Withdrawing from College

Archived Q&A and Reviews


Helping 19 y/o who withdrew from college for mental health reasons

March 2016

Hi all, After spending a week at the local hospital's MSU (voluntary admission for suicidal thoughts), my 19 y/o dd made the decision to medically withdraw for the semester and return in the fall. Her college was wonderful and helpful; they made this part easy.

My concern is this: it was recommended that she attend an daily out patient mental health program. She is baulking as she is very private and an introvert and doesn't want to go full-time. Her issues are not new, been happening since she was 14 although she didn't tell us until now. For those of you who have been through this, what other options are there? Can she go part-time to these programs?

FYI, she already has a psychopharmacologist and we are in the process of finding her a great 'talk' therapist. And are considering CBT.

Also, I am thinking that 6 months won't be long enough to get her to a point where she will be safe to go back to college in the fall and that she will need to take next year off as well. Would love to hear from those of you who have lived through this: the good, the bad and the ugly.

Thanks so much! worried mom

Dear worried mom,

I feel for you; we have been in a similar situation. A few thoughts: A fulltime outpatient program will be very useful as a transition to less support. Because your child is introverted and private, it may be particularly important for her to hear about others' struggles and to be encouraged by peers to open up. I would imagine she would transition to a parttime program within a few weeks.

The most important thing is for your daughter to recover and to develop safe ways of managing her mental health struggles. She may well need more than six months before returning to the stress of living independently at college. Taking a course or two at a community college might be a way of trying academic work again in a less stressful setting and also of exploring new interests ''off the clock'' of her regular college. She should be reassured that there is no time limit to completing college, that many of the finest students (and people) have taken time off before completing their degree (I speak from authority here!). Best wishes, and be sure to take care of yourself as well. another mom

You could choose to plan for a return to college next fall, with the understanding that you'll make a final decision closer to the entrance date (and keep refund deadlines in mind). This can keep that plan alive and at the same time make it ok to postpone further if that felt to be the best course when you get to the end of summer. A therapist can help you and your child decide how to proceed in the near and far term. Some sort of college will always be there when your kid is ready. Been there. Best wishes!

So sorry for you and I can totally sympathize as we are just about in the same boat, however it over was a year ago now for us, and my kid is now 20. Staying engaged in class work - even if it is one or two courses & one of them an art class would be what I'd recommend based on our experience. Too much down-time is when issues well up again for my child, along with hormonal surges and even holiday anxiety. When their hands and minds are creative, it has been the best outcome for us so far. Look into local, community college or private classes for example, if the fall seens to soon to return to school. When researching mental health, the Internet is confusing at best as a source for information. It was also suggested that I work with a good therapist for myself to stay whole and stable while supporting a child with any kind of transitional anxiety disorder. Once you discover your child's condition it's difficult to think about anything else, but I advise you keep busy & expand your focus and try not to overly analyse - I wish you & your family all the best. Good luck!

Smart 20yo with ADD & dyslexia does not want to stay in school

Feb 2016

I need help! My 20 yr old son is on academic probation in his 3rd year of college. He attends a very large public school in CA. He is very, very smart but has ADHD, Dyslexia, and very slow processing speed. He won't accept any help from the ''special education'' office nor will he take much of my advice. He is stubborn and funny and very creative and a pain in the a$% all at once. He does not want to stay in school as he finds it a waste of his time and my money.

I believe if he were in a school that is smaller and more suited to his challenges (i.e. he loves to learn but in a non traditional setting --small group talks, not large lecture halls) he would thrive. So my first question is--are there any schools out there like that that don't cost a fortune?

My second question is this: Do you have any recommendations for a counselor or life coach type of person who might be able to connect with him? I think he feels very stuck and not sure what to do next but again my advice is not usually heard.

My third question is this: Can anyone recommend any 'life changing' experiences that their difficult child had that might help him? I am thinking of sending him to another country with 100$ and letting him find a job, experience other cultures, learn more about the world!

