Should He Stay or Should He Go Now? How 'Bout Now?
August 21, 2017 12:04 PM   Subscribe

The 17-year-old arrived at college (Bard College at Simon's Rock) on Saturday. He already wants to leave.

He misses us horribly, feels he doesn't fit in, says he realizes now he wasn't ready for this.

We are unlikely to make hard lines in the sand about this (I've never heard him cry so much), but I think it would be ideal to give it awhile to see what school is really like (actual classes don't start for another week).

I don't think I ever had a choice in the matter, when I started college. But if you did, and you went through this kind of crisis--whether you stayed or left--can you share the outcome of your decision? I'm not necessarily looking for advice to pass along. Just reaching out for stories, for better or worse. Thanks.
posted by baseballpajamas to Education (68 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Went at 18, decided it wasn't the right school, got distracted, quit after one semester and it took me a decade to eventually graduate. School is harder as an adult with rent and bills and all. I wish I'd stuck it out.
posted by OrangeVelour at 12:10 PM on August 21, 2017 [7 favorites]

Is he a partier? The whole week before hand is a non-stop party/booze fest IME and its pretty overwhelming and scary. He should wait it out until classes start at the very least.
posted by Marinara at 12:11 PM on August 21, 2017 [33 favorites]

I went to college at age 17. I was living overseas, so I showed up on campus the Thursday before classes started, having never set foot on campus, or in that town before. I went from a graduating class of 26 to a freshman class at college of about 10,000. I was having a lot of fun, but I was totally overwhelmed and ended up joining one of the smallest fraternities on campus, because 20 people in my primary social group was about right for me.

He should stick out the first semester at a minimum. If he is still miserable at Christmas break then you can have a sit down discussion about his options. Odds are once he gets through a week or two of classes and he makes a few friends he'll be fine.
posted by COD at 12:15 PM on August 21, 2017 [22 favorites]

Nobody feels like they fit in at college in 48 hours. You've just left the only life you've known to be in a totally new place with totally new people. I absolutely had moments of panic those first few weeks. But then I met some great people and I started taking classes about things that really interested me. And now, much, much later I am still homesick for college.

Hear him. Acknowledge that this is hard. Start making some goals he can meet. Stick it out until classes start, stick it out to midterms, etc. I would encourage him to be there for at least a semester if you can, but in bits and pieces. If he still wants to go then, that's a discussion to have, but this is not the moment to make a big decision.
posted by goggie at 12:16 PM on August 21, 2017 [33 favorites]

I was a lot like this, and I was also 17. Makes me cry just thinking about it! I stuck it out, and was glad I did -- my best friends now are still my best friends from college (who like me, were not partiers or very "cool.") It took me a while to find them, and in the end, I had a great experience.

All the same, I really wish I'd taken a gap year. Seventeen is really young, esp. when a lot of the kids around me were 19. And I think I was even young for 17. A year working on a farm or doing outward bound or nannying in France or scooping ice cream or whatever would probably have prepared me better -- assuming I actually went back after that year.

I also highly recommend that he (or you, if it gets desperate) reaches out to the dean, advisors, etc. This is what they're there for, and if they do their job, they can be tremendously helpful.
posted by heavenknows at 12:18 PM on August 21, 2017 [4 favorites]

This was, 100%, my experience starting college. I enjoyed my pre-orientation trip, but I felt horribly alone during actual orientation. I sat alone in a dark room listening to music. Since I had just gotten it, it was mostly Bruce Springsteen's Greatest Hits album. Over 20 years later, I still can't listen to Thunder Road or The River (or, indeed, many of those songs on the album) without getting a pit in my stomach.

But, then, classes started. I made friends in my classes, I started to make friends in my dorm, and college ended up being, far and away, the best social experience of my life (including meeting my now-wife).

It sucks and, of course, I don't know for sure that it will work out for him, but this feeling of orientation dread is A Thing. It happens to a lot of people. I would encourage him to stick it out at least for the first few weeks of classes.
posted by Betelgeuse at 12:19 PM on August 21, 2017 [9 favorites]

I was socially a bit young when I got to college (I had just turned 18 a month prior). Finding my people made all the difference. If he has special interests for which there are clubs or groups, he should seek them out. The more experienced students know this feeling of dread and - in my experience - provide a kindly ear and shoulder. For me it was the radio station and international dormitory. For your son, it might be an academic club, a social group, an athletic or outings club. College is very different from high school - everything is new. He won't necessarily make instant friends, but he will absolutely meet people who care about the same things he does and can keep him occupied until classes begin and give him a lifeline until he does make his inner circle of friends.

I didn't drink, smoke, take drugs, "party" - I didn't *want* to do any of that. And that's how a lot of young people find their scene/people. I found my people - and I believe your son will find his people too.
posted by pammeke at 12:22 PM on August 21, 2017

I don't have a personal story, but wanted to chime in to say this is very, very normal. I worked at a university for a while, and they really concentrated on getting kids through that first two weeks without leaving campus. Because kids who went home, especially that first weekend, were way less likely to come back. But kids who stuck it out the first couple weeks were generally able to adjust and were happy to stay. They had so many events jam packed into that first week and weekend that there wasn't time to think about going home.

