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When Your Kid Wants to Come Home from College (or Transfer) What Should You Do?

Updated on September 8, 2012
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What if Your Kid is Unhappy at School?

My son broke from tradition in our family and did not choose my alma mater for college. He did not choose the college that I and so many members of his family went to before him. During Christmas break of his senior year, he had an epiphany of sorts, decided to follow his heart (rather than what he thought he should do) and apply at a school in a big city to study a major very different from the path he had been previously leaning toward. The result? He LOVES it. He "knew" the minute he walked on campus that this college was for the right choice for him. He adjusted fantastically well, does not want to come home, and says everyday that he loves it more.

Some of his friends, however, did not have the same experience. Several texted him during the opening days of college to say they hated where they were and wanted to go home. A few remained at their schools and are still adjusting, but one ended up dropping out of college completely, and two transferred to other schools. All within the first two weeks. Hearing this made me wonder, what would I do if my son called me, upset and crying, saying he hated his school? What would I say if he wanted to come home? What would I do if he was unhappy where he was, and wanted to transfer?

Traditional wisdom says that "you have to give it time." We've all heard stories of kids who hated college at first and wanted to come home, then by Christmas ended up loving it, never wanting to leave. But if your kid is not adjusting well and wants to come home, or transfer to a different school, what do you do? Do you make them tough it out? Do you let them come home? Or transfer? Here are some guidelines.

Guidelines

Homesick, or more than that? The first step is to really listen to your kid. Is she saying that she is homesick, or does she really hate the school? Is she just having a hard time adjusting, or does she know that she made a mistake in her choice? A mistake in choice is much different than just being homesick. Homesickness is a normal part of the transition to college. Although involved parents may have kids with better coping skills, it may also be harder for those kids to break away from parents who have always been a big part of their lives. For some students, leaving a boyfriend or girlfriend behind, financial worries, and emotional difficulties may add to the stress. To help with homesickness, you can suggest that your son/daughter get involved with campus activities or reach out to sources on campus who can help. Reassure them that homesickness is normal. Send them care packages, and try to avoid mentioning how much you miss them, or the "empty house". But if it is more than homesickness, and is more about making the wrong choice, you may have to look further for a solution.

How much time should you give it? The answer to this question varies greatly based on individuals. One statistic shows that thirty percent of all college students will eventually transfer, and not always for good reasons. Sometimes it is a "grass will be greener" mindset, and as we all all know, that isn't always the case. The questions to consider are, will your son or daughter be happy with the new choice, and why does he/she want to come home or transfer in the first place? Good reasons include that the current college is just not the right fit, or because a change is major is desired and the current school does not offer the opportunity. In either case, no amount of time will improve the situation. If your child does put in the time of a semester or two and still wants to leave, it is time to seriously consider that option.

Financial Considerations I've learned through my son's friends that most colleges will offer refunds within the first two weeks. However, this does not include scholarship money or grants--only the money the parents have contributed themselves. Thus, if you are counting on scholarship money or grants to help with the cost of college, it is important to consider that your child may have missed the opportunity for these monies at other schools they have turned down. This fact should be weighed in the decision to transfer, and may make the difference of whether your student can come home immediately, or needs to wait a semester, or even an entire year, before financial aid is made available again.

Let the Student Do the Legwork. A good rule to follow is to make your child do the work herself if she wants to transfer. Let your student know that she needs to check out her options, financial and otherwise, if she really wants to make this move. Peter's one friend wrote a two-page letter to the dean of the school she wanted to transfer to, and made all the arrangements herself to make the move a successful one. By placing the responsibility on your child, you will be able to gauge just how important this change really is to him and how serious he is about it.

Have Them Follow Their Hearts, In The First Place. The best piece of advice may be to tune in to what your child is telling you during the college search process.You are there to guide them, but the ultimate decision is up to your child. Make sure you are allowing your kids to make their own choices based on what they want to do--not what you want them to do, or their friends, or their boyfriend or girlfriend.One of my son's friend's knew in her heart that she wanted a college close to home, but her parents encouraged her to choose a college far away. She ended up transferring almost immediately. There are so many factors involved in finding the "perfect fit" when it comes to college. Some of them are more ethereal. When your child finds the right school, she will know--and when the school is wrong, she will know that, too. Sometimes the feeling is instant, sometimes it takes time or a new perspective, but the key is allowing your kids to find what is right for them---not for you , and not for anyone else. That is true for everything in life, college included.

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    • girishpuri profile image

      Girish puri 4 years ago from NCR , INDIA

      Well researched creation and very useful and helpful suggestion, voted up.

    • debbiepinkston profile image

      Debbie Pinkston 4 years ago from Pereira, Colombia and NW Arkansas

      This is a great Hub that will speak to many parents out there! My son transferred after his first year. He was studying music and they led him to believe that the music school was "well rounded" with many genres of music...Once there he realized that it was all classical and his pleas for other genres fell on deaf ears. It's hard for parents to know when to say "ok" and when to encourage them to stick with it. My son stuck with it for a year and he did learn a lot during that time.

      Thanks for helping parents think through this process and for the suggestions!

    • g-girl11 profile image
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      g-girl11 4 years ago

      Thanks girishpuri! Hope it can help parents who find themselves in this situation, or prepare them for the possibility.

    • g-girl11 profile image
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      g-girl11 4 years ago

      Thanks debbiepinston! Sounds like your son is a perfect example of giving it his best but knowing when there is no choice but to move on--for the RIGHT reasons. I was surprised to find that thirty percent of college students do transfer, so your son is not alone. Hope he found the right fit once he transferred. That is all that matters in the end! Thanks for reading!

    • tamarawilhite profile image

      Tamara Wilhite 4 years ago from Fort Worth, Texas

      Parents should talk to their kids before they leave to find out why they want to go away. The feeling of "independence" living away from home is a costly luxury when paid for by student loans you cannot discharge in bankruptcy.

      If they want to go far from home for the educational program not available at home or because they receive a scholarship, well and good. If your child wants to go away because they fell in love with the architecture, adore the costly amenities or like the "atmosphere", say no, save money and have them go to a college closer to home. They'll save enough in skipping room and board to afford a car after college.

    • g-girl11 profile image
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      g-girl11 4 years ago

      You make some good points, tamarawilhite. These decisions have to be so carefully weighed, and the high cost is definitely a factor to consider!

    • DennisDo profile image

      Dennis 4 years ago from Florida

      While I'm not a parent reading this, I am a college student who unfortunately, did not going to a university of my choice.

      I suppose that my parents have a lot to say in choosing a University close to my home, which I can understand for financial reasons. I did wish that they were open minded about my choices of school though.

    • g-girl11 profile image
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      g-girl11 4 years ago

      Thanks for commenting, DennisDo! Great to hear from your perspective. Yes, the cost of college is so important when deciding on a school. I hope that you are happy with where you are now, even if it wasn't your first choice.

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