What is the next step after flaming out?

Daughter who performed exceptionally well at a competitive private HS, had a successful freshman year at a well regarded private University, allowed herself to get far behind in the Spring of her sophomore year (essentially simply not attending class), to the point where she was unable to complete the semester. We had given her lots of freedom and she hid her failure to attend class from us. She got things together over the summer and asked to apply to a different private University. She was admitted. We established certain basic rules with her - attend class, tell us if you miss, meet with advisor and professor periodically. Nothing beyond the basics - things that I expect many people require for their students when college begins. Within 2 weeks we learned that she had 1 class that she had not attended at all. Of course she had not told us. We learned that she had missed several other non-class but essential meetings.
She is not abusing drugs, she does take ADHD med.
We are not going to allow a repeat of last year and are removing her from school.
Obviously there are issues that must be resolved.

The question is what is the next step for a student like this.

We have considered options ranging from the military to NOLS to requiring her to get a job and save to return to school in the future.

Looking for advice and constructive suggestions from people who may have been in this situation.

US military service is not an option if she currently uses ADHD medication.

You might try describing how difficult it is to provide for herself at 19 without parental support. If you know how that is. She also might benefit from counseling.

I would ask her what she sees as her next step. Perhaps just a break from school all together for a period time so she can figure out what the issue might be. I would see how she responds to the idea of coming home and getting a job until her motivation to complete college returns. The goal would be to get to the bottom of what changed for her Sophomore spring. Not the end of the world – some students just do college in their own time.

So what happened in the winter / spring of her sophomore year that lead to her avoiding class and wanting to transfer?

I think it hasn’t been adequately dealt with, or she wouldn’t be anxiously avoiding still.

Duh. Counseling. With a competent professional. Probably for the entire family. Either something happened to knock her out of her previous routing in the winter/spring of the sophomore year, or there is some previously un-diagnosed depression/learning issue going on here. That is what you need to focus on. There is no need for you to think past the get-counseling stage just yet.

When her head is screwed back on straight (and anyone else’s in the family who needs that too), chances are she will have some kind of future vision for herself. Maybe finishing up the equivalent of sophomore year at a local CC while she applies to colleges/universities that offer majors related to her future goals. Maybe apprenticeship/non-credit career training for a career that doesn’t necessarily begin with a full undergrad degree. Maybe something else entirely.

Yes, duh counseling. She’s not going to succeed until she figures out what the problem is. It may be that college is not for her, it may be that something lousy happened to her that she doesn’t want to tell you about, it may be that there’s some onset of mental illness (sadly early college is a time when many previously healthy kids become ill.) Good luck.

What changed-- did she stop taking her medicine?? She clearly can do it – why did she stop attending class? I think these answers are important. I agree with counseling – unfortunately I couldn’t keep my ‘adult’ daughter in it or on her meds.

What does she want? She’s 20 (? - this is her third year in school, if I am reading the OP correctly), Honestly, all you can do at this point is tell her what support you are willing to provide and let her figure it out. Will you provide housing? For how long and under what conditions? Will you provide financial support? For how long and under what conditions? Once she has her parameters, you’re pretty much stuck with whatever she wants to do as long as it is within them. (And I don’t think anyone is going to judge you for no longer paying for the full-time sleep away college experience.)

You don’t know she’s not abusing drugs, do you? And you don’t know if she’s been taking her prescriptions, selling them (huge market on campus), or just not filling her scrip.

If I were you (and realize that I’m not, so I say this with respect and humility- I don’t know your kid) you need to start somewhere that isn’t about going back to college. You need a conversation (with a family therapist in the room if you need a neutral party) to ask her what she wants and how she plans to get there.

Maybe she wants culinary school or to become a hair stylist i.e. something that involves a trade and not a BA. Maybe she wants to work for a while and figure it out. Maybe she really wants to be in college but is doing self-sabotaging behaviors because of a sleep disorder or a substance issue.

But you won’t know until you sit down to find out. And threatening the military (as if our military is some sort of rehabilitation program for kids who flame out of college- our soldiers are actually fighting and defending our country) is a waste of time.

Stop being angry with her for what she’s done or not done and ask her what she wants and then figure out as a family how to get her there.

And no- I don’t think your requirements are “basic”. I wouldn’t have dreamed of asking my college kids to let me know when they miss class. Our only rule was that we were paying for 8 semesters. Period. Anything else was on them. And that they should know that actions have consequences (like we told them when they were 3)-- so doing well academically? More choices for employment and grad school. Doing poorly and blowing off opportunities? Fewer choices for employment and maybe no grad school if their grads were terrible.

Don’t care about employment or grad school? Our love and emotional support are endless and forever, but our financial support stops at college graduation so figure it out.

If you were suspicious that she wasn’t ready to go back to college (i.e. needing her to check in with you) why did you endorse her plan to go back?

@blossom This is similar to the conversation I had with my eldest who flamed out. She had the world where she wanted – varsity equestrian, honors dorm, animal science major (animals STILL her passion) and she blew it. I gave her our parameters when she was a freshman and failing - I didn’t look at her grades, I didn’t ask if she missed classes. She knew what she should be doing (and not doing). When she made excuses or tried to tell me she tried her best I explained that it didn’t matter-- if the best she could do was a 2.0 or less she didn’t belong there.

I gave her the chance to do something else (her choice – community college, vet tech, she kept switching and never finishing any of it) and then I was done. I told her to figure out how to make a living without a skill or education. I hate it and I don’t want that for her but I cannot MAKE her do it only she can.

