“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.