That's not to say he's definitely ready or that college is for him. But I think he needs to give it more time before making a decision. At least start classes and meet some people. Encourage him to participate in whatever events are going on. Then you can re-evaluate after a little time has passed.
posted by thejanna at 12:25 PM on August 21, 2017 [8 favorites]

Ugh, that sounds hard for you and for him. I was pretty miserable my first semester at college (and I was an immature 16-year-old), but it never occurred to me that I had the option to back out. It took me a long time (years, not months or semesters) to feel like I was fitting in, but I actually met some of my best friends (20+ years later) that first week. I wasn't ready, but sometimes you're not ready, and you get ready as you go. I don't know if I would be better off now if I had taken a gap year then.

Someone I know dropped out of Bard after her first semester, and she is a perfectly functional adult (although it did take her a while to finish college, maybe six or seven years?). Several other people I know dropped out of other schools after a year or a semester, and they are all fine.

Can you help him connect with some kind of campus counseling or mentoring program? If I were talking to him I would let him know that a lot of people feel this way. And then I would encourage him to stick it out at least until classes start (unless there is some significant financial/scholastic benefit to him dropping out now). And then I would probably encourage him to stick it out until the course drop deadline. And then I would encourage him to stick it out for the semester.

I wish someone had told me back then that it was pretty normal to feel the way your son is feeling.
posted by mskyle at 12:26 PM on August 21, 2017 [1 favorite]

I went to Simon's Rock, and I very likely felt this way for a few months after arriving. I would advise him to see how the classes go, which was the most amaaaaazing part of being there. I mean, it's extremely hard to find anywhere else. It's that first week thing that freshman do, isn't it right now? That's the weirdest part and everything changes when the "upper classmen" come back. Stick with it! And message me if I can give you any more specific info.
posted by stinker at 12:27 PM on August 21, 2017 [9 favorites]

I agree he needs more time. I was a complete emotional wreck when I got dropped off at freshman orientation. It's definitely a tough week for a LOT of people, and while there's no guarantee he will end up liking college, I think most people do adjust and things get better. I would talk to your son about sticking it out for at least the first semester or quarter, and then you can discuss at Christmas break.
posted by rainbowbrite at 12:27 PM on August 21, 2017 [4 favorites]

This was me; I cried so hard on the phone to my parents the first two days I think my roommates were afraid of me (I was behind a door but it was very audible). 20 years later I still go on vacation with those roommates.

Tell him that coming home IS an option, but not till classes have been underway for two weeks. After that, you will 100% entertain the idea of him coming home. If there's a strict deadline, it's more like going away to camp; acute homesickness is not the same as being in the wrong place, and once he pushes through that part he will be able to make a more considered opinion.
posted by gideonfrog at 12:31 PM on August 21, 2017 [15 favorites]

I cried every day for the first two weeks of my freshman year in college. I hated everything about it. Then I made friends, got into a groove with my classes, my work study job, and then I loved it.

I would try to encourage him to stick it out for a couple of weeks. Poor kid. It's really hard, I remember.
posted by Aquifer at 12:32 PM on August 21, 2017 [8 favorites]

I remember wanting to leave college pretty much the moment I woke up on day 2. Classes hadn't started yet, I didn't know anybody, and I was (am) not incredibly social. Once classes picked up it got better (say week 2 or 3), once I got involved in things (sports, my major, etc about a semester in) it seemed silly to leave. I did make a lot of plans and announcements to people that I was going to transfer or drop out that first semester, but then I found my thing and got really into it and found my people and they were my friends throughout college. College is such a perfect place for adulting with a safety net: you can explore different groups and activities and change your identity multiple times. Once classes get going, he'll have more structure. Encourage him to join activities, talk to his RA, talk to his advisor, and talk to campus counseling-- it can be really, really overwhelming to have all this freedom of all of sudden, but it can also be really incredible.

I have also worked in summer camps with high school students who experience the same thing and (usually) by the end of the week, they never want to leave. He should try to stay at least for the semester and get actively involved in things, rather than staying in his room.
posted by thefang at 12:35 PM on August 21, 2017 [1 favorite]

In a small cozy college like Simon's Rock, it's can feel very very personal and if the acquaintances you make in the first 3 days are all buddying off with each other it can feel like you'll never have a true friend again. When he's only got 100 classmates it can feel like total failure - if he doesn't happen to mesh with the people he shares a dorm floor with, they're enough of a percentage of the population (especially the population that he's met) that it's easy to feel like he's never going to fit. And for good or for bad, the administrators and speakers at orientation sessions are probably all talking about how cozy and friendly and personal and awesome the tight-knit community is, which can be really off-putting to someone who's just not feeling it yet. But realistically, things will get better as he finds his people, and he will find his people. And things will get better as he starts into classes where they're talking about things he's interested in, not just talking patting-selves-on-back about what a great community and great opportunity he's starting and how happy he's supposed to be. Good luck to him and to you, it's a difficult time but I bet he'll come through it okay
posted by aimedwander at 12:40 PM on August 21, 2017 [2 favorites]

His school should have orientation leaders or some such - older students whose job it is to hang out with the freshmen and help them find their people. I would strongly suggest that you ask him to approach someone on the orientation staff and be honest that he feels very isolated right now.

