince them you have matured and want to resume your studies.


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