I remember the phone call like it was yesterday. “Mom, I don’t think I’m going to go back to college next semester.” It was like a punch in the gut. I wanted to scream, “Are you out of your mind!” But I didn’t. I pushed the emotion down, took a deep breath, and listened to my daughter as she attempted to justify her decision.
In my mind there could never be any justification for her leaving school. Financial aid was in place. Scholarships were awarded for all four years. We had spent thousands of dollars moving her there, not to mention the money spent on tuition, room, board, books, and other college expenses. Just months ago she was happy and content, getting accustomed to college life. What was she thinking?
Fact is, she wasn’t thinking. She was feeling. She had just lost her best friend suddenly in a car accident. Her high school boyfriend was back at home and he was begging her to come home. Her classes, in the midst of all this emotion, were overwhelming and she was struggling.
If this happens to you, I have some advice: stay calm and don’t react immediately.
Give it Some Time
Your teen’s emotions can turn on a dime. One minute he is miserable, the next he has changed his mind. Suggest he wait a few weeks, think about his decision, and weigh his options. Remember that he is an adult and needs to feel like this is his decision, not yours. In most instances, your teen will come to his senses and realize that leaving school is not a wise decision. If you react in a fit of rage, he might dig in his heels in an attempt to prove his independence.
Determine the Cause of the Unhappiness
Is there a friend or a boyfriend/girlfriend encouraging your teen to move back home or attend college with them? Is your teen having trouble in his classes and needs the help of a tutor? Is this purely an academic problem that can be resolved by meeting with his academic advisor? Is it just a simple case of homesickness?
After you have ruled out the obvious, you might need to dig a little deeper. Is this a mental health issue? Mental health problems are common with college students. Many students suffer from depression, anxiety, and stress which can be very disconcerting. The college should have a counseling center on campus to provide support for your student. Encourage him to seek help and get involved if you feel you have to. You know your teen better than anyone else.
Approach it Financially
Leaving school after the first year can have financial consequences. Your student will lose his financial aid if he does decide to return or transfer. In my daughter’s case, her scholarships were attached to the school and paying for her education. If she later changed her mind and wanted to return, it would have been impossible for us to pay for the same education elsewhere. If your student wants to drop out altogether, you will lose, in some cases, thousands of dollars and he will have to begin paying back any student loans immediately. Sometimes pointing out the financial realities could help bring your teen back to earth.
Is Transferring an Option?
It’s not uncommon for students to have a change of heart. This often happens if he chooses the college for the wrong reasons. These reasons could range from attending because he wanted to be with a friend, to choosing the college because of the name and the prestige. When this happens, it’s up to you to listen and decide if his desire to transfer is for the right reasons and in his best interest. A good reason to transfer might be a change in major or academic program or a better fit at a smaller college with a smaller professor to student ratio.
Practice Tough Love
After waiting, listening and discussing, it might be time to practice some tough love. In most cases you hold the purse strings, and there are financial implications to leaving school or transferring. You are the adult and you are capable of making rational decisions. Your student, on the other hand, might be acting irrationally. It’s my experience that most students, later in life, thank their parents for giving some tough love when it was needed. My daughter thanks me every day for standing my ground and helping her see the bigger picture.
I’m not saying it’s easy to listen to your student’s pain and not act. In some instances mental health is much more important than drawing a line in the sand. But you know your student and you will know when he is just too unhappy and miserable to remain where he is; especially after you have discussed the reasons and talked about options.