48 hours is way too soon (and I say this as someone who went away to college at 16 and whose roommate had her boyfriend over all night the second night there). He needs to stick with it until classes start at least, and take advantage of the supports that are there for him.

(If there are no supports available through student life, then that's a different sort of problem.)
posted by anastasiav at 12:48 PM on August 21, 2017 [1 favorite]

Do you live close enough that he can do a few weekends at home? I would ask him to stay out the semester. Send him lots of care packages, text him pictures, let him know you're thinking of him.

Something I realized late in life, after a lot of painful transitions like these, was that the way that things seem initially are often not true for the entirety of the experience. He might be lonely now. In a day or two, he might make a friend that seems okay but maybe not like the friends he's left. But those friendships took a lifetime to build. In a few weeks--three or four, in my experience--life will begin to shift and he'll feel more comfortable with the situation.

That happened to me my first year of college. In fact, I remained vaguely unhappy and considered transferring into my second year, even though I gained more friends at time went on. Then I met a new crowd in my on-campus job and ended up loving my experience. Things can change. But they take time. He needs to be patient with himself and the experience. If, six months or a year from now, he is still unhappy, then I'd let him change his mind. But I don't think you would have let him leave on the second day of pre-school, right? So I wouldn't let him leave this situation, now, before he's had time to meet people or even attend classes.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 12:50 PM on August 21, 2017

Agree with PhoB, but I wouldn't let the kid come home for the weekends. Once that happens, they're much less likely to go back. Instead, I'd go visit this weekend and possibly next to ease the transition, help the kid feel like there's something to do socially and give them some validation around their feelings. I completely agree with sticking it out for a semester almost no matter what. Things will get better with time.
posted by cnc at 1:00 PM on August 21, 2017 [16 favorites]

Just to be clear, your son left high school a year or two early in order to go to this school, right? I think this completely changes the situation and am not sure if all the respondents in this thread knew that. I tried an early entrance college situation myself (albeit at a younger age) and had basically an allergic reaction to it. It attracts a very particular group of people (not just high achievers but a different subset) and it's not for everyone. Wanting to leave high school early is not the same thing as wanting to be surrounded by other kids who also wanted to leave high school early. Actually, it's kind of completely different! In my early college trial I went from feeling intellectually mature, or "ahead" of everyone in my school, to feeling "behind" and defined by my youth, which was the opposite of what I wanted. It's also tough because Simon's Rock is pretty much the only college of its kind, whereas if your kid just waited one more year he could pick from a wide variety of places.

I think this is not a typical situation and if he wants to go back for his senior (?) year of high school and go to a normal college instead you should allow him to do so. Maybe investigate the deadline to get a full or partial refund, as well as the deadline to go back to high school (I assume this is a lot more flexible) and then come up with a plan to make a decision.
posted by acidic at 1:02 PM on August 21, 2017 [9 favorites]

I would have benefited greatly, especially during those first few weeks of college (for which I was woefully unprepared) for a prescription for anti-anxiety medications. I was having panic attacks on the regular. This is what low-level doses of PRN lorazepam and klonopin are for. I personally think that Therapy should be part of every freshman's required classes for all but the most well adjusted among us.

(Clearly there are a billion caveats to this advice; can he refrain from drinking, does he have addictive tendencies, etc...I am not a doctor in any way shape or form).

I would also try to get him to stay until classes start. Having a target (ie, studies) can drastically change the emotional landscape when it comes to school anxiety.
posted by furnace.heart at 1:08 PM on August 21, 2017 [2 favorites]

It's totally typical and WAYYYYYY too soon for this discussion to happen.

If he's historically been stable and able to handle situations, the best thing you can do is assure him this is completely typical and he needs to commit to classes through the first term, then the discussion can be reopened.

What you DO NOT want to do is make it see like you're open to his leaving. If he gets even a hint that he may be able to come home now, he will not be invested in classes and will fight pretty hard to leave immediately. So you want to lock that conversation down.

Tell him you want him to find five clubs or groups or other social things and you want to hear about one of them in 2 days. Give him some direction.

However, if he is emotionally fragile or otherwise challenged, I wouldn't be quite so rigid. Still, he needs to try classes, hit the gym or do whatever lifestyle things he would typically do.

I'm really sorry you're going through this; he will make the right decision!
posted by yes I said yes I will Yes at 1:11 PM on August 21, 2017 [2 favorites]

Chiming in to say that this was very much my experience at my small liberal arts college. 12 years out and I adored my college years so much, loved the groups I was in, the classes, the mentors, and pretty quickly went from wanting to go home all the time to not wanting to leave campus. I'm still friends with my core group from college and cherish all my memories. Good luck to your kiddo - you can do it, kid!
posted by fairlynearlyready at 1:18 PM on August 21, 2017

I felt this way when I went to law school. My first day was my 22nd birthday, so I was one of the youngest people there. I immediately hated it, for several reasons: my friends were all in a different city three hours away, I wasn't making any new friends, the city I went to school in was a shithole (Toledo, Ohio - I'm not joking that it was a shithole), and I wasn't sure I actually wanted to be a lawyer. I ended up staying the whole year, but I stopped attending class regularly or doing homework around February, and then dropped out after spring finals. I'm not sure that was the right decision (I'm 20k deeper in the student loan hole as a result), but I'm glad I at least gave it a shot. I don't have any "what if" regrets about the experience.

