Preventing Your Teen From Dropping Out of College

Close-up of Teen BoyDid you know that the United States has one of the highest college dropout rates in the industrialized world? This seems unbelievable since we are the “land of opportunity,” but unfortunately, the percentage of full-time students at four-year institutions who complete a bachelor’s degree in four years is only 37.9%, and the completion rate after six years is only 58.3%. Starting college, but not finishing, can be heartbreaking and disruptive to a family, not to mention an incredibly expensive endeavor. Paying off the debt from college expenses is difficult enough when a student obtains his degree, but it is an even greater burden if a young person doesn’t actually obtain the degree.

Reasons Students Drop Out of College

There are many reasons that students drop out of college, which we will try to explore here:

Lack of Funds. The number one factor leading to dropping out is lack of finances. The reality is that many teens cannot afford the expense associated with attending a university:

  • Some students simply choose a university that is too expensive for their means. When choosing a college, you must figure out how much a degree will probably cost and the average salary of the student’s intended career field. Experts recommend a student’s total debt at graduation should be less than their annual starting salary. Otherwise, choose a less expensive university.
  • With high expenses, many students need to work while going to school, and, depending on how many hours they need to work, it may interfere with a teen’s ability to study. A teen who must work too much then faces a bad combination of stressful factors – lack of money, failing grades, exhaustion – leading them to give up. Public Agenda, a nonpartisan research group, released a 2009 report showing that “most dropouts leave college because they have trouble going to school while working to support themselves.”
  • Some teens are so thrilled about the college experience, they simply don’t take their studies seriously, and then, they lose their financial aid. There are federal regulations that colleges must follow when awarding grants, loans and scholarships. For example, a new freshman who begins with five classes can only fail one course and drop out of one course before they lose all of their funding. Your teen can lose all of their financial aid based on poor performance in just their first semester!


Career Lockout. One reason that the first semester is critical to your student’s success is that some majors have strict rules when it comes to grades. For example, if the engineering school at your teen’s college requires a minimum of a B in Chemistry and does not allow repeating a science class to improve a grade, then a freshman who earns a C in Chemistry can be locked out of becoming an engineer. If this was your teen’s dream, it can cause them to feel angry and/or depressed. Some students are able to rally and find a new major that they like, but others become very discouraged and either drop out immediately, or their grades begin to plummet and they drop out later.

Poor Study Habits. For many students, college is their first opportunity away from their parents’ rules. Some learn self-regulation quickly, but others have a bit too much fun. Even if they manage to pass all their classes in their first semester, teens, who do not establish good study habits quickly, will discover that they can’t manage their course work in later semesters.

Not Fitting In. Every college has its own unique culture, and sometimes the school’s atmosphere doesn’t match your student’s personality. Sometimes youth feel like an outcast, unable to connect with the other students. Interestingly, recent research from Stanford University found that students who were coached by phone, email, and text messages were 15 percent more likely to stay in school. By providing students with friendly encouragement and the opportunity to ask questions, students can transition much more easily into the college experience.

Helping Students Remain in College

Before your teen heads off to college, experts suggest you talk with your teen about time management, finances, and academic expectations. Additionally, use this article to bring up potential problems and discuss ways to overcome them. Encourage your teen to:

  • Consider a lower-priced, less competitive college.
  • Review the grade requirements for maintaining financial aid and enrolling in certain majors.
  • Visit a campus more than once to get a feel for the culture and make sure it is a good fit.
  • Read online reviews of the college to discover strengths and weaknesses.
  • Once at college, connect with other students through campus organizations and activities to build a peer support system.
  • Use all avenues to secure financial aid and perform well in the first semester to maintain the funding.


Exploring Alternative Options to Dropping Out

If your teen is having a difficult time in college and begins to discuss dropping out, parents should help them explore their options with these questions:

  • What can you do to change next semester to make it work better for you?
  • Is the problem with college in general or with this particular school? Have you considered a transfer to another college rather than dropping out? Have you considered changing majors?
  • For the teen who is partying a little too much: How can you create a healthy balance between studying and socializing?
  • For the teen who doesn’t feel like they fit in: How can you find more support on campus?  Do you need to change roommates or living arrangements?  Should you get more involved in campus life?
  • For the teen who cannot balance work and school: Can you afford to quit a job or reduce work hours so that you can focus on school? Can you earn more money during the summer so that you can reduce your work hours during the school year? Is it worth taking out a loan so that you can focus on school and finish sooner and with stronger grades? If these options don’t work, suggest that your student investigate reducing credit hours (or course work) or declaring part-time status (though be sure to research this option thoroughly as part-time status can affect other issues, such as housing and financial aid).


Leave a Reply