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Academically Dismissed from College? Time for a Reset

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.

Feeling Lost

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 he 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.

What happened?

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 himself.  He 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?  Was he 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 he wasn’t “required” to be there? Was he able to motivate himself?
  • 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 her 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 her experience?
  • 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.

Related Posts:

What to Do If Your Student Is Academically Dismissed from College

Academically Dismissed from College?  Ten Steps to Move On

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

How Parents Can Help College Students Value Their Mistakes

What FERPA Means for You and Your College Student

How to Help Your Student Use the College Appeal Process Effectively

What to Say to Your College Student Who is In Trouble, Dismissed, or On Probation

8 comments

1 Vicki Nelson { 05.07.16 at 12:41 pm }

Tellyn – Thanks for sharing your story. School is important, but it is only one part of life. It sounds as though you are finding purpose and balance. Good for you. There is no point in looking back and second-guessing what you might have done. Good luck in the future. I am sure your patience and persistence will pay off – in many aspects of life.

2 Tellyn T { 05.06.16 at 12:03 pm }

I read all three of your posts regarding why one would be dismissed from college, but for this post reasons number 5 and 6 played a key part in my release. I commented on “What to do if your academically dismissed from college,” but i did not give the entire reason which were medical problems and a relationship that are a big part of my dismissal. Regarding my medical problems, I was in a severe ATV/Motor Vehicle accident in March 2009, that left me in the hospital for 5 months, and continued visitations to a number of medical facilities years after. When the accident happened I was 16 at the time and was a Junior in High School, but soon after my accident happened I was dis-enrolled from high school, (by the school counselor at the time), without any form of notification. When I was released from the hospital and re-enrolled back in school, it was my ‘senior’ year, but i was classified as a ‘junior’ again and had to add another year onto my high school education. I graduated May 2011, and was encouraged to try my hand at a community college, even if it was online courses part time with part time work as well. Due to continued therapy from my accident, limited internet availability at the time and work i was in a position that I felt that I needed to try and focus at gaining my strength back and work as well. I continued to work at our Early Education and had the opportunity to try to work in a computer technician position. During this time i was diagnosed with Diabetes and was starting to become extremely dishearten about my abilities to continue working, but I was accepted and worked there for 2 years before I had this drive of sorts inside of me. That was when i decided that i wanted to attend college. By this time I was already 22 and was a bit skeptical about my chances due to my age and how long I have been out of school. I was accepted in Fall 2014 to an out of state college that worked closely with the town I lived in. At first I started school everything was going well I was attending classes at the time without problem. Soon thereafter I met a girl, I knew that this was a bit of a problem and most will laugh about my choice to want to have a relationship while in school and how hectic and stressful it can be, and those people would be right, but i found a quiet solace in the fact that after everything that I have had to endure in my life, with my accident and my later diagnosis of my diabetes, someone saw me for who i was and not see me as a broken person because of all the things that were wrong with me. I managed to find someone that I knew did not judge me and was happy with who I was as a person. This, in turn caused me to slack on some of my classes but i tried my best to keep attending and doing the work, but in the end it wasn’t enough to help me for the first semester. I was able to return for the second have of the semester in hopes of taking care of what needed to be done, and this time around it was working for the first two months but a combination of medication, stress, relationship (again), caused me to become close to having another case of pancreatitis that caused me to miss classes, course work and inevitably fail my second semester. Now I am 23, and look back at everything that has happened and am starting to question whether there was more i could or should have done. I know the answer is obvious. Regardless i am sad that this had happened to me but i am happy with the small victory that is finding a relationship that i thought would never happen for me due to my extensive injuries and emotional distress throughout the years. All this that has happened has not made up my mind about my future and i and determined about returning to college, (wishfully and hopefully back to my previous school), but first I am taking steps to care for and remedy my medical problems first then after that see about going back to school soon. Thanks for giving me the time to post about my experience and hopefully someone may take something from this.

