Your student headed off to college with a bit of trepidation, but with high hopes. You were excited and had visions of Commencement down the road. Neither of you anticipated your student struggling and ultimately being dismissed. But it happens. It happens more often than most parents imagine. Our most popular post is our earlier What to Do If Your Student Is Academically Dismissed from College. This post has also received more comments than any other post on College Parent Central. That means academic dismissal is on the minds and hearts of a lot of parents and students.
This is the first of two additional posts about academic dismissal. We recommend our earlier post as well. In this post we’ll address some of the causes and concerns that students and parents have around dismissal. In our next post, we suggest some things to consider as you and your student move forward.
There is a common theme to comments on our earlier dismissal post. Students and their parents feel lost, helpless, and overwhelmed. One student said, “This whole thing has been giving me nightmares.” Still another desperately said, “Would someone please help me?” Students and parents may or may not have seen this coming, but the final word feels like a virtual punch in the stomach.
If your student has been dismissed, remember that both you and and your student are disappointed and overwhelmed. Your response to the news – whether you hear it first from your student or from the college – may set the tone for further conversations. It’s reasonable for both you and your student to feel a range of emotions – sadness, anger, fear, disappointment, shame. You should know that these reactions are normal. “How could you . . . ?” “What happened?” “Why did you . . . ?” “Why didn’t you . . . ?” All of these are questions that you’ll probably want to ask. Remember that your student is probably feeling these same emotions and will need your help coping. You’re in this together.
Perhaps one of the first steps toward moving beyond the helpless feeling is trying to understand and take ownership of what happened. Each student’s story is unique, but there are often common themes. Helping your student sort out what happened may be difficult. It’s important that your student be honest – at least with in their own mind. They almost certainly didn’t set out to fail. So what went wrong?
- Perhaps your student was academically unprepared for college. Was the work simply too difficult in spite of hard work, tutoring, help from professors? Were they just not able to understand the material or complete any assignments? (This is often the first thought many parents have, but may actually be the least likely cause.)
- Was your student unprepared for the demands and challenges of college life? College success requires many of the “soft skills” of readiness such as time management, self discipline, self advocacy, life skills, social skills. Was your student unprepared for the transition to college life?
- Did your student not understand the differences between high school and college? Many students who have been able to manage high school on a certain amount of natural talent struggle in college with the new demands.
- Was the independence of college too overwhelming? Did your student simply fail to go to class or do work because they weren’t “required” to be there? Was motivation an issue?
- Did your student make poor choices? Did social life, drinking, drugs, or other distractions play a factor?
- Did your student have overwhelming health or mental health issues that impacted their ability to succeed?
- Did your student spend too much time working at an off campus job that simply didn’t allow enough time for class and study?
- Did your student simply not want to be in college, or in this college, and sabotage their experience, perhaps without even realizing that they were doing so?
- Was your student in the wrong major or program of study?
- Did your student fail to seek help when things started to go wrong?
The list of possible factors that can affect college student success can be extensive – and very personal. Our list is not exhaustive, but is meant to help you and your student think about the variety of causes that might have affected this outcome.
Most students do not want to fail. Something happened. It is now time for both you and your student to acknowledge the feelings of disappointment and fear and to move on. You and your student will need to work together to face this new reality, and your student will need to take on a new responsibility. In our next post, we’ll suggest some possible next steps.