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Overcoming Resistance In Failing College Students

Many parents tell me that they have trouble talking to their son or daughter when they start to encounter problems in college. Too often the student can become secretive and hide the problems, and parents find out only after a student has been asked to leave their college for academic reasons. Students often wait tell their parents about the problems only after they become insurmountable, and even then they are still reluctant to discuss exactly what happened. I’ve found that many students, especially young men, can be very hesitant to discuss what happened when they encounter problems in college. So what can parents do about it?

Set Limits With The Student

A frequent phenomenon that I’ve seen is that students who do poorly in college want to remain on campus at all costs. The thought of returning home in shame after a failure can be very upsetting to them, and having to leave the enriching college environment and moving back home can be difficult for them to accept. Parents need to set clear limits and expectations for the student as to exactly what they are willing to support, both in familial and financial terms. I’ve seen situations where the student wound up on academic suspension, yet the student’s parents were still willing to pay for their apartment or even fraternity room so the student could “figure things out.” In too many cases, the student’s poor performance eventually made it financially impossible to for them to stay on campus or even continue at that particular school. Left with too few resources and a bright but failing student, parents are often forced to re-formulate their college plan. While hindsight always brings clarity, many of the problems that they describe to me that led to this situation were preventable, which is why I advocate solid planning for students in high school that goes far beyond just grades and SAT scores.

Find Who They Are Willing To Talk To

When bright students do poorly in college, one of the key tasks is to find out why. The problems that led to their poor performance need to be identified so that they can be solved. If they aren’t willing to discuss what happened with their parents, then parents need to find someone who they will talk to. Typically a counselor or therapist won’t make much headway since the student may see the problems as academically related like not studying enough, but it’s usually not that simple. Also, most students find seeing a therapist too threatening to even begin that process. For some reason, the students that I work with do talk to me, and when I follow-up with parents later on the key issues we discussed they’re amazed at the level of disclosure that their son or daughter had. I think that uncovering the details of “academic performance” versus being sent to a therapist is much less threatening, and students seem to be willing to talk to me about what affected theirs.

Give Them Hope With By Having A Plan

Students who do poorly or fail in college sometimes feel that all is lost, and are left with no hope for the future. They become withdrawn, unmotivated, and don’t know what to do next. In reality, there are options, some more difficult than others, that don’t include just going to their local community college. In fact, that can be the wrong move for many students, and there is some evidence that shows it can make them less likely to graduate. A key question to ask the student is “do you want a college degree?” If the answer is a resounding yes then parents need to begin to get a serious plan in place. Having a plan can often give the student direction, focus, and a renewed motivation to move forward. This new plan is very critical, since a second failure can effectively remove them from the mainstream college environment for many years and decrease the odds of them ever graduating. Preventing a second failure means uncovering the reasons why the student did poorly in the first place, addressing problems or obstacles, and then finding a pathway for a student to get restarted. I’ve helped students and families to do this many times, and it takes very specific and effective actions to be successful.

To overcome the natural resistance or reluctance that students have about discussing exactly what happened when they did poorly in college, parents need to set limits with students as to what they are willing to support. Identifying the problems that happened in order to find solutions will be a key part of getting them back on track, and finding the right person for the students to talk with is essential. Finally, developing a plan can give them a sense of hope, a renewed sense of direction about their future, and spell out steps to lead them back to college. When considering all of these things, parents need to remember that it is their role to guide the students to the right conclusions about college so later in life they don’t have regrets from not earning a college degree.

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