The Party's Over: Help for Student Who Fled from Wild Dorm Life

Question: My son went to college for two months and he lived in a horrible party dorm (drinking, drugs, partying 24/7) and the school refused to move him. I tried dealing with the Dean of Residential Life but she didn't care. I paid for him to stay at a hotel nearby so he could get his work done and get sleep. I couldn't afford it anymore. He decided that it was not the place for him which I supported. He has taken a leave and wants to go to a new school. He had gotten into 6 other top colleges but those spaces are now gone. Can he apply next year as a freshmen and call this year a gap year and just wipe away this bad experience? What suggestions do you have for him?

Sorry to hear that your son's introduction to college life was such a disaster. It seems like you got no help from the school officials that you’d counted on and were not guided toward a saner solution to the problem (e.g., a visit to the college counseling services might have netted your son a mandate to move to a quieter dorm).

When he reapplies to college, your son will be considered a freshman since I assume he earned no credits at his old school (right?). BUT ... he CANNOT wipe the slate completely clean and submit applications that include no mention of his recent debacle. If he pretends that he never attended college at all and then the truth comes to light, he risks being expelled from his new school. (I heard of that happening right on the eve of a student's graduation!)

So, once your son decides where he wants to enroll, he should contact admission officials and ask how to proceed. Chances are, they will tell him to apply as a freshman but to also include an explanation of why he enrolled and dropped out, along with a transcript from his first college. Even if he never finished any of his classes, he will still have a transcript. Have you seen it? Does it say WP ("Withdrew Passing") next to his classes or "W" ("Withdrew") or something else? (If his transcript indicates "Withdrew Failing," that's a separate issue ... and "Ask the Dean" question ... entirely.)

Another option your son can consider is to telephone the admission offices at the six colleges he turned down and explain the circumstances and ask if there is any space for him to enroll in the second semester. (He should request the name of the admission staff member who oversees applicants from his former high school and then telephone this person directly.)

It may go without saying, but your son should not re-enter college life without a thorough evaluation of the campus environment. If the other six colleges on your son’s list were similar to the one he selected, then obviously he might make the same mistake all over again by choosing one of them. While sometimes bad luck can determine if a student lands with a raucous roommate or at the wild end of the hallway, a little research can help your son hone in on colleges that are known for attracting more bookworms than party animals.

Good luck with the next steps ahead, even though you surely didn't expect to be back in the college-admissions quagmire so quickly. As John Lennon wisely noted, “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.”

(posted 11/8/2012)