The question you should be asking is, why is his reaction now so different than the reaction he had when he was deciding where to go? Presumably, this was not his only option. Why did he apply? What did he like on the tour? Why did he choose that school over others he was accepted to? For me, I knew as soon as I'd sent in my application that Id be miserable at my law school, but I wasn't intellectually honest with myself or others. I was afraid to say what I really wanted at the time - hanging out with friends (several of whom ended up being in my wedding 12 years later, not just random guys), studying useless liberal artsy stuff, living in the large city where I went to undergrad, etc. - because those things are less socially prestigious than going to law school and being a high-powered attorney and making tons of money. I was afraid to ask for what I wanted because I thought other people wouldn't understand. It took a pretty serious depression for me to realize that I shouldn't care if other people understand.

So my advice to you is to figure out what changed once he got to campus. Maybe he never wanted to go but didn't want to disappoint you. Maybe he didn't understand that he wouldn't see his friends often. Maybe his dorm is lousy. Whatever it is, that's the route of the problem, and that's what you need to address.
posted by kevinbelt at 1:21 PM on August 21, 2017 [5 favorites]

Under most circumstances (i.e., not Mordor, not being beaten up by hazers), two days is not a reaction to the environment, per se, it's a reaction to change. It's totally reasonable to ask him to give it some more time, perhaps a semester.

I went to college as a shy and socially awkward sixteen-year-old. I perceived my initial loneliness as a function of my antisocial nature rather than my age--that was probably right. But I think most people feel some loneliness and alienation starting college, if not in the first few days, then a few weeks in when they realize that they may not actually have that much in common with their "instant new best friends." He's likely to have the same experience even if he comes home and goes to college in the following year, or the year after that.
posted by praemunire at 1:22 PM on August 21, 2017 [6 favorites]

I think he should stick it out for a bit. I was miserable and homesick (at my first-choice school) initially, but then got to know people and classes started etc. and then it was fine. I had a friend who was miserable much longer, in part I think because her parents came to visit (~400 mile drive) every weekend for almost the whole first term. But I'd been away from home for long-ish chunks of time before, and she never had. If this is his first Real Time (e.g. more than two weeks) away from home, then yeah, this reaction is upsetting but pretty normal.
posted by rtha at 1:34 PM on August 21, 2017 [1 favorite]

I was 18 years old and off to a college about a 10 hour drive from home, where I knew exactly nobody. Being shy and introverted didn't help when I arrived (by myself) to an absolute fucking zoo of a freshman dorm. My roommate was nice enough but stayed up every night playing Battlefield without headphones. For various reasons, I didn't have much money and was having trouble getting three meals a day. The car I had spent the two previous summers saving for broke down and died completely. I had chosen to be a music major (because I liked music!) and had a panic attack when we were tested to see how well we could read music (I couldn't).

It was a bad first week and although home wasn't the best place to be, I figured it was sure as shit better than the situation I had gotten myself into, so I filed the withdrawal paperwork with the registrar and called my dad, who drove the 10 hours to pick me up and another 10 hours home.

Meanwhile, my friends continued on at their colleges, making friends and connections, and I was back at home, working in a photo lab and smoking a lot of weed, and feeling like I had failed one of the basic tests of life. About a week after that, 9/11 happened and that just added to my uncertainty and anxiety. It might've been nice to have the stability of a class schedule, and peers and support on hand.

Looking back, leaving school after a week was a huge mistake. And I wish I had had the strength to just gut it out, or that my father had just said "no" when I made that phone call.

I wish the best to your son, whatever he chooses.
posted by drawfrommemory at 1:45 PM on August 21, 2017 [2 favorites]

I didn't start college until I was 21 and was living at home the whole time and the first semester starting STILL left me feeling like it was awful and a giant mistake, until I had a little time to settle into spending all my time in a totally new place. And I did the same thing with law school and I was nearly 30 when I started that. Can you send a little extra cash and direct that if possible it be spent on trying to find some good things? Going through something like this is a shitty time to need to be frugal--if he needs to be, I mean, that's fine, but if you can afford to put a little extra towards the adjustment, it might be a good time to make the mission of the next week, like: Find a coffee shop you like that's actually set up to let people hang out there. Find a lunch place you like. Figure out at least one place that delivers food that you like, ideally somewhere that'll deliver fairly late. Find the most convenient movie theater. Do the whole thing of walking all your daily schedules to find out where the buildings/rooms are, but also make sure to note where all those things are in relation to food, coffee, even just vending machines and water fountains and bathrooms.

