As we approach what, for many of us, is the holiday season, we want to share an inspiring success story with you. The story comes from one of our readers.
We often receive comments on posts or e-mails from both parents and students. Many of these messages come at a time of difficulty – often around probation or dismissal or other crises. It is often a time of struggle and uncertainty. As often as we can, we offer a few words of encouragement or advice, and most of the time we never know what happens.
Here is a portion of one such comment, received in the summer of 2013 on our post What to Do If Your Student is Academically Dismissed.
First of all, I really appreciate your responses! I have learned a lot just by reading them. I do have a similar issue with being Academically Dismissed. I was attending school and majoring in Gerontology. I attained my Associate in Arts degree prior. I did very well my first 2 semesters, but then some personal tragedies began to unravel my life. . . . Unfortunately, due to my living situation being turned upside down and also my car breaking down and having to buy a new one, school was not feasible. I stopped attending class because I had to go to work. I was a mere 20 credits away from my degree.
I am so disappointed in myself for not going to class, but I can’t help but think that at the time I had no other options . . . I have pretty much given up on returning due largely to the fact that I am in no position to quit my job or go down to part time to accommodate going to campus for class.
I had so many dreams of going to Grad School and becoming an LCSW (Clinical Social Worker.) I am the first and only one in my entire family to pursue a college education and this situation has totally disheartened me. I just don’t know what to do at this point. I would go to a community college, but I can’t even get financial aid there because I wouldn’t be considered a “degree seeking” student. I am ready and determined to finish this, though. It was less than a year ago I was making the Dean’s list and had a decent 3.2 overall GPA. Now my GPA is down to a dismal 2.4 overall. Any assistance is greatly appreciated at this point.”
It’s always difficult to respond to stories such as this. There’s so little that we can suggest. But we tried to offer some encouragement.
“I am sorry that I cannot offer you any specific advice. Your determination may be your best weapon, but you may need to add patience to that. I would continue to work with the financial aid office and also see whether there is anyone else at the college who can give you advice. Did you establish a good relationship with any of your professors? Alternatively, you may need to take a break and use the time to earn some extra money so that you can attend the community college to boost your grades. Then you can apply for reinstatement. Good luck – and don’t give up!”
Usually, that’s where it ends.
But not this time. Just over 2 years later, we received another comment. Two years! This time, the story was different.
I posted on here a long time ago and I just wanted to share my experience since that awful time in college and life I described. Maybe it would give some insight to others? Well, I ended up taking about a year off and worked at my full time job and I even got some volunteer work on my resume for a great organization that sends medical equipment around the world to those living in extreme poverty. I could not have made a better decision. Not only did taking the time off give me more insight into what my goals are, but it allowed me to get motivated again. I ended up applying to some “safety” schools and some schools I thought might be a bit of a stretch. Out of all of the schools I applied to I was accepted to all of them.
Here’s why I think they all gave me a chance: I took the time away from my studies and was able to show admissions that I had learned from my experiences. I was able to present to them a solid reason why I would be worth the “risk” and that is because I was determined and I wasn’t a quitter. I wrote a letter to every admissions department even when I wasn’t required and explained in detail how I had moved past that awful time in my life and how I could contribute to their community.
After the acceptance letters came in I was in total shock! How? Why would they admit ME after my horrible record at my previous college?! Well, I am very proud to share that I graduated with my B.A. in Social Science with a minor in Gerontology last May. Now I am taking my own advice and taking another year off before I pursue my Graduate degree. I just wanted to share my experience so that others here might know that it’s not the end of the world. There is life after academic dismissal. Just keep at it and never give up! Thanks!”
“Thanks” is what we have to say to this reader. Thanks for sharing your story. We think it’s inspiring. Many students will never face a situation this difficult, but for those who do, we hope they, and their parents, will be encouraged by this story.
Academically Dismissed from College? Time for a Reset
Academically Dismissed from College? Ten Steps to Move On
Helping Your College Student Avoid “How Do I Tell My Parents?” Fears
Other articles of interest
We’ve written some earlier articles about what to do when your college student is on Academic Probation or is even Academically Dismissed from college. These are disturbing or sometimes even devastating situations, and knowing what to do next is important. But equally urgent, and sometimes even more important, may be considering what you say to your student if he finds himself in one of these difficult situations.