We’ve been through this. You have lots of good advice above. Counseling needs to be a part of the equation. It’s impossible to know if she is dealing with something very difficult for her–depression, sexual assault, drugs/alcohol, bullying, sexual orientation, etc. Has she been drug tested? It’s hard to know if/how much a child is using. Alcohol could also be an issue.

Taking a year off of school can be great. We think our kids just have to go straight through the program–high school, college, grad school (maybe), work. Some people have to figure things out.

Work can be a great alternative. It can be a real source of immediate gratification, even starter-level jobs, making pizza, working at a front desk, waiting tables. It can be hard for a lot of kids to churn out tests and papers that only result in feedback to themselves, not benefiting anyone else. Some can see the long-range benefits, but it is harder for others.

One alternative: you mention NOLS, which is great. What about a job in a national park? Concessionaires like Delaware North and Xanterra staff hotels, restaurants, shops, etc. in the national parks. These are often remote locations, and parks like the Grand Canyon, Yellowstone, and Crater Lake provide food and housing to employees (well, costs are generally low and deducted straight from pay). This can be a great way to have some independence without the full responsiblities of going out and signing a lease, paying utilities, etc. Also, it allows one great daily access to nature, which is missing from too many of our lives. It gives one time to think about the future and what it might look like.

Most importantly, meet her where she is, with love. It can be disappointing when situations don’t meet our expectations. She’s a young woman struggling to find HER way. Having a loving, supporting family is a great foundation for that sometimes difficult journey. Remember, she’s young and has a long life ahead of her. The path does not have to be a straight one, and very often is not. Good luck!


Agreeing with @TTG about not knowing if she is dealing with something very difficult, and adding, it could be she doesn’t want to tell you, may never tell you, but she might tell a skilled therapist.

Access to counseling and/or treatment can be a great life-changing gift for a young person who is struggling. Plus your unconditional love.

This has happened to my daughter, who is also on ADHD meds. She did fine her first semester, but only managed to pass one class second semester. She had quit taking her ADHD and depression meds, which we didn’t know until later. My daughter goes to school on the opposite coast so it was difficult to keep tabs on her.
Anyway, we hired an ADHD/life coach for this semester (after going back and forth as to if we were even going to send her back). She had us make a document with 3 columns: “Abby’s opportunities” (e.g., Abby’s parents will pay tuition, room and board for four years of undergrad) and then a column with our boundaries (Abby must maintain a Bs or hard-earned Cs with a tutors help in order for her parents to pay for tuition, etc) and then “Abby’s choices” (e.g., Abby can choose to maintain Bs or hard-earned Cs or Abby can choose to pay her own tuition). We did this for spending money, cell phone, etc.
Anyway, are you sure your daughter was taking her medications while she was at school?

I agree with @Emsmom1 - my daughter also went to school far away and stopped taking her anxiety and ADD medications. I highly suspected it but she denied it. I like the approach Emsmom1 says the life coach took.

@YSREQB Counseling of course. I was reminded of reading of several young women who stopped going to class after being date raped on campus. They couldn’t face their attackers on campus. You need to get to the bottom of this. I’m sorry she’s going through this, whatever it turns out to be.

I agree with a lot of the above comments, and I’d start with a few therapy sessions that include myself and my spouse and my child so that all the issues are on the table.

One other thought I can add: like your daughter, my son went to a very competitive private high school and he did very well. We wound up bringing him home his freshman year. There were many issues but one of them was his feeling of being on an assembly line that he couldn’t get off of. Every student in his competitive high school was going to a great college. It was just understood that he would as well. So college wasn’t really his decision, but rather an expectation that he was trying to live up to.

He dropped out very early in his freshman year and announced he didn’t need college. We said fine, prove it. We gave him some time to look for a decent job which paid enough to support himself, while receiving therapy to keep him on track. He pretty rapidly realized he did, in fact, need college. And when he went back to his studies, he took ownership in a new way.

Your daughter may need time to take ownership of her future. A good therapist can help her with this task.

@calla1 I am still waiting for my daughter to come to the realization she needs some kind of skill or education-- she is living on her own (and I am pretty sure is pretty behind on her bills) but she isn’t complaining to me or asking me to pay her way so I have to let it go.

Too many- hugs. Don’t want to hijack this thread, but you’ve posted about your daughter before and I’m sending you good karma. I know a lot of “early 30’s” who are in the process of getting it together and it is so gratifying when it finally happens. I think some of these young people need to hear from someone who is NOT their parent “you have so much potential”… when it’s a boss or a customer it starts to sink in…

In the short term I would suggest just providing her with a safe and non-judgemental place to live, plus some hugs. In the medium term (maybe starting now, maybe starting in a month or two) counseling. You as a family need to figure out what is going on. She might not know herself, or might not want to say. Remember that you are not the counselor. So let a professional psychologist and/or psychiatrist figure this out. You be the parent and for now provide a safe place.

There are some guesses above that might be correct, there might just be too much stress at school, she might have realized that she does not know what she actually wants to do and therefore does not know why she is at school.

I think that she needs to feel ready before returning to school. Also, she might want to think about what balance is correct between academic challenge versus stress. There are a significant number of very smart students who don’t take well to stress, and we live in a very stressful world. As such finding the right school can require some care. I have seem many posts on CC which read to me like “as a student I want to go to the most prestigious and therefore most stressful school possible”. Eventually reality hits and students in some cases realize that a different choice is a better fit. Regardless, life is not a race and school can wait until she is ready (there will still be many great schools in a year or two or three).

To me no drastic solution should be considered until you know the reason for the problem. As one example “the military” does not seem like the right solution to me. I don’t think that this is her being lazy. I think that something deeper than this is going on.

I know this is hard, but I have seen kids come out of situations that seem similar and do very well.