Once you've identified some general points of knowing your way around, school feels much less overwhelming. But when you're on a budget for the first time, well, I at least felt pretty trapped until I realized it was okay to waste a little money on expanding my world beyond my bedroom. I've done the same thing now when moving to new cities on several occasions, now, and I think it'd help a lot to have some familiar places to use as his base moving forward, plus it'll fill the time with something more goal-oriented than just hanging around feeling lost.
posted by Sequence at 1:49 PM on August 21, 2017 [1 favorite]

The thing about freshman programming is that there's a ton of super intimidating forced buddy-buddiness and people pretend like they're best friends after knowing each other for 16 hours just to save face socially. That can leave the more introverted person feeling left out. It fades as people fracture off into different classes, clubs, etc. In a month, the campus will be in a very different rhythm and there will probably be more of an independent, "you do you" vibe instead of a big overwhelming slumber party.
posted by delight at 2:14 PM on August 21, 2017 [12 favorites]

This is probably a really scary time for your son and for you! It could be helpful for you to ask for his specific feelings on what he feels isn't right. The social climate? Living situation? Taking care of yourself? Eating three times a day? Maybe you can help him make some plans or lay out some options to assist with his concerns.

My experience was that I was very happy to be at college AND I had an unprecedented panic attack in my 1st week. All of the changes were incredibly stressful, even though I was excited and felt capable.

By the 2nd week I knew the school was wrong for me, and the program wasn't what I wanted. (I was in a conservatory style performing arts program.) I was dissapointed and ashamed, as if I'd made the wrong decision. I decided half way through the semester that I would leave the school after the first semester.

I loved my friends and the city I was living in, but was incredibly dissapointed that my dream school let me down. I never regretted the choice to leave. I was relieved to be able to come home to unjudging parents. I struggled with depression and anxiety for about a year and a half after coming home and not knowing what to do next. It all came out in the wash and I'm grateful I had all of those experiences, even though they were a nightmare at the time.

The things that were scariest for me when confronting whether to come home:
- Not having a plan for the future
- Being asked "what happened?" by people in my hometown

While I was still at school struggling with deciding what to do, I was very grateful to be able to call my mom and cry. She played out different options for me and asked me how exactly I was feeling and what was making me upset. She was very accessible and willing to go with whatever I wanted to do.

Another data point: my best friend failed through her first year and a half of college and desperately needed to come home and get help with mental health stuff. This is a more extreme example, but I think it illustrates that it's just important for you to keep in contact and respect their feelings. Some people just need to get over the hump of freshman anxiety. Some people need to come home.
posted by sweetjane at 2:18 PM on August 21, 2017 [2 favorites]

I went to Simon's Rock too, and it may take a couple of weeks to settle in. But there will be other kids for him to be friends with, and once he finds one, it will make it better. SR is pretty good at sorting kids to the right group.
posted by chocolatetiara at 2:42 PM on August 21, 2017 [3 favorites]

Saturday, as in today is Monday and he hasn't even been to a full day of classes? Is he in some kind of freshman activities week? Those are the worst. I felt very lonely and confused and alienated then; I couldn't find a single person or thing I liked and I wondered if I'd made a mistake (though I was thrilled to be away from my parents.)

I think as a parent you'd be serving him well to be a little more insistent. Not insistent that he shouldn't feel how he feels, or that he stay forever-- but steady and calm and firm that this is totally normal and you hate that he's in pain and you understand and have his back, but that it is WAY too soon to be making any kind of decision.

Is this a mental health crisis? That's one thing. But if not, you might just have to let it play out. I don't say this lightly; I was a shy, weird, immature, fragile, volatile, sob-for-hours sort and the only thing that really helped was independence. Little bird has to fly sometime, you know? I would not advise visiting in either direction just now, unless of course he is in need of mental health intervention. That prolongs the attachment and discourages looking outside the parents for solutions.

He needs to find his Thing. It may be one class, one professor, one classmate, one activity, one tree on campus, one hour that feels good, but something is going to click. He doesn't know this now because he's in major change crisis mode. But as an adult, you are in a position to know that it can work. And if it doesn't click by the end of the semester? Then maybe it wasn't meant to be. If a semester is too long, can you make a deal that he get through a month?

I know college isn't for everyone, and I am not the sort who would force a 17 y/o to do something soul-crushing just to build character or whatever, but I don't think we do our kids any favors by letting them quit before they start.
posted by kapers at 2:43 PM on August 21, 2017 [5 favorites]

Oh, poor kid. To add to the chorus above, I don't think I've ever felt as at odds as I did the week or so before classes start. I wish the norm was not to show up until that point, even as freshman, because that's when you start to find your groove. I have such uncomfortable and awkward memories from that bizarre week of so-called "fun." In retrospect, it would have been fine to just hang out by myself and read / play computer games / go to the movies / take walks / get to know my new city / etc. until that nonsense was all over. Screw the orientations and library tours and whatever else "useful" also happened that week, I felt so much better once classes gave some rhythm and structure back to my days.

My husband and brother both knew within two weeks of starting their freshman year that they had chosen the wrong colleges. They wasted no time, though, and used the first semester to talk with their parents, figure out The Plan for what was next, get in touch with the schools they actually wanted to be attending, and start the paperwork and process of transferring credits. The instant the first semester ended, they left and never looked back. And both had absolutely phenomenal experiences once they arrived at their new schools and settled in, even with the disruption of switching midway through the year.

