My Son Dropped Out of College. Now what?

Some of the hardest parenting moments I’ve ever had are the ones where I just have to sit back and watch my children make their own decisions. In most of the situations, I felt like I knew best what she should do. And it was downright PAINFUL to watch her choose the opposite of what I would have.

If you have a son or daughter who is struggling in college, or has made the decision to drop out of university, it is hard not to feel disappointed. For many families, getting a child grown and flown through high school and then off to college is the culmination and pinnacle of 18+ years of work. To have a child take all of that effort and basically chuck it over their shoulder….frustrating might be the wrong word for it.

But your son has made the decision. He quit. And now what is he going to do? What are you going to do?

Practical Decisions for Daily Life: Welcome Your Dropout Home?

Now that your son has quit university, does he want to move back home? And if he does, will you let him? Parents differ on this. Some families push their children from the nest around age 18, and then let the kids fly or fall on their own, helping as little as possible. Others are happy to welcome children back home with open arms.

Or in the case of a young adult who demonstrates very little interest or skill in managing an adult life independently, it can feel like a necessary step to bring him back home.

Early on, you have to decide what your strategy and goals are. Do you want to see your son employed and living on his own as soon as possible? Or do you have concerns about his life choices, and want to keep him close by where you can see him and continue to protect him?

Selfishly, we love our children, and we may want to keep them near us as long as possible.

Transition to Independence: Encourage Him But Don’t Do It For Him

But in the long run, even if the young adult returns home to live you with, the family needs to be focused on launching him back into independence. You parents aren’t going to be around forever, and he needs to learn how to manage himself and support himself.

You don’t have to make these decisions in a vacuum. When your child tells you that he wants to move home (or you decide you want him to move home), have a family meeting. Talk through what happened at college and why he decided to quit. Explore his goals (both short term and long term). If he doesn’t have any goals, talk to him about making some.

Don’t make the goals (short term or long term) for him. He needs to develop his own plan and execute it. You can, however, tell him what your goals are for him as it relates to him being in your home.

Tell him that you want him to be ready to rent/buy his own place to live in a certain amount of time. Or that you expect him to be employed if he is living at home. He is now an adult, so your control over him is less than it was when he was a teenager. But the house is YOUR house, and you can make rules that he can follow if he wants to live there, such as:

  • quiet hours
  • guests (number and time of day)
  • in home activities (drinking, smoking, drug use)
  • payment of rent, sharing utilities
  • courteousness
  • shared chores
  • grocery shopping

This makes his position more like a renter and less like a child. It also forces him to think about his own budget and how he can afford to do all the things he wants to do, in addition to having a place to live. If he has never had to budget before (and money was a problem in college), this can be a great way to help him learn how to manage it. Encourage him to save, to build up his own credit, to maintain a clean driving record, and to build up knowledge and skills, which will help him when he decides to take his next steps.

Having him in the house could also be a great way to be able to investigate further into what happened at school. Did something traumatic happen? Did he fit in there? Or was he getting bad grades because he was drinking and staying up all night? You might not be able to convince him to go back to school, but at least you’ll have an understanding of what happened, which may help you in the long run.

But what if he refuses to get a job or help around the house?

Mom and Dad, this is a really hard question. If you set the expectations, and he fails to meet them, what do you do? Do you let him stay, even though he doesn’t help, or actually harms the enjoyment of your household?

This is a tough question, and not one that you’ll find a suitable answer for in a blog article. Instead, I would confer with your spouse, and make the decision together. If you need to talk it out with someone who is unbiased, consider meeting with a psychologist or family therapist to get your mind in order and queue up the right words to say what you want to say.

We don’t want to see our kids hurting, and homelessness is a place that is abhorrent to think about. But if your child is loafing around, is rude or hurts you, you can either endure it or make a chance.

Asking your child to leave may be difficult, especially if he has no where to go. Tough love might be required to help him understand just how much he should appreciate your generosity.

And what happens if he won’t leave? If you prepared a written tenancy agreement, hopefully you included some terms about what would happen if rent wasn’t paid. If not, you may consider asking him to leave, and then if he doesn’t leave (or returns), ask law enforcement to assist you with a trespassing situation. If trespassing is not an option, you may have to file a lawsuit in order to eject him from the premises. This is an extreme case, but it has happened.

Practicalities aside, why did your son drop out of college and how can you help him with the reasons? Will it help him go back?

Talk to your son about why he left college. These don’t always have to be BAD reasons, like drugs, alcohol, debt, relationships, pregnancy, etc. See also: My Son Got His Girlfriend Pregnant.

Depression, anxiety, and other mental illness often rear their heads when children leave home to attend college. If an untreated mental illness is at the root of your son’s issues, now is the time to work together to find a way to get him some help.

Another reason children drop out of college is that they find that college isn’t getting them where they want to go. They might be getting awesome grades, or terrible grades. But as they begin to find their way in life, they may realize that the college they’ve chosen is the wrong one. Or the major they selected is not what they thought it was. Perhaps they’ve selected another career path, or decided to pursue technical training or entrepreneurship.

Dropping out of college to pursue other avenues of professional interest doesn’t have to be a bad thing, and can be something parents can even encourage, if the child is motivated and working hard.

Sometimes college isn’t the “right fit” for a young adult. Your son may not feel comfortable sharing all of the details of his decision with you. But if you can find out what went wrong, you’ll be able to draw up a road map with him to get him on track to where he wants to go.

But what about all the money we already paid?

If you took out loans, and your son took out loans, those loans don’t go away, even if you son leaves the college. If you co-signed onto everything, all that money still needs to be paid. Have a chat with your child about it, so that he understands the ramifications of bailing out on college without getting a degree.

“Some college” can be useful on job applications, while other companies may see it as a negative thing. (Can’t finish things he starts). Depending upon what your son wants to do next, he may want to make plans to “finish” college another way, through a community college or even online.

In most cases, there is a grace period after a student leaves full time enrollment before loan payments begin. (Forbearance or grace period). If your son enrolls in another program, he may be able to push off payments on his loans (and for you as well), in order to give himself some time to continue to figure out what he wants to do. Many loan providers offer reduced payment options based upon the income level of the borrower, but not all. As the parent, you will want to find out what you have to pay and when, and he will have to do the same.

What if he won’t return to college?

Then he doesn’t go back to college. When our kids become adults, we lose much of the influence we have over them. We can try to assert it or influence them, perhaps by dangling monetary rewards or by holding back trust funds.

Eventually though, the decision to finish college or not is something your son will have to live with. In the end, leaving college without graduating might not have any long term negative repercussions. It all depends upon him, and what he decides to do with his life.

As a parent of an adult child, our job is now to guide him and advise him, but not control him. Help him become the master of his own life, without living it for him.

Remember, you can love your son without agreeing with him or his choices, or enabling him to do things you don’t agree with or support. If he wants to quit college, you don’t have to bring him home and let him eat your food and play video games all day. Stand up for yourself, and then let him make the choice to get on board, or to find his own way.