If your teen or young adult is about to enter college, remember that college isn’t always the tidy four-year experience it used to be. Emerging adults are taking less of a straight line to adulthood than past generations did. They are more likely to take a semester abroad, a gap year, or to change schools once or more. Many are also withdrawing from college for emotional reasons or due to adjustment difficulties.
Particularly when these interruptions are caused by distress, they can feel quite discouraging and lead to the conclusion that “I’m just not meant for college.” To help your young adult avoid that kind of discouragement and re-engage college opportunities, we recommend the following strategies:

  • Plan ahead: have “what if scenarios” for if and when your child decides to take time off during college.
  • Be prepared to reframe these “failures” as “interruptions.”
  • Consider having your child start at a community college close to home so that they can master the academic and social dimension of college before engaging the additional challenges of independent living.
  • Remember that college interruptions are more the norm now than the exception.
  • Surround the student with support, but also encourage challenge and engagement such as paid work, auditing classes, volunteering, chores, etc.
  • Within a framework that appropriately sets boundaries for your own involvement, put the student in the driver’s seat regarding choices about how to spend their year off.
  • Empower the student to make their own choices about what to do after the hiatus.
  • If the student is struggling with confidence, consider a period of auditing classes at a local college as a stopgap to build up confidence and coping skills.
  • Be curious. After years of honoring external expectations, many young people find it initially difficult to express their own preferences.
  • Prior to returning to college, explore support options with the student so that she has resources when things get tough.