Good luck to your kiddo, I hope he feels better soon.
posted by anderjen at 2:43 PM on August 21, 2017 [1 favorite]

He should stay for the semester, as an agreement with you. If, after two more weeks or so, it's still feeling like absolutely the wrong fit, then he should start doing what anderjen says - start making the Plan for transferring, or perhaps, making a plan to propose a gap year to you. I agree that he's young for this, and a gap year could be helpful, but that doesn't mean "a year doing nothing," it should mean a year of focused travel, volunteer work, project work, etc. So either way, there needs to be a plan.

If, after two weeks, he's feeling less intense, you can keep conversing about the future. I do suspect, though, that the bulk of this is the compounded anxiety of being away from home, thrust into a new and strange community, and the weird structure of orientation sessions. In a school like this, where everyone's the unique-est of the unique-est, I'm sure that a lot of the students are acting out the "storming" phase of Tuckman's phases of group development in a particularly intense manner, showing off and fronting their new college personality and jockeying for positioning, and that can certainly be intimidating and offputting to quieter kids. The good news is that the social madness will settle down. The friendships that seem to be forming so solidly are actually going to reconfigure within a few weeks, and it's not the socially competitive, exhausting hothouse it looks like right now. You can share that as pretty reliable data from wide experience.

You might recommend some strategies like those above for finding your own tribe. Looking for the quieter kids might not be a bad idea right now. And he does need to know what the classroom setting is like, because that might be what he really hooks into. It would be premature to leave before experiencing that style - and preferably for a full semester - because it's not available in many other places at all.
posted by Miko at 2:53 PM on August 21, 2017 [2 favorites]

Former professor here, and sorry if I am duplicating replies. Depending on the college there should be resources such as mentoring programs and what not to help him feel less overwhelmed and disconnected. These are becoming increasingly salient on campus as most students fail or drop out during their first semester. Check to see if there is a student affairs or undergraduate affairs department. If he has a major declared already, his department might also have such programs. Believe it or not just having one contact on campus can make a dramatic difference in that first year.
posted by Young Kullervo at 3:08 PM on August 21, 2017

This post has induced a flashback to that freshman orientation week, during which I hid miserably in my room from cargo-shorted bros playing Sublime and forced barbecues where I felt I would be made to do embarrassing Lawn Sports and worse, icebreakers. That week was nothing like the real college, in which I felt dreamy and independent in beautiful environments, reading on lawns with mountain views, thrilling to new ideas, working a job, and getting closer than I ever thought possible to my now-lifelong best friends.
posted by kapers at 3:12 PM on August 21, 2017 [7 favorites]

The week before classes started was the worst I felt in my entire time at college. I stuck it out and things got progressively better; after the first year I was perfectly fine. I had never so much as gone to overnight camp, and not knowing at all where/whether I would fit in, taking placement exams, not knowing a soul, being in a totally new city, etc. was extremely hard. I ended up going home quite a few times during the first year (not a trivial trip). I don't exactly recommend that approach -- I did not get as socially integrated as I should have -- but on the other hand, I knew some kids whose parents said "no coming home at all under any circumstances until Christmas" and I can tell you that was definitely not the right approach either. Knowing I could go home and have a little break was a tremendous relief.
posted by karbonokapi at 3:18 PM on August 21, 2017 [1 favorite]

I went to Simon's Rock not too long ago and...this is pretty normal. Feel free to DM me for details.
posted by faineg at 3:30 PM on August 21, 2017

Also, of course there's a bunch of Rockers on Metafilter!
posted by faineg at 3:40 PM on August 21, 2017

Everything is new and different for him right now. I mean everything. He is sleeping, eating, getting dressed, taking showers, socializing, ... doing everything in a new and different way than he likely ever has before. I won't speak for everyone, but I'm pretty sure most people have trouble with that. Some have more trouble than others, for sure, but the shock to the system is incredibly common.

Now, in a week or two? He knows how all of those things work. There are still some new things here and there (new interactions with other students, new experiences in classes), but the vast majority of his existence will become known and normal to him. "This is how I brush my teeth." "That is how meals work." "There is the place I can go for some down time."

To his specific points:
  • He misses you. Yes, nearly everyone who leaves a comfortable environment for something new and challenging will miss that environment and the comforts it includes (including you).
  • He doesn't fit in. Unless he came from a liberal arts college with students from a wide range of backgrounds, then yeah, he's suddenly in a place with lots of people who are different from him. When I went to Simon's Rock, I was shocked to find out that hippies weren't all old people and that some were my age. I truly had no idea. So many people were different from the people I had grown up around. But with so many types of people, he can find people to hang out with. He can find people like he's used to, and he can learn that lots of these new people are pretty cool, too. It just takes time.
  • He isn't ready for it. Well, one way of looking at this is that there's no way to be ready for something so vastly different from anything you've ever experienced. No one else there is really "ready" for it, either.
So yes, I'll echo what many others have said: it is tough, but it's best to stick with it. All three of those points are things that can get better in a very short period of time. None of that is necessarily long term. You can help him get through it (though like others have said, be careful not to overdo it), and he can get help there -- I'd suggest he go talk to his RA or RD (assuming they're still using those terms there). If he stays miserable for several weeks, then start talking about his other options. Even then, like some others have suggested, staying through the semester is probably best, but it depends on how bad it is.

