Leave Or Stay: When You Have An Unhappy College Freshman

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It’s that time of year again. It’s back-to-school time, it’s fall, and it’s almost Halloween. But I am not referring to any of those things.

What I am talking about is the time of year when unhappy college freshman students decide to leave the school they chose.

It happens. It happens often. More often than we realize.

It happened two years ago to my oldest daughter when she was an unhappy college freshman. Long story short: she did not get into her first choice school, she went to her default school, her chosen roommate decided not to come to school at all and told her 48 hours before move-in, she was homesick and, most importantly, she did not feel that this school was the right fit for her.

Three weeks into the semester, I drove to the school, packed her up, and took her home. She took a semester off, applied and was accepted to a school that was a better fit and closer to home.

In January, she moved into a new dorm and started over where she was comfortable. Two years later she has never been happier.

One month ago, I moved her sister into her freshman dorm. 

Different kid, different experience.

She did get into her first choice school, she does not get homesick, and she has a lovely roommate. She seems to fit perfectly where she is and I do not foresee a call to come home. I can breathe for a moment.

Six weeks into this year and I am starting to hear rumblings about other unhappy freshman.

“This one is not happy,“ That one came home already,” and the worst, “I can’t believe those parents didn’t make him/her stay.”

I have been there and I am telling you that having an extremely unhappy college freshman is not easy. I am not talking about a little bit of homesickness, or being stressed about a class, or having an argument with a roommate. 

What I am referring to is being miserable. Having your child call you multiple times a day crying, hearing that they don’t feel as if they fit in, that the work is so hard that it is causing extreme anxiety, or a million other reasons why they are truly unhappy. 

These calls can shake a parent to their core. Hearing our children miserable and far from home makes us almost as unhappy as they are.

The decision to bring my daughter home two years ago was not made lightly. Of course I would have preferred she stayed. The truth is I would have given the world for her to call me and say, “Something changed and now I am happy here.”  If I had even seen a glimpse of that happening, I would have had her wait it out, but the opposite was happening. With every passing day, she grew more miserable and I was beginning to worry about the toll that this was taking on her mental health.

The other piece of the puzzle that is not talked about often is the financial side.

I personally could not afford to “wait it out.” The school that my daughter was in took 10% of the cost of the semester for every week she was there. After six weeks, there would be no refund at all. When she left after three weeks, I only received 70% back. That’s a lot of money to spend on your child being unhappy.

Friends and family will give you well-meaning advice. Others do not understand your child. Only you do.

I believe a parent feels it in their soul when their child is in the wrong place. Staying or leaving, you need to make the choice that is right for your family. Drown out all the other noise.

I have two daughters who have very different personalities and found themselves in very different situations as college freshmen.

When your first one has such a difficult time, it is hard to let yourself breathe and relax the second time around. I keep waiting for the other shoe to drop.

But…so far, so good. I am happy that she is happy where she is, and that her sister also found her place, even though it was a longer road to get there. 

To those who have children struggling as unhappy freshman – know that you are far from alone. It happens more often than you may realize and those of us who were there totally understand.


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