The worst case scenario is his coming home to live - he is not easy for me to live with and I think him being here won't foster any type of growth. As an aside-he knows he cannot live home unless he has a full time job. I wrote once about this scenario and many people advised him to 'get a job.' However- I am hoping for more than just that advice.....

Please be gentle in your advice as this is a very tough topic/ situation for me! thanks in advance. mom of a man child

Hi Mom, There are colleges geared for kids with ADHD. Check out the CHADD website. Sending him abroad might be a great growth opportunity for him if you think he can operate in an unknown environment among strangers. Or there are gap year type of international programs. The CHADD website may have info on these too. If he stays at home, I suggest a contract signed by all parties. Detail what behavior is expected, give a deadline for a job (could it also be a volunteer job?), and require rent (if volunteer job, he must do significant work around house... maybe cook dinner 5 nights a week?). It is important going into this to be ready to do tough love because you will be tested. So include an amount of time he has to be out of the house if he breaks the contract. Rent is important for many reasons. Teaches saving money to cover rent which is a life skill. Means he has to keep that job to pay the rent. ... I charge my 20 year old $50. Not much but it is difficult for her. I have one at home

Hello, Just wanted to address the academic probation portion of your post. If currently on AP and does not appear to be able to bring up GPA this quarter/semester as required, then recommend trying to withdraw from the college (medical reason or such), so that official dismissal from the college does not happen (don't allow that door to close completely). He can later go through their summer sessions to try to pull GPA up, should he later in life decide want to continue college studies. This way with the GPA raised through summer school, he is still academically alive and will have some choices left to transfer to another college (in good standing) or resume in future. College may not be right path at this point in time, but could be further down the road.

Since summer is fast approaching, it is a good time to now begin looking for internships, or begin planning for his travel abroad and accommodations, etc. You sound like a patient and nurturing parent and already recognize that time and experience are key for your son to learn life skills so that he can be successful living with ''ADHD, Dyslexia, and very slow processing speeds''. I would agree with your intent, to keep him optimistic and continuously moving forward in life (gain new experiences, be productive as possible). Best to you both. anon

Hi, I realize that it must seem like a very difficult and complicated decision to make for both of you. We often see 'quitting' or even delaying as a failure. We fear that our kids will fail to complete other major life tasks. We sometimes want our kids to tough it out. We hope that something will click in the next semester which will set everything right. We question our kids abilities, their eventual life path, our egos, our parenting. This generation of parents has been really force fed an 'ideal' path which includes college right after high school as the only option. I think that is a much too rigid way of approaching our kids. I also think that it is a very boring, robotic way of moving through life. I think most of us parents had much more circuitous and unique paths than we are allowing for our children.

My brothers were not ready for college after high school and neither had even done well in HS due to ADHD and ADD and probable dyslexia. They both went later when something seemed to have clicked in both of them and they both went on to graduate schools as well. Both are successful and upstanding. My son is not even nearing the path for college after HS (10 grader) as he has dyslexia and ADHD, but I have no fear that he will be successful and likely go to college a bit later. Even my daughter with undiagnosed ADD is needing an extra year (college apps in process currently).

I really think that you should hear your son who is very clearly saying that he is wasting your money at college currently. How smart and insightful. Yes, if he is willing, help him do something interesting like go live in a cheap country where his brain will be forced to work on another language, make friends and develop. Don't even think of sending him off with a measly $100. That seems outrageous and punitive. Give him at least 1000 with another to 1000 arrive in the next month at least. Even hostels shared and cheap can be expensive and he will not hit the ground running. Maybe set him up with some initial language classes in his new country just to get his bearings. If he can work under the table somewhere, great, but most countries won't allow him to get a work permit legally, right? Try to get him to stay a full year. Most people even super social and super good at learning languages still feel unbelievably isolated at around 3 months, but sometime after that find a true connection that makes it all turn around. College will be there for him when he is ready. Anyway, be kind to yourself and to him. Some people need more time to figure things out. It is always about the journey and not the destination. anon

