Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Should I Stay or Should I Go?

It's a question that's come up a couple of times in the past couple months, an advisee or student is trying to decide if college is really the right place for him/her at this point.

What do you say?

How do you help the student figure things out?


  1. I tend to try to let the student do all the talking in this situation. Why is the student considering leaving? What are the benefits of leaving? What are the drawbacks? Basically, why is this something the student is considering? Usually the answers are telling. Sometimes (most of the time lately) the issue is money/work/family related, and sometimes there are resources for the student that he/she isn't aware of that can allow the student to stay in school, and I can point the student to those resources. Other times, the student just feels unprepared for college right then (problems with depression are a big one here, or the student is unsure what he/she wants to major in and thinks time off would be a good thing, etc.) and in that case, I do also try to point the student to resources (counseling, the career center, etc.) but also to strategize with the student about a plan for leaving (what are you going to do if you decide to take a semester or two off?) and also for returning (how not to make this "dropping out" but rather "taking a break"). At the end of the day, I do think that the student needs to decide for him/herself, and I think the student should feel supported through making that decision, without judgment from me. That said, a student in trouble needs guidance, and I think by talking through all of the options with the student, it is much more likely that even if the student leaves, he/she may come back at some point in the future, which I do believe is a good thing.

  2. That's helpful, Dr. C. I probably talk too much during these meetings. Thanks.

  3. It really depends on the student. I hate to see some of them leave when they have potential but are just burned out, broke, or depressed. Yet others really DO need to leave, figure out their lives, and come back when they're ready to be in school.

    I do think it's helpful to listen to the reasons the student gives. Is he/she just frustrated with one class? Miserable with the university in general? A bad fit for your school? Depressed? Sometimes a student needs to visit the bursar's office (to make sure they are getting all the scholarships/grants they qualify for), the therapist's office (to cope with depression), or the tutoring center (to figure out study skills).

    But sometimes, they just need to leave and figure things out. We've all seen returning students (late 20s, early 30s) who are MUCH better at school the second time around.

  4. Anonymous7:09 PM

    My father, a college professor, normally refused to discuss anything about college with me because he thought he would have too much influence (I actually resent that, it was withholding).

    However, I can tell he was a good advisor of his students because he did actually turn those skills on me. He had a really simple recipe.

    Here it was; he gave it in 2 versions:

    1. Opt for pass/fail grading this term on any courses you still can, and on the others, aim to pass, not to do well, but finish the term in good standing since it has already started, it isn't disastrous yet, you might want to return to college later, and sticking it out for this term will buy you some time. Then, use the time you would have put into studying harder to do some pleasant things and also to come up with whatever it is you would like to do or will do next term, while you're out of college.

    2. Try to figure out what the specific things are that bother you about college. Then try to figure out whether it is possible to eliminate those things from the college experience you are having right now. Then see how you feel, and then decide what you want to do.

  5. I suppose it also depends on what the student thinks IS the right thing for him/her at this point.

    PS Ever hear Baba Brinkman's rap version of the Canturberry Tales?

  6. This is a really good question. I'm thinking back to my own predilection for switching colleges (3 times in 3 semesters in 3 states--drove my parents crazy) and my desire, even when I was at the college that was very good for me, to drop out for none of the reasons I don't think anyone has mentioned here yet.

    I wasn't exactly experiencing burnout, but I found I was overprepared for college. Sure, there was endless new content for me to learn, but the intellectual skills that everyone says you'll learn in a liberal arts college I had developed in an insanely rigorous high school program. I didn't go to any of my professors for advice because I, from a family of college degree-holders, was ashamed to even be thinking of dropping out. But through much of college I felt like a little trained dog jumping through different kinds of hoops--it didn't feel particularly meaningful.

    But I have seen a couple of students with this problem: they're interested in the content of courses, but not feeling particularly challenged by or interested in college, intellectually or socially. And I never know what to say with them, as I just sort of stuck it out because I didn't know what my other options were, really.