3 Vicki Nelson { 02.06.16 at 12:56 pm }

Mel – Thanks for sharing your story. Obviously, both you and Brock (the previous commenter) had similar experiences. It’s a difficult conversation for parents and students to have, but so important. And you are both correct – the price of not having that conversation, and not respecting the student’s choice – is high. Students need to graduate from high school with a plan – but that plan may not be for college immediately. Thanks for sharing your story.

4 Mel { 02.03.16 at 11:12 pm }

I like your list. Regarding reason #8, not wanting to be in college: parents, listen to your children if they are talking like this. I detested the idea of going to college, but I enrolled anyway to please my mother. Looking back 25 years later, it is unsurprising that I failed miserably despite trying again and again (I flunked out four times). The lesson was learned, but the price was high; she paid in tears, and I paid in money and time.

5 Vicki { 06.29.15 at 6:48 pm }

Brock –
Thank you for sharing your story. It is important for students and parents to hear that there are many paths which can lead to the ultimate goal. Your one-size-fits-all comment is right on target. Many students are ready for college at 18 and others are not. Listening to our children and weighing options is so important.

6 Brock L. Turner { 06.28.15 at 8:01 am }

Thank you for your “Did your student simply not want to be in college, or in this college, and sabotage her experience?” comment, I’d like to see an entire blog on this, though. I’m going to be brutally and bluntly honest here. When I was 19-years-old and finishing high school, I told everyone who I thought might listen (but didn’t) that I didn’t want to attend college, at least not right away, and I wanted to spend a year or two (or more) figuring myself out. I did not know this at the time, but many colleges and universities, including Harvard and Brown, actually encourage high school graduates to take a year or two off after high school before taking on college. My parents refused to listen to me or even consider anything other than a four-year college right out of high school. Even when I tried to compromise by offering community college, they absolutely said that would be a total waste of time and money, and the only people who attended community were too poor or too stupid to go to a “real” college. I attended a college preparatory boarding high school where one of the high school graduation requirements was acceptance into a four-year college or university. I refused to fill out any college applications, so my parents filled them out for me. It took me all of one semester to leave me first experience with college with an amazing 0.3 GPA, but I’m going to be perfectly honest, I’m not at all embarrassed or ashamed about that. At the time, I almost looked at it with pride, vindication, or sort of “I told you so!” I’m 35 1/2 now and completed my first two years at the community college level (actually, paying for it on my own this time around instead of having Mommy and Daddy foot the tuition bill, I discovered that I saved A LOT of money by receiving a community college university transfer associate’s degree first) and am now in my senior year about ready to finally earn my Bachelor’s degree. I feel like so much time, energy, money and emotional stress and strain was lost by all the fights and the seemingly endless tug-of-war. If there is anything from my experience I’d recommend to parents looking at their soon-to-be high school graduates, or recent college drop-outs, it’s please don’t stick to a one-size-fits-all solution. Every young adult’s needs, motivations, and priorities are different. The number of freshmen and sophomore students who drop out and don’t return is much, much larger than so many people even realize (I think I read somewhere that only about 44% of freshman enrollees will graduate from their first college or university attended within six years; if you ask me that’s proof positive something is horribly wrong with our system). AmeriCorps, Job Corps, Internships, Apprenticeships, Travel, Outward Bound, the list goes on. If I had started college at 21 or 22, I honestly believe I would have graduated by now rather than all the fighting, gnawing and clawing for so long. Why is there so much push to send high school graduates off to college right away? My experience is older students tend to be a lot more disciplined and have a lot clearer idea where they are headed than teenagers… Is graduating at 22 really going to put someone in any way ahead of someone graduating at 25 or 26?

7 ruth { 03.06.15 at 10:34 pm }

Can I apply to another school under a new major focus, awhile under suspension?

8 Karma { 07.24.13 at 9:22 am }

My first two semesters in college were a bit overwhelming.I did not stay on campus, but I was living on my own with roommates who were already in their mid 20’s.I flunked out both semesters due to poor choices.The fourth and fifth bullets sums up my experience.I’ve moved back in with my parent and also to another state since then.I am looking to enroll in a another Technical college with a new focus and determination.My question is if I am applying in a new state would get my documents from my the last college or start fresh from my high school(regarding SAT scores and transcript) ?

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