How Is Your Student Adjusting to School?

According to the American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research, the United States has the highest rate of college dropouts compared with other leading developed countries. Fewer than 60% of students at 4-year schools graduate in 6 years.

Is your student at risk? Complete this checklist to gauge how well your student may be adjusting to school.

Before you complete our checklist, please indicate where your student lives during the school year:

Thanks. As you complete the checklist below, consider what is normal for your student and respond accordingly. Every student is going to have a bad day now and then, so base your responses on behaviors and actions that seem to be ongoing.

My student emails or calls home: (Select the best answer.)

When I speak with my student, he or she: (Check all that apply.)

My student comes home to visit: (Select the best answer.)

When my student comes home to visit, he or she: (Check all that apply.)

When it comes to academic performance, my student: (Check all that apply.)

I also worry that my student: (Check all that apply.)

Based on your responses, your student shows 0 signs that he or she may not complete school. The most common reasons students give for dropping out include:

  • Financial constraints
  • Work obligations
  • Academic difficulty
  • Mental or emotional struggles
  • Poor health
  • Family responsibilities

Of course, this checklist is not a precise tool, and there is no sure-fire way to predict whether your student will drop out of school. If you have concerns, the best thing to do is talk to your student.

Encourage your student to seek support before making significant decisions that will change his or her future. Most schools have many resources available—resident advisors, tutoring staff, health professionals—to help students who are dealing with issues that may prevent them from graduating.

You indicated that your student:

  • Emails or calls home too frequently—If you're hearing from your student more often than you expect, pay close attention. Look for any signs that your student may be dealing with an underlying problem. Is he homesick? Is she stressed because it's exam week? Or is something out of the ordinary troubling him or her? If you have a suspicion, address it directly.
  • Never emails or calls home or does so infrequently—A lack of contact may mean your student is too busy at school or simply forgetful. If it bothers you that your student does not touch base often enough, express your concerns. Set up a regular "telephone date" to keep the lines of communication open and avoid any unnecessary worry.
  • Complains about school or makes only negative comments—All students are going to go through rough patches. This is normal. However, if your student conveys nothing but negativity, try to identify the root of the problem. Schools offer all types of opportunities and cater to many interests… your student should be able to find at least one thing to his or her liking.
  • Does not mention friends or activities—A lack of friends or social isolation may indicate your student is not adjusting well to campus life. Find out how he or she is spending time at school. If you think your student may be studying too much, remind him or her to have a little fun too.
  • Comes home too frequently—If your student is spending more time at home than on campus, you need to figure out why.
  • Never comes home or does not come home frequently enough—The college years give many students the opportunity to exert their independence for the very first time. Although such autonomy may be hard for you to deal with, do your best to encourage it. However, if you suspect that your student is not coming home because he or she is avoiding something, delve deeper.
  • Doesn't want to go back to school—For many students, home will always be a more comfortable place than school. It is normal to want to stay at home as long as possible. Be concerned only if your student seems particularly resistant to leaving home and returning to school.
  • Looks different (weight gain or loss, poor grooming, etc.)—Weight fluctuations in college are pretty typical (hello freshman 15), but combine that with a slovenly appearance, a lack of grooming, or some other change in appearance, and there may be another issue.
  • Sleeps poorly (too much or too little)—The amount of sleep a person needs is different for everyone, but too much or too little sleep can also indicate depression, stress, or some other internal struggle. Before you worry, look for other signs of emotional problems that seem to be persistent.
  • Had difficulty in high school—If your student had difficulty with the course work in high school, college-level classes may prove to be equally challenging. Before your student gets too discouraged, find out if your student's school offers academic support, such as free or low-cost tutorial services. Most schools do.
  • Seems to lack motivation—A lack of motivation can stem from a variety of sources: a lack of confidence, too much to juggle, too few hours in the day. Take time to pinpoint the problem. If your student has taken on more than he or she can handle, perhaps a lighter course load will help.
  • Misses a lot of classes—Missing classes is a key warning sign that graduation may never happen. Find out what's going on.
  • Gets poor grades—Check to see what type of academic support your student's school provides to students and work with your student to come up with a plan. Most schools offer free or low-cost tutorial services… after all, schools want to see their students succeed, too.
  • Is not doing the work—Your student probably won't tell you if he or she is partying too much or focusing on a social life rather than academic life, although you may sense it. Do your best to make sure your student understands the reason he or she is at school in the first place. Earning a degree should be the top priority.
  • May be having money problems—College is expensive, and the high cost is a key reason many students drop out. Have a frank discussion with your student about money. Make sure you and your student have exhausted all of the aid available, especially grants and scholarships, which you do not need to pay back.
  • Is working too many hours (more than 20) at a job while going to school—Students who must work more than 20 hours a week to support themselves during college are more likely to drop out than students who work less than that. Juggling both a job and schoolwork can be overwhelming, and when push comes to shove, the job usually wins out, especially if the student is dependent on the income. Such students need to realize that more education leads to a bigger paycheck, less unemployment, and more job choice.
  • Gives you a gut feeling something is wrong—As a parent or loved one, you probably know your student better than anyone. Trust your instinct and vocalize your concerns to your student.