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"Mom, Dad, I Don't Want to Go Back"Deborah Porter
It’s the summer before freshman year of college, a time your student has anticipated for months (or even years). You’re both busy ticking things off checklists; they’ve filled out umpteen required forms and been in touch with their new roommate, you're starting to outfit the residence hall room.
And then your student decides they don’t want to go to college — at least not now. Where did these second thoughts come from?
"Summer melt" is the term colleges use to refer to students who have applied, been accepted and sent in a deposit but who do not enter college in the fall. They seemingly melt away.
Although students in lower economic brackets and first-generation college students have higher levels of melt, according to a Harvard study, up to 40 percent of incoming freshmen may melt over the summer, so any student may be at risk.
It can be hard at first to understand why a previously motivated student might suddenly change their mind, but there’s a lot going on this summer.
Cold feet: Your student may simply get cold feet. They worry about money and loans, about academics, about moving away from home.
Unrealistic expectations: Everyone talks about how awesome it is to start college. No one talks about second thoughts or being downright scared, so when anxiety happens, your student assumes this means they’ve made a mistake.
The unknown: Your student wonders what the residence hall and living with a roommate will be like, whether they’ll make friends, how they’ll spend their time, whether their major makes sense, even if they’ll like the food. There’s nothing familiar to hold on to.
Imposter syndrome: Your student worries about failure and their ability to succeed. Maybe the college made a mistake and should not have admitted them!
Social anxiety: Starting with a blank slate in a new place is hard. Recreating and establishing themselves might feel like more than they can handle.
Overwhelmed: The college keeps sending new information all summer — forms and questionnaires, requests about housing, meal plans, schedules, financing. At home there are appointments to make for check-ups or car insurance or bank accounts. Sometimes just navigating the process may feel like too much.
Maybe it would be easier just to stay home!
Be proactive. Help your student prepare for feelings like these and work to stay positive and in control.
Understand that it's possible your student will need to melt. In spite of your efforts, your student may realize that now is not the right time for them to head to college.
If you both agree, talk about alternatives: deferral, a gap year, work. Make sure your student has a plan.
It is the summer before college, and it’s natural for your student to have second thoughts. Everything is about to change. Be patient with their concerns and provide plenty of reassurance. Listen a lot.
Keeping your cool may help your student avoid summer melt.
College move-in is approaching! Help your student prepare by making sure they have everything they need for a successful freshman year.