Hi, While I don't have a big solution for you, I am in a very similar situation with my child--though about 2 years ahead--and have a few thoughts, and feel sharing info and resources may be of help. If you are interested, ask the moderator for my email and we can connect. A Sympathetic Mom

we are in the midst of a very similar situation-- very smart 20 yr son, ADHD -- struggling in a large university, thought he could do it on his own. Different from your son-- no learning issues, went from probation to dismissed, wants to stay in school. Now at the community college hoping to get back in.. I would love to find the right smaller school, or experience for him. He has been working with an academic coach (we required this for him to stay in school), via computer as she lives out of the area..Growth is happening -- very slowly. One of the things he, and I, have learned is that, while he doesn't need specific accommodations from his professors-- they do seem to cut him a little slack by knowing of his ADHD struggles. So, sorry, no answers. Would love to talk offline.. em

My son had a difficult adolescence (to put it mildly), turned things around at age 20, started community college, got straight A's, and transferred to an excellent university. So I think you can be hopeful that some things will start to change for your son btwn age 20 and 25 (when his brain will be mature). I like your plan of encouraging your son to go to another country. We did that at one point (teen years) and it was not miraculous but it gave us all a break from each other! You could pay for the flight and health insurance and a little spending money, which will probably be a lot less than you have been spending. Unless he can get a work permit in another country, he is not going to be able to earn money, so $100 does not seem realisitic, but he can work in exchange for room and board. https://www.helpx.net/ is one site I have heard of, but I don't have personal experience of it. I would encourage you to make the offer to him, provide the site (or sites) to check out) and then let him decide, contact the hosts, come up with a plan. But perhaps tell him he can leave school as soon as he comes up with another plan, because sticking out the quarter or semester if it is not going well is probably not a good idea. At this point perhaps he can get W's which is better than bad grades on his transcript. I know how hard it is as a parent. Hang in there. I encourage you to talk about it openly with people--I met so many people who told me stories of themselves or a loved one turning their lives around in their 20's. That helped me. best wishes

Your son may need to experience some failure before he finds what's right for him, or decides that those special education services are a good idea. I say this with all sympathy. We have a son in college in SoCal who is struggling and has learning issues, and mid-20s daughter who is drifting. Maybe the life-changing experience your son needs is getting a job. Not trying to just throw you back to the old advice you received, but he's not guaranteed an epiphany while traveling Europe any more than if he works at McDonalds. My husband nearly flunked out of high school due to family issues, never took his SATs, left home at 18 and moved far away, and didn't decide to go to college until age 25. What changed his mind was the experience of supporting himself while working in crummy jobs for seven years (including McDonald's). One day he looked up and said, ''I need more than this.'' He struggled with lack of study skills, perfectionism, and a few other personal issues, but did earn his bachelor's degree. He is currently earning his PhD. Ultimately, our kids have to find their own path. Your son is an adult (even if he doesn't feel like one). You can't set him up with a solution like you could when he was younger. You can offer him some suggestions: smaller school, sticking with his current school and accepting more help, traveling on a tight budget, supporting himself with a job and living on his own, etc. You can be very clear about how you will support him in each of these things. ''If you go to school, I pay for it. If you choose to not use the service available to you and flunk out, that's the end of my paying for it. If you drop out of school, you support yourself, but are welcome home for dinner on weekends...'' Whatever it is you are willing to offer that seems like healthy support. Then stick to it, and let him live his life. Be loving and encouraging, but start moving this to being HIS problem. ''Well honey, any time you want to talk over the options, I'm happy to. I'm sure you'll figure out what you want, even if it takes some trial and error'' versus you fixing things. I know it's hard! I've had two hard conversations along these lines in the last month. I try really hard not to pick at, nudge, nag, etc. It doesn't help. I think to myself: ''My priority is our relationship. My kid is now an adult. I want to be on good terms with them in 10, 20, 30 years. They will have to figure out their own life.'' taking the long view (and do a lot of private complaining to friends/spouse)

