Is Your Child Thinking of Dropping Out of College?

What to say when your child asks, “Should I drop out of college?”

Kathryn Knight Randolph

November 29, 2022

Is Your Child Thinking of Dropping Out of College?
Why do students drop out of college? There are a variety of reasons – and ways to help.
After searching, planning, and saving for college for a year, it can be a gut punch to hear your child say they are thinking about dropping out of college. After all, you collectively spent years working towards the goal of them attending college. But searching for college and attending are two totally different things. Most of the time, students thrive in their newfound independence, but sometimes, there are those students who falter and it can lead to asking questions like, “Should I drop out of college?”

What to Do If Your Child Wants to Drop Out of College

If your child is considering dropping out of college, don’t panic. It’s actually very common for students to ask this question – as well as to actually drop out. Admissionsly reports that 33% of students drop out of college every year.

Why Do Students Drop Out of College?

There are a variety of reasons that students drop out of college. Below are just a few: Difficult Transition Sometimes, the transition from high school to college can be difficult. For most students, there is a stretch academically, but other students may feel that this tension extends beyond the classroom.
They may be struggling to find friends or get along with their roommate. Maybe there aren’t extracurriculars or clubs that align with their interests. In these cases, it can be easy to feel out of place in a new environment. Lack of Support Getting plugged into resources on a college campus is a lot harder than in high school. For one, high school teachers and school counselors can get to know their students pretty well and can direct them to any help they need through their close-knit school community.
On a large – or even small – college campus, your child may not know who to turn to for help. This can be hard for you to help them navigate as well, especially if you live far from them at the time. Developmental Struggles While your child may be 18 and exercising the most independence they’ve ever experience, they’re technically not an adult yet. They are going through the last phase of adolescence, which is know as “trial independence,” according to Psychology Today. It’s not uncommon for your child to be experiencing this internal turmoil: “There is a major self-esteem drop in trial independence, a painful sense of developmental incompetence. "I'm old enough to be adult but I keep messing up!”

What You Can Do if They Ask to Drop Out of College

Validate their feelings and concerns. When they verbalize their feelings and their consideration to leave school, don’t dismiss them. Instead, be supportive. Empathize that this is difficult to admit, and thank them for their honesty, vulnerability, and trust. It’s likely that your child has been thinking on this for weeks, so don’t tell them to buck up and move on. Instead, give them the space to have this conversation. Then tell them that you need time to process their experience and ask if it’s ok to work together on some solutions. Be a cheerleader. What your child needs more than anything as they head off to college and navigate self-doubt is encouragement. As you have conversations with them about their decision to stay or leave, be sure you’re reassuring them that you know they can succeed. As you ask questions about their situation, don’t just ask about what is wrong. Be sure you’re asking about what is working for them in college – a specific area of study, a friend, a nice professor. Point them to helpful college resources on campus. Help was easily at their disposal as high school students. They had teachers and school counselors who knew them well and could intuit when they were struggling. The adults in your child’s life on a college campus are much more removed. In this case, your child must learn to advocate for themselves. If they’re struggling academically, they need to reach out to academic advisors, professors, and teachers assistants to schedule a meeting. They could also contact tutoring services on their college campus. Students with ADHD or autism may especially feel disconnected. Whether your child is feeling lost academically or socially, it’s important to suggest mental health resources on campus as well. There may be underlying issues that your child can navigate with professional help. Help them transition out of college successfully. If after meeting with various professionals and taking time to really think through the decision, your child still wants to drop out, work with them to create a plan. Your child can’t just leave school and live in your basement with nothing to do, unless they’re experiencing a severe mental health crisis (then that may be exactly what they need). Otherwise, they need to plan to work or enroll in a gap year experience. You could also broach the subject of returning to school after some time away. Is there a community college or trade school that can provide them with the skill set to perform a particular job? These are questions and scenarios that you can work through together. Keep in mind that dropping out of college does not make your child a failure in any way. College isn’t for everyone – and that particular campus may have been a bad fit. Hindsight is always 20/20, and after some time away, your child may be able to articulate why they needed to leave. For now, though, talk through their feelings without being judgmental. Encourage them and validate the things that they are doing right. Be their support system as they make decisions and plan for next steps.

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