A Parent's Guide to Helping Your College Freshman Bounce Back

So your college freshman came home after a rocky first year—partying too hard, battling depression or anxiety, or dealing with other challenges that resulted in a failed or barely passed school year. Now you find yourself wondering how to best support and guide them. Should you let them go back to college or keep them home? Below, we'll discuss practical strategies to help your young adult regain their footing, overcome obstacles, and find their path to success—both academically and emotionally.

What Does The Data Show?

Currently, around 24.1% of college freshmen end up dropping out of school within the first 12 months of their higher education. This is due to a variety of reasons, including economic hardship, lack of motivation, poor grades, and more. While there are plenty of job opportunities that do not require a college degree, those that do not end up receiving a bachelor's degree will make an average of 32.6% less than those who do finish school. 

Depending on the severity of your college freshman’s challenges, keeping them home from college may end up doing more harm than good in the long term. Ultimately, this choice will depend on the specifics of your student's situation. 

Taking into consideration the following strategies can help guide you as you work to make the right decision for your family.

Assess The Causes Of Their Poor School Performance

It is important to identify the cause of your young adult’s struggles so that you can respond in the most productive ways.  Some of the most common causes of poor school performance are listed below.
Lack of Self-Discipline - Some college students struggle because they are away from home for the first time.  They experience the freedom that comes with being at college but haven’t yet developed the discipline they need to succeed.  The workload that college brings can be overwhelming if you don’t keep up.
  • Loneliness and Isolation – College can be lonely if you aren’t involved or if you don’t have any friends.  This loneliness and isolation can affect school performance.  Not every young adult is prepared to be away from their support system, especially if they aren’t able to develop a new one.
  • Overly Social – The college environment provides a lot of opportunities to socialize with others and make new friends.  Some students become more involved in the social aspects of college than they are in the academic part of college.  
  • Lack of Desire to Be in School – Some students don’t want to be students anymore.  They feel burned out on school and so they don’t put the effort into it.  It is hard to pass classes if you never go to class or you don’t do the homework.
  • Substance Abuse – The college atmosphere is often filled with alcohol and drugs.  There are plenty of opportunities to party for those students who want to indulge.  The problem is that substance abuse frequently takes away the desire to succeed and can drastically affect school performance.
  • Mental Health Issues – Some college students struggle with depression, anxiety, panic attacks, or other mental health issues.  Other students may experience some form of trauma, such as being raped or violated in some way.  As a result of their mental health struggles, they may have difficulty coping with the stressors of the college environment.

Provide The Necessary Support

When your struggling college student returns home, the first thing you will want to do is create an environment that feels supportive. For many parents, this can feel counterintuitive as it may feel like a time to reprimand. Unfortunately, reprimanding your young adult when they are already struggling may make it more difficult to get them to tell you what is really going on. Instead, let them know that your love and support are unwavering, providing a safe space for them to express their concerns, frustrations, and fears. This will ultimately build trust and strengthen your relationship, helping them navigate their emotions more effectively.

Remind Them Why They Are There

With recent events, such as the pandemic, we’ve seen a dip in overall interest in college among younger generations. A 2022 survey showed that 29% of students stated that they are not returning to college due to the effects that inflation has had on their ability to afford college. In addition to the economic changes, students are observing a shift in political and environmental climates that have decreased their concern for education. As a result, they are leaving their universities behind and seeking jobs. While this may be a rising trend, it is important to remind your own student about the value of education, especially for the future. While no one can predict what the job market or economy will be like in the future, an education can help them prepare for what is to come.

The Importance Of Reflection
For many students, this first year of college can be a confusing time. Without proper reflection, they might not be able to identify what is causing their difficulties. Encourage your young adult to reflect on their first year of college and deeply understand the reasons behind their struggles. Was it poor time management, excessive socializing, or mental health issues? 

By identifying the root causes, they can take ownership of their actions and work to make the necessary changes. On top of this, advising them to seek help from academic advisors, counselors, or mentors at the college can provide valuable insights into improvement options. 

