How to Tell Your Parents You Want to Drop Out of College

Preparing for what may well be a difficult conversation

Worried and tensed late teen girl holding head and thinking.

gawrav/Getty Images

If you are considering dropping out of college, you likely have one or more good reasons. Whether you're basing the decision on something personal, financial, academic, or a combination of factors, leaving school is likely something to which you've given a great deal of thought. While the benefits of dropping out may be clear to you, it's a good bet that your parents are going to have major concerns. Talking to them about dropping out may not be easy. As hard as it is to know where to begin the conversation or what to say, the following advice may be of help.

Be Honest

Dropping out of college is a big deal. Your parents get it. Even if they had some idea that this conversation was coming, they likely aren't going to be too pleased about it. Consequently, you owe it to them—and yourself—to be honest about the main reasons driving your decision.

If you expect to have an honest, adult conversation about dropping out, you'll need to contribute your own honesty and maturity as well.

Be Specific

As accurate as general statements, such as, "I just don't like it," "I don't want to be there," and "I just want to come home," might be, they're also vague and therefore not particularly helpful. There's a good chance that your parents have no idea how to respond to general statements of this sort—other than to tell you to get back to class.

If, however, you're more specific: You need time off from school to figure out what you truly want to study; You're burned out and need a break academically and emotionally; You're concerned about the cost of your education and paying off student loans—both you and your parents can have a constructive conversation regarding your concerns.

Explain What Dropping Out Will Accomplish

To parents, dropping out often carries with it "end of the world" overtones because it's such a serious decision. To assuage their concerns, it will help if you can explain to your folks what you hope to accomplish by leaving school.

Dropping out of your current college or university might seem like the answer to all your problems right now, but it should really be looked at as only one step in a longer, more carefully thought-out process.

Your parents are going to want to know you'll be doing with your time instead of attending college. Will you work? Travel? Do you think you may want to re-enroll in a semester or two? Your conversation shouldn't just be about leaving college—it should also include a game plan for moving forward.

Be Aware of the Consequences

Your parents will likely have a lot of questions for you about what's going to happen if you drop out:

  • What are the financial consequences?
  • When will you have to start paying back your student loans, or can you put them on deferment?
  • What happens to any loan or grant money you've already accepted for this term? What about lost credits?
  • Will you be able to re-enroll at your institution at a later time, or will you have to reapply for admission?
  • What obligations will you still have for any living arrangements you've made?

If you haven't thought about these things already, you should. Having answers to questions such as these before you have "the talk" can be a big help in putting your parents' minds at ease because they will see it's not a decision you're making lightly.

Remember, your parents can be great resources for helping you keep your focus on what's most important in this difficult time. The key, however, is to fully engage and work in partnership with them to make the transition as painless as possible for everyone involved.

Final Thoughts on Dropping Out

Depending on your circumstances, your heart and mind might be set on leaving school as quickly as you can. If at all possible, however, you should wait out the situation until the end of the current semester. Finish up your classes as best you can, even if you don't plan to return. It would be a shame to lose credits and have your academic record marred by failed grades in the event you do want to transfer to another school or re-enroll sometime in the future.