Pile of academic booksHaving invested so much time, effort and money getting to university, relaxing in the knowledge that another hurdle has been got over, it’s a real shock when your child announces they are on the wrong course or want to drop out. Torn between worrying about how unhappy they are, wanting to offer support and reassurance, and needing to get some sense and perspective into them is really hard – and all the while you are thinking “what will they do if they don’t stick it out?”


When trying to offer calm rational advice this might help:

Go to them not vice versa, and at a weekend, when university life is quieter.

Hide your frustrations as they will probably have been dreading telling you.

Don’t assume the reasons they first give you are the real reasons.  Talk to them and to their tutors.

Is it a hall related problem? If they dislike the people and have made good friends in other halls, they should put their name on the waiting list of the other hall – it can make all the difference.

Try to negotiate that they at least stick it out for the first term, as if problems arise in the first term they could be more a settling in issue. The pressures in that first term are enormous –living with a group of strangers, making new friends, coping with the endurance test that is freshers week, finding weekends horribly quiet and missing home – and that’s before adjusting to the course. Most students – even the strongest outgoing characters – will admit to first term blues. And whilst it may be of little comfort now, the majority of students settle down much better in the second term and never look back.

What do they plan to do if they leave? The prospect of living at home, whilst looking for a job as a school leaver may bring perspective to the options. Point out that not having a degree will limit future career choice

Be open to alternatives. University is not for everyone, and some students may have signed up because they didn’t know what else to do, and it was expected of them by parents and school. But without being opinionated, do challenge them on the practicalities of the alternatives, and the hurdles and disappointments they may meet.

Do they want to change courses? They will need your support in talking to the admissions tutor on this, and will need to formulate good reasons. Get them to sit in on some lectures of their preferred course, and enquire first at the school of the subject they want to change to, to establish if there is a vacancy.

If they still want to leave then ensure they comply with correct procedures in case they should wish to return after a short break or reapply next year.

If they return home offer unlimited emotional support but in the interests of getting them motivated offer only limited financial support. Set a deadline for action in deciding what to do, and getting a temporary job to fund themselves. If you don’t they will become too dependent on you.