Take a deep breath, release and read on. There are lots of options for your son. I am a certified college admission counselor which means that I help students and their families through the college selection, admission and or transfer process. You have a number of issues going on with your young adult so of course it feels overwhelming. In many cases taking time off can help to clarify for young people why they want to go back to college. It doesn't have to be exotic, it just needs to be an experience where the student can see for themselves, what life has to offer, and how college may or may not fit into that life for them. This option is especially scary for parents of students with ADHD as the potential for loosing interest or not engaging in whatever activity is presented is higher than for non ADHD students. There are colleges of all sizes and costs that might be a better fit. Transferring is sometimes a good idea but it does take time so expect some down time in progress toward a degree. If you go this route, make sure he meets with the special education staff and clicks with them before enrolling. There are many work/travel programs out there for young people. A year in WWOOF or Americorp would keep him busy, fed and trying out self reliance somewhere other than at your home and on your dollar. Just google ''travel, work, student'' and you'll get a bunch of ideas. Hope something here helps. I'd be happy to chat about this over coffee. Emily

Medical leave for mental issues - ADA?

Oct 2011

Has anyone experience with invoking the ADA (Americans with Disability Act) for a college student for mental issues so the university will work with the student appropriately to obtain a medical leave of absence without triggering a re-admit process (UC)?

Some background: the student was experiencing academic stress due to problems managing a pre-existing sports injury (couldn't sleep due to pain) and was prescribed antidepressants by the health system. He had a serious reaction to the drugs. He's now off all the drugs they prescribed, but this resulted in some long-term mental issues (impaired concentration, emotional difficulty) and very poor school grades, so he left school to recover.

Now he's working full-time at a challenging job and rebuilding himself, but he's afraid the university will see his poor GPA and say ''Sorry Charlie''. He needs time to heal and would like a medical leave of 1 year. He's currently insured by his employer. What to do? Need Advice

Most, if not all, colleges have an office of disability services. This is the office that arranges for or facilitates adaptive technology, extended time on tests and other accommodations for students with physical and other disabilities. This could be one place to start - make an appointment and speak to them by phone or in person. Another option would be to call the deal of students directly and speak with them. As long as there is some documentation of disability they should be reasonable. They are usually more familiar with handling physical disabilities but the psych stuff comes up not infrequently. If you run into difficulty it might make sense to have a legal consultation or at least consult with a disability advocate. Ilene

You should contact the campus Disabled Students office and they should help you -- give you guidance and support. If not, contact Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund (510) 644-2555 for help and/or further referral.

Dear Need Advice,

Wondering if you are this student's parent, friend or what your relationship is. Generally the college will deal directly with a student if they are over 18, or with a parent if the student is under 18 or has signed a waiver for the parent to communicate with the school on the student's behalf. It is just part of privacy laws today.

In our experience working with one UC campus ''ADA'' was not needed for a medical leave. Qualifying for a disability under ADA is an involved process, each UC Campus does have a service department for ADA and as colleges go I think each school in the UC System does a pretty good job.

However having a one time incidence may or may not qualify as a ''disability'' and you may be overreaching.

If he needs a medical leave work with his Dean of Students office as soon as possible to find out his current status, and what are the steps to follow. Probably the longer he takes off the more process involved. We had no problems when our student took a one quarter leave and resumed.

How did the student leave University? Did he drop classes or just leave? There is a process to leave ''cleanly'' due to personal or medical emergency so that needs to be addressed. Again the Dean of Students is probably the best place to start. You will find the contact info on your school's website or his enrollment packett if you went to Orientation. The Dean of Student's secretary or administrative assistant will likely also be the first person you talk to. Be prepared to take some notes when you call to get the information down.

Also read the school's website since their leave policies, procedures and forms are most likely all online. Generally they will also ask for doctors' or therapists' letters to confirm the need for medical leave.

It may also be okay to take time off for employment, so if that is really what is going on, check the website. Many students take time off to work and return to school. I have known ''ten year'' students all my life, though it is not the easiest way to finish a degree, it works better for some.

Again you won't know the answer to these questions unless you refer to the school administration itself. This list can only provide anecdotes and even if a UC advisor were on this list I doubt they could comment specifically on a private student matter.

Good luck and think positive, most of the school administrators at the UC level I have worked with are very professional. Hope for the best