My College:
Dear Adina

Time Off From College — How Long Is Too Long?

Adina Glickman


Hi Adina,

I have a question (or maybe a few questions!) about my son who has taken time off from college to try to become a professional cyclist. He completed his first two years of college, but has been off for almost two years now. My question is whether, when and how to encourage him to go back. Do you have any thoughts? Right now, we are just trusting to time, but maybe that's foolish.

Also, do you have a sense of what sort of schools might be easier to navigate for a returning student? I wonder if he might feel awkward in a small liberal arts school like the one he started at. Maybe a bigger university would be easier? Thanks, Adina!


Hi Parent!

A dream pursued, and a parent in the cheering section! How fantastic! I can’t tell from your letter where he is in his progress towards his goal, but I’m guessing he has not yet made it to the top which is why you’re wondering if it’s time to return to school.

Stopping out of college is one of the best things young people can do. It’s an adult decision that reveals that they're listening to an inner voice that is questioning predetermined pathways and self-actualizing.

That’s all marvelous, but for parents, when our kid stops walking on that easily understood college path, it can feel like you’re falling off a cliff.

Both of my sisters left college in their second year. My parents, bless their hearts, championed (or at least accepted) their decisions to stop out, and though they may have endured sleepless nights of worry, it didn’t seem to color the that’s-just-fine-with-us message they gave my sisters.

One sister returned years later to become a doctor and single parent. The other returned to get her CPA and was the business manager of a private school for 25 years, and now after retiring is pursuing her Ph.D in Archaeology.

Oh, and my two nieces and nephew also stopped out in their respective second years, and all three are now back in school studying international politics, law, and genetics.

The takeaway: Decisions we make when we’re 19 or 20 help shape us, but they don’t rule anything in or out. When a young adult leaves college before graduating, it doesn’t mean they’ll never return — and in fact can very well mean they will return when they know what they want from their education.

Back to me and my sisters. As the youngest of three, I was determined to be first at something, so I zipped through and graduated in four years with a degree in music. Within five years I had pivoted away from music to pursue a Master’s in Social Work. Who knows what would have happened to those five depressing years in the music industry had I not been so determined to be done with college as quickly as possible. The moral of this story is that a straightforward and uncomplicated four-year college experience doesn’t necessarily signify a straightforward and uncomplicated career trajectory.

I suspect your goal is to help your son achieve his goals, so encouraging him to return to college is only useful if it enables him to progress in his life. You can help him see connections where college might benefit his efforts, but that encouragement needs to be in the context of what he wants for himself. College is many things to many people, so asking why he would want to return is going to yield much better information than where he would want to go.

I have a few thoughts on where to go when he decides it’s time. First, he doesn’t have to go all in at first. Taking a course or two at a community college (alongside many young and older adults who are in his shoes) can be a wonderful and gradual return to academic work. Second, at any school of interest, I recommend looking specifically at whether there are transfer student resources, especially those that work to help students feel part of a cohort.

And finally, I always think that a better question than “where” is “why” someone wants to go to college. The “why” will surface good information on the kinds of experiences the student wants to have, and can help them both narrow the field in deciding where to apply, and give them a real sense of whether they’re finding what they're looking for at each school they're considering.

Good luck to you, and keep cheering!

Yours,

Adina Signature

Have a question? Ask Adina

Adina Glickman is the founder of Affinity Coaching Group, which offers academic, life, parenting and career coaching. She is the former director of learning strategies at Stanford University and is the co-founder and director of the Academic Resilience Consortium, an association of faculty, staff and students dedicated to understanding and promoting student resilience. Learn more at affinitycoachinggroup.com.
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    1 week ago
    CollegiateParent

    “Stop acting like a girl!”

    Words that I used repeatedly to “admonish” my eldest child when she was younger. How I wish I could take them back. How I wish I never uttered any one of them. How I wish I never felt the need to say such words. How I wish I never felt the need to make her feel anything but whole. How I wish…

    Last week during her final recital at the New England Conservatory of Music, she gave me accolades, lots of them. The audience gave me a special ovation and my heart was happy, but I didn’t miss it. While she praised me for supporting her music career from the jump, she didn’t mention my name when it came to her gender, her transition, and her true self.

