While some college students are resting comfortably upstairs in their parents’ homes, others have been on campus, living in dorms and having a semblance of a traditional college experience. What happens if they’re not happy? Not happy living at home attending what many refer to as High School 2.0 entirely on screens, or not happy with campus life, or the lack thereof. Yes, Covid has affected every college student. Many have redefined their priorities, i.e., being closer to home, the importance of a solid academic fit as well as readjusting their social priorities and having a clearer understanding of their family’s financial situation. But the question as to whether or not to return in January, take a gap semester or a gap year or transfer to a different college altogether are often now front and center. It’s a “hot topic” over Thanksgiving.

We send them off with high expectations, but what happens when your freshman is unhappy? Everybody knows that college is supposed to be “the happiest four years of your life”. Not too much pressure on an 18 year old, huh? Is this the time to revert back to being a helicopter parent, hover over the college campus and scoop your child up and bring them home?  Probably not.

If the issues are mostly social, thankfully most of the initial feelings of awkwardness wear off fairly quickly. Students tend to find a group; whether that means hanging out with students from their high school, members of their dorm or colleagues from a club they’ve joined. That’s the good news. The bad news is that the “latching on,” pairing off or traveling in “freshmen herds”, usually happens quickly and some students feel left out from the get-go.

Typically if students are unhappy it is more about fitting in socially than worrying about their academics. Their classes may be bigger and even more boring than in high school, but not being invited out for pizza ranks higher in their hierarchy of social needs.

Parents are usually the recipients of the “roommate from hell” telephone calls with desperate pleads to let them drop out and come home. Most student counseling services advise parents to listen, listen some more and offer constructive suggestions including speaking to a Resident Advisor, seeking counseling at the University Health Center, joining new clubs or organizations and even taking some steps outside their comfort zone by initiating conversations with new people.

Parents need to help the students identify what isn’t working for them; is it their roommate, their friends, the social atmosphere, their classes, their dorm; the food, the weather, etc. Some students have simply made bad choices for themselves and didn’t select a college that is a good fit for them academically or socially. There is very little that is more tortuous than listening to an unhappy child pour their heart out on the telephone. If you start receiving those dreaded calls on a nightly basis, it may be time for some intervention. However, unless parents are seriously concerned about their student’s safety or mental health, toughing it out at least through the first semester and hopefully through their entire freshman year is usually the wisest advice.

Sometimes just explaining to students that they are not alone and that most freshmen are going through similar self-doubt is enough to get them through the moment. A friend shared a story about her freshman daughter who called crying that she was miserable and wanted to come home. My friend was torn, but she calmed her daughter down and agreed to talk the next day. The mom said she barely slept that night and was dreading the call the following day. She waited and waited, there was no call and finally, she tentatively dialed her daughter. To her amusement, her daughter told her she had had a great evening, she loved school and she barely remembered the conversation from the day before! This is when we all need to remember that yes, they have grown up quite a bit and yes they are still teenagers.


  • Good Reasons to Transfer
  • Bad Reasons to Transfer

Bierer is an independent college adviser based in Charlotte. Send questions to: lee@collegeadmissionsstrategies.com; www.collegeadmissionsstrategies.com