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Dear Roadie, My Son Returned From Orientation Hating the College He Chose. What Now?

Unhappy teen wearing a gray hoodie with his back agains a wall.

Dear Roadie, My Son Returned From Orientation Hating the College He Chose. What Now?

Published June 28, 2024

Unhappy teen wearing a gray hoodie with his back agains a wall.

Dear Roadie,
I’m a bit freaked out. My son returned from his two-day college orientation and said he hated everything: the people, the distance, the campus, all of it (it’s a 6-hour flight from home). He says he made a mistake and no longer wants to attend. The school isn’t cheap, but with merit money and savings, we were prepared to make it work. He has already turned down offers from other schools, some of which also included merit. Now what?!”
— Full of Regret

Dear Full of Regret, 

Your son is not the first to realize his chosen school is not a good fit after all. Sometimes, you don’t know what you don’t know until you (finally) know. In life, it’s just as important to recognize what you don’t want as it is what you do want. I applaud him for being honest and transparent about his feelings.

The good news is he’s not legally bound to attend any college. Even an early decision acceptance is not legally binding. 

The bad news is you have little time to figure out which school will be a good fit. 

Before we dive into that, it bears mention that your son visited the campus for two days only. A lot can change on days three, four, and even 10. What I’m trying to say is, did he give it a chance? Maybe his tour leader wasn’t his “type,” and he or she set a tone he just didn’t like. Perhaps it was the students he chose to sit with at lunch. Maybe it was the goofy way the admissions office employees tried to get everyone excited about orientation. Many things can throw someone off, but it only takes one for them to be all in.

An honest talk with your son about what turned him off is key. Gently nudge him to hone in on what bothered him most. If it’s the distance, you have your answer. If it’s several things, that will tell you a lot, too. The important thing is that he’s honest with you, and you’re open to what he has to say. The last thing you want is to end up paying thousands for a school that’s a bad fit.

If your son truly gave it a chance and has a good sense about him, great. But if he might benefit from a second, longer visit, perhaps accompanied by you, that would be easy to arrange with the college recruiter assigned to your region. Private tours and one-on-one meetups with professors, deans, and even other students can be arranged at many schools.

There’s No Substitute For A Campus Visit

Whether he chooses to give his first choice another go or not, visiting campuses is extremely important, especially now, when your choices feel limited. What looks good on paper or screen can feel totally different in real life. It sounds like the school your son selected is a substantial distance away. It can be hard to visit schools that require expensive travel, but before he chooses another school, I’d highly encourage an in-person visit.

Whether the schools he chooses are 10 miles away or 1,000, it’s important for your son to feel like he meshed with the people, the vibe, and the academics. Have him walk around the campus several times, sit in on a class, and people-watch at the student union to get a feel for the students and how they interact. If the admissions office can arrange a private tour, go for it. Anything that allows him to see a school on his terms will help him better sense whether it’s a good fit.

If the distance tripped him up the most, I suggest eliminating anything that can’t ensure he can go home on weekends, at least for the first year or two. Once he feels more independent, he can transfer to a school farther away. Not everyone is ready to fly the nest right after high school, and that’s OK. 

If there are schools that already accepted him that may be a good fit, don’t assume your rejection is permanent. Many schools have slots open until the last minute, and if your son is a great student, chances are they’d be happy to extend the offer again. 

The worst-case scenario is a semester at a local community college while he figures things out. A bridge between one life stage and the next provides extra breathing room. Your son may need that more than anything right now. One low-key semester won’t make an enormous difference to his overall career path, but if it positively impacts his mental health, it’s worth it. 

Wherever he chooses to go, do your best to arrange a suitable in-person visit that allows him the time and space to get a better feel for a campus. The college journey is bumpy. No one tells you that, but it’s true. 

Have a perplexing college question? Email Dear Roadie for advice at dearroadie@road2college.com

_______

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