Your child at university – when it doesn’t go quite to plan

I guess I knew  that there was ample chance that I would eat my smug empty nester blog words at some point, and this month it happened. My youngest, let’s call her Edwina again, has left her uni halfway through her first year and moved in back home. We made sure this wasn’t just a case of the Second Term Blues and followed it with lots of tears, talks, speculation and frustration on all parties (my husband would like me to point out that he was not involved in the crying bit), which finally resulted in the realisation that she had picked the wrong course for her and there was really no point in continuing a 4 year study programme that did not inspire her in the least.

There’s a lesson to be learnt all along the way…

What had gone wrong? So many possible answers: she had made choices at age 16 for her GCSEs which had pre-determined a study path for the rest of her life, which is part of our flawed education system. She had fallen in love with the uni and the town more than her course. And, most importantly, she had just realised that the reality of her course had not lived up to what she actually enjoyed studying.

The drop out rate for universities is roughly 8%. Interestingly, out of the 32,000 students which dropped out in a year, only 7,420 transferred onto another course, meaning that the vast majority decided at that stage that higher education was not for them. more here A possible consequence of the serious lack of information at schools about alternatives to university study? There has been a bit of media hype about apprenticeships and other alternative routes only very recently.

People’s reactions to our situation has been one of two: a) Seriously? Couldn’t she just stick it out for a bit longer – surely she would have learned to love it eventually? Or b) Good for her for realising, don’t hang around, find another course, move on, don’t look back you’re not going that way etc etc….  Usually followed by some juicy discussions about whether a university course is worth it at all given today’s tuition fees and potential post-degree future in decidedly non-graduate jobs… All good food for thought. Tellingly, I would say that the majority of friends who were in positions which remotely dealt with hiring staff or looking at CVs were adamant we should encourage her to give uni another go to make life easier for herself later on – whilst also acknowledging that there will always be people who make a success of themselves with or without a degree.

Reactions from younger friends was also surprising, as a lot of them said they had wished they had done something similar, or they felt that they had made their course decision when they were very young (16/17?) and wished they had known themselves a little better. My blog post for next September may well be: Don’t rush into anything – persuade your child to take a gap year!

There’s a lesson to be learnt all along the way…

Meanwhile, back at the ranch: how do you handle that little heap of unhappiness? There is no one like an 18 year old to feel like their life is over. The fact that all that agonising over making the right decision to leave meant she had missed the 15th January UCAS deadline for the September 2016 intake didn’t help. We are keeping calm nonetheless. Having rushed this  and fluffed it, we are very much encouraging Edwina to take her time second time round. She’s sorting out how to earn train and pocket money for the moment (back to those Boomerang Kid rules ), and making some vague travelling plans. And we’ve gone back to the drawing board for uni courses with her:

What did she enjoy studying? What didn’t she?

Study something she enjoyed at school? Or study for a specific job?

Course work emphasis versus exam weighting?

Contact time with teaching staff. Someone needs to explain to me how you are meant to master the vast range of topics in Business Studies from 11 hours teaching time per week – for a tuition fee of £9000 per annum. But that’s another blog post entirely.

What job would she be interested at the end of it all? A caring job? Travel involved? How important is money? Does she want to work in a team, client facing – or research on her own?

We’re pouring over The Times Good University Guide, and HEAP, Edwina herself loves for comparing those all important contact times and student satisfaction rates.

We’re having lots of really excellent discussions we should probably have had 18 months ago. An expensive mistake, but less expensive and soul destroying than four years of studying something unrewarding. I remember reading that the food critic Giles Coren even hated three years at Oxford University,  strange as that may sound , where he went largely because if his father’s wishes, so it important to get this right. And to make up for some of that expensive mistake she is zooming in on London universities, so she can live at home for part of that study time. Looks like this whole process is a steep learning curve for her and her Boomerang-catching parents alike!  Samsung S6 2015 482

8 thoughts on “Your child at university – when it doesn’t go quite to plan

  1. Snap! My daughter started an Interior Architecture uni course at 18. She cried most evenings and had the courage to give it up after 10 weeks. She took 2 years out, worked hard doing nothing in particular to earn her keep, reapplied to another uni and she has just qualified as a Staff Nurse in Acute Medicine and we couldn’t be prouder!

    A flippant comment by one of her GCSE teachers led her to believe she couldn’t be a nurse (what a twerp he was/still is!!) and she veared down a different, unhappy path. It took her until she was 20 to suss it all out. She’s still only 23 and has her life of choice ahead of her. Life is good 😀

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You really demonstrate my point on how much better it would be if our children were able to make their life decisions with a bit more knowledge of themselves. Thank you for sharing, and I’m so glad it worked out so well for your daughter!


  2. Susanne,

    Simon and I just read your latest blog and we totally agree with you. Good for Fini to get out early on. We know a bunch of people who did the same – one of Nick’s best friends changed 3 times (OK, a bit excessive) but finally graduated with a degree in biochemistry and is doing very well at work. He began doing geography! Then pure chemistry!! 3rd time lucky. And another, at Durham, changed from physics to natural sciences so ‘lost’ his first year. But never really lost it at all – he has a great job now.

    So, tell Fini not to worry! She’ll be totally fine!! We think she is very brave and lovely and wonderful!

    Miss you dearly! love you! Dana

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It hasn’t been boring, that’s for sure. But after all the tears we all feel much calmer now that it’s done. And thank you for the positive examples. I’m sure she’ll work out the best move for her. Missing you guys, too! Love the blog, Simon is so funny!!!


  3. I have come late to this.Why? …don’t ask. 1. You are right to encourage a gap year. 2. Lots of talk is good too. She needs to know that you are “in support”. 3. In a bit I suggest that you might suggest to her that together you seek out a third party who is concerned but not involved so that she can have a quite separate chat. Sometimes it helps to take the close family ties out of the discussion. All the best of luck to you and particularly to Fini.


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