It's all about balancing the long term benefit, which is massive in the large majority of college experiences that turn out wonderfully, against the short term difficulty. Being miserable for a few days or even weeks is, well... miserable, but it is absolutely worth it in many cases, as so many have attested to above.
posted by whatnotever at 3:41 PM on August 21, 2017 [1 favorite]

Yeah, he needs to stick it out. I was overwhelmed but happy to be at college, but I saw plenty of people who weren't. He should NOT come home on the weekend either. Weekends are when bonding is more likely to happen. From what I recall of my time in college, most of the kids who went home on the weekends missed out on getting to know other people and missed out on spontaneous fun. It didn't help them make the transition.

Someone close to me freaked out about going to college before they even got there. They ended up doing some community college but I think they still regret not going.

Only you and he know just how hard this is for him, but consider help that includes care packages, talking to this RA, talking to counselors at the school and medication if necessary for panic attacks or things like that. Give him pep talks, whether he likes it or not. He can do this. Also check in with him that he's getting enough sleep, regular food, etc. Those can make a huge difference in your ability to deal.

Last thought: is he an introvert? If so, tell him he needs to seek out time alone, even if that means skipping out on some planned thing. Find a quiet corral in a library and do something he likes, stuff like that.
posted by purple_bird at 3:50 PM on August 21, 2017

Last thought: is he an introvert? If so, tell him he needs to seek out time alone, even if that means skipping out on some planned thing. Find a quiet corral in a library and do something he likes, stuff like that.

This is a really good point. They pack that freshman orientation week so full of STUFF that it can feel insanely overwhelming. I'm not particularly introverted and I still felt excessively overly socialized by the end -- I'm sure it's even worse for those who actually are introverted! Plus they make everything sound like you MUST ATTEND. Maybe talk through the schedule with your son -- stuff like registration appointments = important to go to, but stuff like "mixers" really can be skipped.
posted by rainbowbrite at 3:56 PM on August 21, 2017 [2 favorites]

acidic: "I think this is not a typical situation and if he wants to go back for his senior (?) year of high school and go to a normal college instead you should allow him to do so."

People are not sufficiently taking this into account. This is Simon's Rock, not an ordinary four year college, so I would really take with a big grain of salt all these stories people are providing of their first few days in college. Going to college when you're 18/19 and are surrounded by people who finished high school is very different from going when you're 17 and you're surrounded by people who also chose to skip the last few years of HS. I would seriously reevaluate and consider pulling your kid.

I think I also say this as someone who went to college early and have always regretted that decision. HS was great, grad school afterward was great, but the first half of college were the loneliest two years I ever spent.
posted by crazy with stars at 4:05 PM on August 21, 2017 [3 favorites]

I agree he needs more time, and encourage you not to move the goalposts, as some are suggesting. Wait until after classes start, then midterms, then thanksgiving, then Christmas - it will be crazymaking to reach one of those and then be told to wait longer.

It's very normal, but a good and healthy thing to wait for a natural break. I went unwillingly to boarding school at 16, and was told that I had to stick out the entire semester before I could move back home. We focused on planning my first visit back to tide me over, and I did in fact move back at the end of the semester. It was much easier to transition at a natural break than it would have been in the middle of the year. And I transferred BACK to that boarding school for my senior year, because as much as I didn't like the school, not living with my parents turned out to be enough of a motivator to get me back - but I wouldn't have known that if I hadn't stayed a whole semester.

Keep an eye on him for truly depressive/suicidal stuff, help him come up with some plans, but encourage him to figure this out as well. Living outside your comfort zone is important.
posted by peanut_mcgillicuty at 4:06 PM on August 21, 2017

It may not be that he doesn't like college, it may be that that college isn't right for him.

I agree he should take a few weeks of classes, see if he feels better, but the instinct of "I don't belong here" upon arrival can be surprisingly accurate, and should be carefully taken into consideration.
posted by Crystal Fox at 4:13 PM on August 21, 2017

I graduated high school in 1990, finally got my BA in 2004. I had a lot of crazy adventures. I love where my life has taken me but do wish, a bit, that I'd cranked out Umass and gone to grad school or the peace corp or even the navy. In my case I didn't want to go home, I partied and got sporadic failing grades and got kicked out. THERE WAS DRAMA.

I'd advise the kid to try to stick it out for a semester at least, and make it clear that he can jot home for weekends, that you'll help him. Make it clear he's not there because home is gone.
posted by vrakatar at 4:27 PM on August 21, 2017

How deeply horrible, you must feel awful for him. Why not suggest he set up a Skype session with his friends back home! I think you'll be surprised how much a little familiar friendliness in a new environment can help.

I was very much this person starting college. It's partly a matter of temperament. You have to be open with him, this is a classic reaction lots of people have to being left in a new place. If he's shy, it will be a nightmare. His heart is probably pounding, his throat is dry, it's nothing like he thought it would be, plus the guilt of having chosen wrongly will probably be pushing him to make a decision. Normalizing that pain for him might really help. What he is really missing is you guys, and it's possible he'll wobble back around and tell you he wants to stay for a few more days if he knows he's welcome back home.

