Help ... My Daughter Hates her College!

Question: My daughter is one week into a college that is five hours from home, and she's not happy. Are we better off pulling her out now and getting our 80% back and letting her just apply to a local college in January or finish out the semester there and then make a decision for transfer? HELP! It's so hard to see your child unhappy. She loves the classes ... it's the kids that she doesn't like. She says everyone just wants to drink and party.

If I had a dollar for all the unhappy freshmen who change their tune as the first semester rolls on, I could put my own son through college. But, as a parent myself, I know how devastating it can be when a child is miserable … especially when that child is far away.

Even so, you should encourage your daughter to stick it out at least through the semester, if not through the entire year. It can often take months for a new student to adjust to an unfamiliar culture and to find like-minded others.

Of course, there are times when it's best to cut your losses, to grab whatever refund is offered, and to let the student start the college search and application process over again, either while taking classes at a local college or while pursuing some other type of “gap year” endeavor.

However, this may not be one of those times. I’ve heard your daughter’s lament often in the past: the classes are fine; the classmates not so much. Given that your daughter is brand-new to college and is satisfied academically, her best bet is probably to make it through this semester and, ideally, the second one as well, if she feels that she can focus on her studies despite her unhappiness. (If, on the other hand, she thinks she’s too miserable to earn good grades, then she’s better off heading back home rather than re-applying to new colleges with a shaky transcript.)

If she does stay put, I urge her to get involved in some campus activities that are likely to lead her to others who share her interests and values. In particular, political, environmental, religious, cultural, and academic organizations are often magnets for the anti-party crowd. The “Women in Chemistry” club, for instance, probably won’t be known for its all-night keggers. ;-) Ditto the Actuarial Science Club, the Natural Path Meditation Group, or Amnesty International. My advice to your daughter: Join one activity that feels like familiar turf (i.e., something she liked in high school … debate, model UN, sci-fi society) and one that is new but intriguing. This may sound like a cliché, but it really has worked in the past. Becoming a part of school clubs, volunteer endeavors, etc. can make the sea of party animals open up and reveal a road to future friends (maybe even soul mates!).

F. Scott Fitzgerald once said that, “The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function.” These words apply to many aspects of the college process, and they are especially apt for your daughter right now. She should make her best effort to embrace the pluses of her current school and to succeed academically while concurrently looking down the road to other, better options for next fall. And she may even surprise you and decide that she does want to stay put after all!

(posted 9/12/2011)