Should Parents Be Preparing for ‘Dumpsgiving’?

Many pre-college romances end the first opportunity high school sweethearts see each other — generally Thanksgiving break. I’m not writing about this relationship reality. I’m speaking about breaking up with a college.

After Thanksgiving (or Christmas) I often get inquiries from parents whose son/daughter drops this bombshell on them while home on the holiday break.

According to National Student Clearinghouse Research Center research: (1) approximately 33% of students won’t return for their sophomore year, (2) only 51% of students will graduate from the first college they attend. Unhappily many students end up at the wrong school for all the wrong reasons – most often leaving sometime during freshman or sophomore year. Much of this cost of attendance will not be recovered.

The reasons students chose to leave their school are diverse and vary from, “I don’t have any friends” to “I want to change my major” to “I shouldn’t have picked this school”, but retention studies have taught us, most students decide by Thanksgiving if they are breaking up with their current college.

As a parent, what can I do if Jane/Joe springs a ‘Dumpsgiving” surprise?

1) Be Supportive!

Relax. No Confrontations. This decision wasn’t made in a vacuum. The decision to leave a college isn’t an indictment on them or you. Chances are Jane/Joe is worried about your reaction and those of others. Make sure your reactions show support.

2) Listen.

Talk honestly. Understand the reasons. Listen to why they made their decision to leave. Understand the underlying reasons. Is it the wrong culture? Don’t mesh with the student body? Too much social life? Not enough? Academic pressure? Feeling depressed and lonely? Any or all are legitimate reasons. Life happens and sometimes your college experience doesn’t match your expectations.

3) Research deadlines.

Review academic calendars and school withdrawal policies. Make sure you clearly understand both academic and financial deadlines and ramifications. Jane/Joe need to understand there is a right and a wrong time to leave an institution. You don’t want to compound an enrollment mistake by losing money or jeopardize your ability to be admitted to another college due to a poor academic record.

4) Don’t Rush Next Steps.

I once got a call from a family who whose solution after picking up their daughter from a school she was unhappy at (after giving it two weeks) was to drop her at another school which happened to have a later start date. I’ll let you speculate on how this worked out. If Joe/Jane is planning to withdraw, ideally give them a semester or two at home to recharge and refocus. It’s okay. Don’t keep throwing good money at bad situations.

5) Agree On Next Steps

Thanksgiving is rarely the optimal time to withdraw, with a couple of notable exceptions:  colleges operating on a quarter system who end the Fall term at Thanksgiving or if remaining enrolled endangers a student.

After the Thanksgiving holiday generally only a couple of weeks remain in the term, thus in most instances it is best to buckle up and finish the term. Once the term is over, then work jointly on a plan going forward – whether it’s taking a break, working for a year, resetting and re-evaluating good fit schools – make sure you develop concrete plans for your career and life goals.

Is your Jane/Joe considering dumping their college? Need assistance?  Contact Jeff to guide you through the college transfer process.