Information for the parents of college students
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“I Don’t Want to Go Back.” When Your College Freshman Wants to Quit

Sending your high school senior off to be a college freshman was exciting, scary and possibly a little sad.  But you’ve had time to get over many of those mixed emotions and you’re looking forward to him coming home for winter break.  You know you’ll have some negotiating to do so that everyone is comfortable with “house rules” during break, you’ll have a chance to catch up on his new life, and then he’ll return for round two – spring semester.

But what happens if, once your student is home for break, he says that he doesn’t want to return to school?  You hadn’t anticipated this and you aren’t prepared.

Dissatisfaction with the college experience at the end of the first semester is not uncommon.  Several national studies suggest that one third of college students do not return for their sophomore year of college, but there is little data regarding how many of those students leave at the midpoint of their first year.  However, both college personnel and first year students know that there are many students who will not be back for second semester.

So you are faced with a dilemma.  Your student says he does not want to return to school.  What do you do?

First, you listen

Before you agree and move your student back home, before you disagree and insist that your student stay and finish the year, you stop and listen.  If you’re too upset to listen right away, ask for some time to let the thought register and plan to talk again soon.  Let your student know that you need some time to digest the idea and then you want to hear his thoughts – really hear them.  Then be prepared to listen carefully and thoughtfully, be a sounding board, and try to hear what your student is really saying about his reasons.  This isn’t always easy for parents to do, but is the most important first step for helping your student.  In fact, for some students, this is all they may really need.  They want to vent and share their experiences and be heard.

Your student may have a number of reasons for wanting to leave school after this first semester.

  • He may feel that he never really made the transition to college life.
  • Several (or many) of his friends may be leaving and he fears he’ll be lonely.
  • He may not have understood how difficult the academic work would be and he feels overwhelmed.
  • He may have had a poor semester academically and feel that he won’t be able to recover.
  • He may be having difficulties living with his roommate.
  • He may have done more partying than he intended or he may realize that he has difficulty saying no to a drinking culture and he’s concerned.
  • He may be homesick.
  • He may already be feeling some of the issues of sophomore slump.
  • He may feel a lack of direction or dissatisfaction with his current major or course of study.
  • He may feel isolated and unconnected and have no friends.
  • The novelty of the college experience may have worn off.
  • He may be bored.
  • He may be worried about finances.
  • He may simply feel that the grass will be greener somewhere, anywhere, else.

Obviously, your listening skills will be important because many of these reasons are very different from each other.  Academic concerns, social concerns, and financial concerns will need to be addressed differently.  You’ll also want to determine the degree of dissatisfaction or frustration that your student is feeling.  Is this a mild annoyance or a deep seated issue?

So you’ve listened – now what do you do?

Perhaps one of the first and most important things that you will need to determine is how certain your student is of his decision.  Is he absolutely firm that he will not return, or is he floating the idea to measure your reaction and perhaps seek your advice?  Your task will be less to tell him what to do and more to help him explore his own feelings, abilities, and options.  Whatever is decided in the end, your student must be comfortable with and committed to the decision.

What are the options?

Essentially, your student has two options: return to school or not return to school.  But it may not be quite that simple.

  • Your student may return to school with the intention of a fresh start in order to make things better.
  • Your student may opt to return to school for one semester while he explores transfer options and process to make a change for sophomore year.
  • Your student may opt to attempt to transfer to another institution immediately for second semester.
  • Your student may opt to take a break and remain at home, perhaps get a job or do community service, while exploring transfer options for next year.
  • Your student may opt to find a job without the intention to return to school.

You may have some strong feelings about which of these options are acceptable to you, and you and your student will need to discuss them, but your student must make the ultimate decision.  Although this is an unexpected and emotional decision, the process of working through this situation together may be more positive than you anticipate.

In our next post, we’ll take a look at some of the questions you might ask your student as he explores his options and share some suggestions for helping to guide your student’s decision making process.

Related Posts:

Twelve Things You Can Do to Help You Listen to Your Student

Conversations With Your Student: What’s Your Listening Position?

Helping Your Student Evaluate the Past Semester

When Your College Student Is Unhappy

How You Can’t Help Your College Student Stay in School



1 Vicki Nelson { 03.16.17 at 12:20 pm }

Dear Yup – Thanks for your comment. You certainly express the opinion of many people, and you point out many flaws with any educational system. There are others who would argue from very different perspectives.

One thing that is interesting about the college experience is how very personal it is. The experience depends greatly on the individual student and on the college. Some students may have poor experiences, but might have had very different experiences at another institution. Other students will have a wonderful experience at the same institution that is a poor match for others. There is no clear way to find the perfect match, and no easy fix for many of the issues that higher education faces.

2 Yup { 03.15.17 at 12:44 pm }

College is not what it was in the past. And it is not what the media portrays. College is only enjoyable for well established cliques who have been together since jr high or highschool, or for the very well connected who have the peace of knowing they can just up and leave if they want or have professors bend over for them. College is not fair, professors will grade you based on how they personally feel. You need others to succeed if you are not rich or connected or cliqued up, and often times college is the most brutal and horrid lonely experience anyone can suffer. What’s worse than solitary confinement is being ignored or avoided by hundreds of thousands of people around you. And often times, many professors are very sexist or racist, and will knock your grade unfairly, or not care if they see you floundering. If you don’t fit in, or don’t have the connections, it’s 5-10 years of trying not to commit suicide and wishing it was over. It’s a dream killer, a hope smasher, and a builder of segregation based on class, associations, race and looks. Like any business they toss many “commercials” about GPA whizzes who succeed, but most if not all of them are connected to big shots or rich families. A genius who is suffering depression due to the treatment and life and having his A+ papers shot to B’s because of preference will have a GPA that is low and does not reflect his ability or intellect. It’s like asking someone to do well while being locked away in a room forever and kicked around by someone who is petty and has their entire lives in control by a pen and a decision. College is not a good place anymore, it is hell. It is grueling, unhappy, miserable, bleak, hopeless, depressing, lonely, hopeless Hell. And if you have the strength to pass, which most now just get shuffled through, then you are told with a smile that your degree means nothing. You worked hard for a good job, a good life, and to begin adulthood. But instead, youre handed a paper that will do nothing for you, and the only answer is “Now you’re that much smarter. You LEARNED.” 5-10 years of Hell just for a useless paper that tells people you know more than them. While you work at the grocery store or answer phones for a living because a professor didn’t like your face, and you were the wrong color or weight or sex to have any normality. College is Hell. It’s a scam. It’s a con. It needs to be fixed, it needs to be monitored, and the requirements for degrees need to be dismissed instead for proof of skills to do the job without any requirements that are unnecessary.

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