    As I sit and write this, my heart is heavy and sad. It is filled with tears unshed, words unspoken, hugs ungiven, love unshared. I am filled with emotions. Why did I not affirm her when she was younger? Why was my heart closed to seeing her the way she really was? Why did I allow fear to reign and rain on me?

    It has been 2 years since my eldest child who was assigned male at birth shared about her non-binary gender and they/them pronouns, and 5 months since she shared about her transgender identity and she/her pronouns. And 2 weeks since she shared her new name with me.

    Even though I am relieved because it is all now out in the open, I am still sad, and in mourning. I am scared stiff about the unknown. She has begun transitioning, taking her Estrogen pills and Testosterone blockers. She is “finally free” to be her real self as she said in her closing speech. I can never imagine what that must feel like.

    I cannot even begin to envision what it means to finally live free! She said the other day on the phone that our home was very transphobic when she was a child. I wish I had never played a role in that. But I did. And that is why with tears rolling down my cheeks, I implore you to read these words with an open heart.

    You are a vessel to bring your child into this earth. You are their first love, and they are an extension of your heart. Loving them is a must. Understanding that they are individuals is a must. Allowing them to become who they are is a must.

    Be careful not to think or plan too far ahead. Enjoy their here and now. Rethink the thoughts you allow in your head, the words you say out of your mouth, and the way you act and treat them in your home.

    Several days ago, I sent her a text message where I told her just how proud I am of her and her insistence on living her truth regardless of what anyone else thought.

    I ended the text with “I just want you to know that I have always wanted a daughter”, to which she replied “You have always had a daughter”.

    By Dr. Lulu
    ... See MoreSee Less

    “Stop acting like a girl!”  Words that I used repeatedly to “admonish” my eldest child when she was younger. How I wish I could take them back. How I wish I never uttered any one of them. How I wish I never felt the need to say such words. How I wish I never felt the need to make her feel anything but whole. How I wish…  Last week during her final recital at the New England Conservatory of Music, she gave me accolades, lots of them. The audience gave me a special ovation and my heart was happy, but I didn’t miss it. While she praised me for supporting her music career from the jump, she didn’t mention my name when it came to her gender, her transition, and her true self.  As I sit and write this, my heart is heavy and sad. It is filled with tears unshed, words unspoken, hugs ungiven, love unshared. I am filled with emotions. Why did I not affirm her when she was younger? Why was my heart closed to seeing her the way she really was? Why did I allow fear to reign and rain on me?  It has been 2 years since my eldest child who was assigned male at birth shared about her non-binary gender and they/them pronouns, and 5 months since she shared about her transgender identity and she/her pronouns. And 2 weeks since she shared her new name with me.  Even though I am relieved because it is all now out in the open, I am still sad, and in mourning. I am scared stiff about the unknown. She has begun transitioning, taking her Estrogen pills and Testosterone blockers. She is “finally free” to be her real self as she said in her closing speech. I can never imagine what that must feel like.  I cannot even begin to envision what it means to finally live free! She said the other day on the phone that our home was very transphobic when she was a child. I wish I had never played a role in that. But I did. And that is why with tears rolling down my cheeks, I implore you to read these words with an open heart.  You are a vessel to bring your child into this earth. You are their first love, and they are an extension of your heart. Loving them is a must. Understanding that they are individuals is a must. Allowing them to become who they are is a must.  Be careful not to think or plan too far ahead. Enjoy their here and now. Rethink the thoughts you allow in your head, the words you say out of your mouth, and the way you act and treat them in your home.  Several days ago, I sent her a text message where I told her just how proud I am of her and her insistence on living her truth regardless of what anyone else thought.  I ended the text with “I just want you to know that I have always wanted a daughter”, to which she replied “You have always had a daughter”.  By Dr. Lulu

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    Your daughter’s smile in this picture is everything!

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