Of course, knowing exactly what to say to your student has to do with who your student is, what your relationship with your student is, and why he is in this situation. Chances are good, however, that you will struggle for the right thing to say, the right words. You may be angry, disappointed, shocked, sad, or just plain overwhelmed. Being honest with your student may be the simplest and best start.
Remember that your student may also be struggling with what to say to you. She may have known this was coming, or it may have taken her by surprise. She may have shared her fears or concerns with you earlier, or she may have been afraid to tell you this was coming. Remembering that this is happening to all of you, as a family, may help everyone. Taking time to let the news sink in before sitting down to discuss next steps may be helpful as well.
Every situation is different, and every family dynamic is different. The reasons your student is in this situation may vary. Your personality, your student’s personality, and your situation will all be factors. However, here are a few suggestions to think about even before you speak. (Read our articles on Academic Dismissal and Academic Probation for more specific suggestions about what to do next.)
- Wait – and take a breath. When you first learn that your student has been dismissed or is on probation take at least a moment before you say anything. You may learn the news from your student, or it may come through mail or e-mail. Let the news sink in and don’t allow yourself to say anything that you may regret later.
- Think carefully about your response. Your student is very likely to be nervous about how you will respond. He probably didn’t set out to fail. He didn’t deliberately disappoint you. He may need your support now more than ever before. Although you may want to throttle him, there will be time for those serious conversations later.
- Acknowledge her feelings. Let your student know that you understand that this is a very difficult situation for her as well as for you. If you have been paying tuition, your first thought may be of lost tuition dollars, but that isn’t what your student needs to hear right now. Let her know that you recognize that she must feel at a loss and that it is appropriate to feel that way.
- Acknowledge your own feelings. It is fair to let your student know that you are disappointed, sad, angry, whatever it is that you are feeling. It is reasonable to be honest about your own feelings. But try to be as controlled as possible.
- Take some time. If your feelings are too strong to deal with right now, or if your student is too emotional, suggest that you not discuss the situation right away. Take an hour or a few hours or a day to let the news settle and for both you and your student to think about what needs to be discussed.
- Have a meeting. It may be easier to discuss next steps with your student if you think of it as a business meeting. Plan a day and time when you will both be able to be free of distractions. Put away cell phones or other distractions. Meet at the table prepared to put your heads together to think about what is next.
- Keep your discussion as objective as possible. Ask your student to be honest about what happened. Listen carefully with all of the listening skills that you can muster. Try to listen more than talk at first. Don’t respond yet. Don’t judge. Get the facts on the table.
- Do your homework – or, better yet, have your student do some homework. Find out from the college what this means. If your student is on probation, what is involved and/or what are the consequences? If your student has been dismissed, will she be welcomed back later? What must she do in the meantime? What would be involved in a transfer? Study any financial information that is necessary. Try to come to your meeting with as much information as possible.
- Be rational. Emotional venting will not be helpful to your student right now. Try to remain calm and thoughtful about the reality of the situation and options moving forward.
- Be clear. If there are limits to what you will support, be clear about them. If you have expectations moving forward, spell them out. If your student will be moving home and there will be house rules, negotiate them now.
- Be positive. If your student has been dismissed from college, he knows that this is serious. It is a major detour in the road that he thought he would travel. Most likely, he is devastated, feels awful, and may have a very negative attitude about himself and/or his abilities. This wasn’t the plan. What your student needs from you now is a positive approach. Don’t minimize the situation, but do focus on moving forward, next steps, and learning from mistakes. Helping your student feel comfortable talking to you about his mistakes is most important.
If your student hits a major roadblock in his college experience, it impacts the entire family. You and your student will need to work carefully to plan next steps. Thinking about what to do is important, but perhaps even more crucial is taking care in the words and messaging that you use. Although this wasn’t the plan, it can be an opportunity to build strong communication and relationship with your student.
What to Do If Your College Student is on Academic Probation
What to Do If your Student is Academically Dismissed from College
What FERPA Means for You and Your College Student
Twelve Things You Can Do to Help You Listen to Your College Student
Need to Talk to Your College Student? Choose Your Time and Place Carefully