Don't frame it as deciding at the end of the semester. Really, a week is just a bite sized amount of time. It's very likely he will have found someone or something that grabs his interest by the end of orientation.

I'd say let him go back home of course, but communicate to him in a sort of meta way that lots of people flip over pretty quickly from terror to having the time of their lives in a new school environment.

Do be on the lookout for troublesome things like binge drinking or depression or other "bad coping" strategies, he is obviously very young and obviously the quickest way people are going to be bonding on a campus is drinking. So it's not a great message sure, to say tough it out and do what you have to to fit in. It might help to be clear about that.

But if he's only been there three days, he hasn't met everyone and is probably just flipping out before fully exploring the environment.
posted by benadryl at 4:27 PM on August 21, 2017 [1 favorite]

He doesn't have a high school diploma yet, right? While I do understand the rationale for sticking out a semester, I think it's worth it to consider what happens if he leaves after a full semester. Assuming he has one year of high school left he may have a really difficult time catching up, graduating on time with his original class, and getting his shit together in time to apply to regular colleges. Right now he's ahead of his class, which is fine. He could return to high school, graduate and attend a regular college, which would also be fine. But if he drops out of Simon's Rock and THEN is also unable to graduate on time and go to college next year? That is the scenario you want to avoid.

I also want to point out that it might be a bit embarrassing for him to have to return to high school, tail tucked between his legs, after telling all of his classmates that he's out of there. Definitely don't allow him to get out of that. Make it clear to him that the choice is between staying in college or going back to high school, not getting his GED or getting a job or just taking a year off or whatever. That might push him in one direction or another.
posted by acidic at 4:47 PM on August 21, 2017 [9 favorites]

All of my first few weeks at a new college just sucked big time. I remember grad school (grad school!) sitting in a bare, low rent, trashy cockroach-infested apartment that I had moved to sight unseen. The only furniture I had was a phonebook, and I used it as a chair. I remember reading 'Even Cowgirl's Get the Blues', some yellowed paperback someone had given me for the trip while sitting on my 'chair'. It was AWFUL, terrible and lonely (and kind of beautiful). I knew literally NO ONE. After about a week, I went over to the department office, and someone said I should go over and meet so-and-so in the such-and-such building, and I did, and it was weird and strange and then we became friends and they took me out and gave me a tour of the town. And then everything was fine. (Undergrad was the same way just minus the trashy apartment and roaches).

It just takes your kid to meet one other person there for it to be all right. Hang him out to dry for a few days, and then check in and see how he is. Does he read novels? Send him The Secret History!
posted by nanook at 5:23 PM on August 21, 2017

I am sending my daughter off to college this week, across the country, hoping that she sticks it out. I was at book group last week with woman that I have known since our kids were babies- 4 kids out of six ended up leaving school at some point their first semester. I was shocked. They all told me to buy tuition insurance! This isn't exactly what you were asking about, but just wanted to let you know that it is normal, and it happens to many kids. When I was in college, a very small alternative college, that had a class of 18 freshman, 2 left during first semester, 4 more left after that semester.

I think that now a days kids are much closer to their parents, and don't feel the need to "grin and bear" it, and they share a lot with us, and so this leaves us to try and figure out what is best. I would say that it is better to have your child stop now then wait until he or you will be on the hook for the cost- that never goes away, and could be a hindrance to them return when they are ready.
posted by momochan at 5:24 PM on August 21, 2017

I'm not familiar with Simon's Rock, but I echo all the people saying this is very very normal. I remember feeling this way when I went to college at 18, and although I was emotionally pretty mature for my age, I was socially very much a nerd -- I even attended a nerd high school -- and the first few weeks of college was like falling into a giant pool of sharks and mean girls and all the stereotypes from every HS movie. College orientation is a week of fake buddy bonding activities, and if you're sincere, naive, or introverted (I'm all three!) it just makes you feel inadequate. I once used up an entire calling card (remember those?) crying on the phone to my mom.

Things that helped:
- My parents drove down to visit me for a day and take me to lunch; I don't know if that's feasible for you, but Skype may be an alternative.
- My mom wrote me some real physical letters. Getting actual mail in a mailbox made me (1) feel grown-up and (2) was much more tangible than just email.
- Finding my tribe -- for me, this was one quirky friend, who introduced me to some other quirky friends, etc, and soon we had a group of about 10 quirky people who would go have dinner together on Friday nights or go to each other's plays/music shows or just sit around the lounge for hours watching MST3K. These are still some of my favorite people in the world, 10+ years later.
- Having a schedule of classes and things to do and places to be.

Which is all to say, give him some time. I would keep an eye on whatever the withdraw date is for the semester, and re-evaluate in a couple weeks to a month from now. If he's still feeling rotten, let him withdraw.
posted by basalganglia at 5:54 PM on August 21, 2017

My three children (and I), started going to sleepaway summer camp for 7 weeks when they were 6 years old. I tell you this because I think it made a huge difference later in their life when they went off to college or had to move in with an unknown roommate. They had gotten through the homesickness early on and understood that it was an adventure to look forward to rather than worrying about what they were missing at home.

Of all their friends that left for college, some came home. