What to Do When Your Son or Daughter Wants to Drop Out of College

  • Posted at Jun 10, 2016
  • Written by yellowbrick

Dropping out of college

College isn’t just about academics—it’s also a life stage that allows teens to transition into life as independent adults. When a student decides to drop out of college, the decision is often difficult for parents to accept. How will leaving school affect their child’s future? What can they do to help?

Dr. Bryn Jessup, Director of Family Services at Yellowbrick, says most students don’t have a single, easy-to-identify reason for wanting to drop out of college. “It’s usually the result of a cascade of failures, stresses and difficulties,” he says.

Those difficulties can include:

  • Trouble balancing schoolwork with daily life: “This can occur at any time during the first year, but often doesn’t fully emerge until the second semester,” Jessup says. “A crucial factor is overtaxed executive functioning—planning, organizing, scheduling—without sufficient emotional support and structure.”
  • Emotional and cognitive vulnerabilities: A student with learning disabilities or a tendency to suffer from depression or anxiety may have had enough help in high school and at home to succeed academically. “But once they leave home, these vulnerabilities can emerge and then snowball,” Jessup says.
  • Substance and alcohol abuse: The binge drinking prevalent on many college campuses can take on a life of its own, derailing academic functioning.
  • Trouble at home: “Any of the above can be precipitated by family disruptions or upheavals that draw vulnerable young adults back into caretaking roles in the family,” Jessup says.

Parents who have invested years of attention and resources to launch their child off to college often push back against the decision to drop out.

“Hopes and expectations have generally peaked at the same time that a child’s struggles begin to emerge, making it hard to appreciate—let alone accept—the full extent of the difficulties,” Jessup says.

College-age students who want to maintain a sense of independence can also be vague about their reasons for wanting to drop out of college. “It’s important to remember that there may be more to the story than what you first hear from your son or daughter,” Jessup says.

What can parents do after a student moves back home?

“A critical first step is to determine all of the contributing factors that resulted in the student’s failure to meet the demands of that particular college environment,” Jessup says. That means having honest conversations about what happened, why it happened, and what goals should be set for the next month, six months and year. During this time of transition, parents can suggest a number of options, whether it’s entering a substance-abuse program, getting a job, or taking courses at a local community college. The important thing is to decide what happens next together.

Starting this September, Yellowbrick will be opening a new residence program called Campus Competence, where young adults who previously may have dropped out of college completely now can return to school with additional support. Students will receive academic counseling, executive functioning coaching and more to help them learn how to successfully manage stress and make the most out of their college experience. Find out more about Campus Competence.


Share: Facebook Twitter LinkedIn
How Parents Can Help Young Adults Make Important Life Decisions Previous Post
Next Post What You Need to Know About Parenting a Transgender Child

Take the Next Step

Yellowbrick collaborates with adolescents and emerging adults, ages 16-30's, their families and participating professionals toward the development and implementation of a strategic “Life Plan.” An integrative, multi-specialty consultation clarifies strengths, limitations, and risks, and defines motivations, goals and choices.

    Get Help now, call us toll free

    Real-Time Treatment for Emerging Adults and their Families

    Bipolar Disorder

    A mental health condition that’s characterized by intense shifts in mood including both manic and depressive episodes.

    Major Depressive Disorder

    People living with Major Depressive Disorder, or MDD, experience episodes of depression and sadness that are debilitating to daily life.

    Anxiety Disorders

    Those living with anxiety disorders experience high levels of anxiety and stress that interfere negatively with daily life.

    Neuroatypical “Spectrum” Individuals and their Families

    These individuals often experience an extended period of anxiety and disruption as the young person ages out of the structured support settings available through the educational and social services systems.

    Thought Disorder

    A mental health issue in which a person’s cognitive function is impaired, resulting in symptoms like experiencing challenges with conducting speech, reading and writing, and behavior.

    Personality Disorders

    Mental health disorders that negatively affect a person’s behaviors, thought patterns, and function. People diagnosed with these disorders experience challenges with managing relationships and understanding various situations.


    Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is a mental health condition that people can develop as a result of experiencing traumatic situations, characterized by symptoms including flashbacks, avoidance behaviors, and more.


    A mental health condition that is characterized by specific symptoms of forgetfulness and lack of concentration, which makes it challenging to complete necessary tasks.

    Eating Disorders

    Mental health conditions that interfere with a person’s eating habits, thought patterns, and behaviors in negative ways.


    A mental health disorder diagnosable with the DSM-5 that is characterized by both obsessions and compulsive behaviors.

    Adopted Individuals and Families

    We are committed to the developing specialized services for adopted emerging adults and their families.