“I Don’t Want to Go Back!” Helping Your Student Decide Whether to Return to School
In our previous post, we discussed what to do when your student comes home mid-year and says she doesn’t want to return to school. First you listen, then you talk about possible reasons and look at options. Now you need to help your student decide what to do.
Perhaps you’ve seen it coming over the course of the semester, or perhaps it has taken you by surprise. But your student came home for what you thought was going to be a few weeks for winter break and has announced that she doesn’t want to return to school when break is over. No one expected this when you headed to school for Move-in Day.
After you’ve listened to your student talk about her reasons – and possibly had to help her determine those reasons, after you’ve helped her think about her possible options, you may need to help her process those options to make a decision. Of course, you might insist – either that she return to school or stay home – but the decision really must be your student’s or she will not be committed to making it work.
There is no one answer that is the best for all students. Your student will need to think carefully about her reasons for not wanting to return and her ability to face whatever is making her unhappy or preventing her success. As you help your student look at her situation from several angles, here are a few thoughts to share.
Is this the best time to make this decision? The end of the semester is often a particularly stressful time. If your student is making this decision over winter break, ask her how long she has been thinking about this. Is this something she has been considering all semester, or just in the last few weeks? Ask whether she feels she is reacting to the stress of the end-of-semester workload. Might she also be reacting to some holiday blues or reacting to the ease and warmth of the holidays at home? Help your student think about the entire semester rather than just the last few weeks.
Are you at the low level of culture shock and adjustment? Transitioning to college life is not unlike adjusting to a new culture when students study abroad or move to a new country. Help your student think about the natural progression of cultural adjustment. After the initial honeymoon phase when all seems perfect, there are several stages when your student might feel less satisfied or comfortable with her experiences. Feelings usually swing upwards again eventually. Often students feel that the adjustment happens early in the semester, but for some students, the phases of the process may stretch throughout the first year. Help your student think about the pattern of her feelings.
Can you give yourself enough time to build on your first semester experiences? Help your student think about and examine how far she’s come during this first semester. She may not realize how much she has learned – and changed. What new academic understanding does she have – both in subject matter and “college knowledge?” What connections has she made or support systems has she developed? How much more comfortable is she with her new-found independence? The first semester of college is often one long transition time for some students. Can your student use the second semester to build on the foundation of the first semester? Help your student think about making the most of the hard work she has done during the first semester.
Can your student learn from the past semester, make some changes, and alter her experiences for a second semester? Perhaps things did not go well during your student’s first semester – either academically or socially. What can your student take from those experiences and what differences can she make next semester? How might your student make a fresh start? Can she study differently – or more, reach out to make some new friends, become more involved on campus – or less involved if activities distracted her from studying, change a roommate, change her major, practice more time management, simply adopt a different lifestyle? Students often do not realize how different their experiences can be while still staying at the same institution. Help your student evaluate her semester to improve her second semester.
Are the problems with the school or with you? This may seem like a harsh question, but your student should examine whether she will simply take her problems with her if she moves to a new school. If she is having difficulty making friends, will that change in a new place? If she is struggling academically or having difficulty managing her time, will that change? If she doesn’t like her major, can she change that without changing schools? Your student chose this college for a reason and may need to go back to thinking about that reason. Although a transfer may be appropriate for some students, your student should think carefully about whether she will simply take her problems with her – and need to make new transitions as well. Help your student find the root of her unhappiness and make sure that she will not take it with her.
Is the grass really greener somewhere else? Before your student decides to transfer, she should examine other schools carefully. She will need to think about why she is unhappy and look carefully at those factors at another school. Is it really all that different? It may be. Perhaps your student feels she needs a larger school, smaller school, a school closer to home or further away. Perhaps she wants a major that her current school does not offer. There are good and valid reasons why a transfer may make sense, but your student needs to be sure that another school will really be different from her current school. Help your student be realistic in her expectations for a new school.
Might you consider returning to school with a plan to transfer next year? Your student may be anxious to transfer or leave school, but this may not be the best time to do that. It can be difficult to complete the transfer process mid-year and difficult to adjust to a new school environment when almost everyone else has been there a semester. In the fall, there will be more students making transitions. Returning with the plan of transferring later may also relieve some pressure and your student may find that she actually enjoys college more. By spring, your student may choose not to leave school after all. Help your student consider whether delaying leaving school might give her a chance to make a smoother transition later or even re-evaluate her decision.
If your student does not want to return to school after winter break, it can be a difficult time. You may need to remind your student that you are on her side and want the best for her, but you may need to help her think carefully about what would really be best. Although she may feel as though leaving school, for whatever reason, may be the easiest solution, help her think through her options and help her be comfortable with her final decision. Whatever that decision is, the process of working through the thinking and planning together may be the best outcome.