Sway Them Away From Greek Life

Although joining a sorority or fraternity may sound like an appealing way to meet friends, especially for those moving away to college, the dangers of this lifestyle outweigh the benefits for most. In a study conducted on college drinking behaviors, over 50% of the drinking recorded took place at either a fraternity or sorority. The culture surrounding Greek life can create a dangerous situation for many college students, especially freshmen. 

Exposure to binge drinking or frequent drinking at a young age is linked to greater risk of substance abuse in the future as well. If your student was involved in Greek life during their freshman year, removing them from that environment may make a large difference in their experience the following year.

Reach Out To A Professional

Grappling with depression, anxiety, or any other mental health challenges is a sign that professional help is necessary in most cases. For many students, this can feel intimidating to do on their own. This is another great opportunity to offer support by researching some local professionals that might be a good fit. 
Mental health support will equip them with coping mechanisms, stress management strategies, and a safe space to process their emotions in the future. In many cases, having the guidance of a mental health professional can allow students to build back the strength needed for their academic career. With moving away, learning to be on their own for the first time, and tackling the pressures of college-level work, it can be difficult for many young adults to navigate on their own.

Assessing Readiness For Their Return

Deciding whether your struggling college student should return to school or take a break requires thoughtful consideration. Evaluate their readiness to tackle the challenges of college life again. You might also encourage them to reflect on their personal growth during their time away and discuss options for moving forward with college advisors. Taking a semester off to address personal challenges and acquire the necessary skills can be a viable alternative.

Push Personal Growth

More than once you will need to remind your young adult that college isn't just about academic success—it's a time for personal growth and exploration. You might suggest that they engage in extracurricular activities that align with their interests and passions, boosting self-confidence and a sense of belonging. Volunteer work or a part-time job is an excellent use of time and will provide valuable life skills as well as broaden their horizons. Generally, the busier students are with productive activities, the less time they have to party or make poor choices.

Set Realistic Expectations

Help your college freshman set realistic academic expectations so that they have a course of action upon their return. You can help teach them to break down goals into manageable tasks and prioritize their time effectively. Highlight that progress, no matter how small, is an achievement. Also, teach them that setbacks are opportunities for growth and that success comes through perseverance and resilience. Sometimes the pressure of college can become too much and this can result in a mental break. By breaking down objectives into manageable chunks, some of that pressure can be alleviated. 

Help Them Learn To Take Accountability

Teach your young adult the importance of being accountable for their academic success. One consideration might be to show them how to create a study schedule, help them seek out study groups or tutoring resources, and push them to regularly communicate with professors or advisors for guidance. By taking ownership of their education, they'll develop a sense of responsibility that will serve them well in college and beyond.

Guiding your struggling college student through their challenges requires a supportive and understanding approach. Through creating a safe environment, promoting self-reflection, and nurturing accountability, you can help your young adult bounce back from a challenging first year. Ultimately, their journey is unique, and progress will come in different forms for each individual student. With your support, they can find their way to academic success and personal fulfillment.

We Can Help!

Online Treatment Programs provides Teletherapy Partial Hospitalization and Intensive Outpatient Programs allowing participants to receive intensive therapy with our licensed therapists and psychiatrists without having to leave home.  If you or someone you know is struggling to overcome depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, trauma, panic attacks, PTSD, alcoholism, drug abuse, or other mental health or addiction issues, we can help.  To schedule a complementary assessment or to find out more about our teletherapy programs, contact us at 1-800-685-9796.

MHThrive provides Individual Therapy, Couples and Marriage Counseling, and Family Therapy at our locations in Katy, The Woodlands, and the Clear Lake area of Houston, Texas. We also provide telehealth therapy for anyone who resides within the State of Texas. To schedule an appointment with one of the MHThrive therapists, contact us at 713-477-0333 or visit our website to learn more.

If you or someone you know is experiencing any severe mental health or substance abuse issues, New Dimensions can help. Our team of experienced therapists and psychiatrists can help you overcome these challenges and help you develop the skills you need to thrive. To schedule a complementary assessment or to find out more about our programs, contact us at 1-800-685-9796.

Online Treatment Programs

05 July, 2023

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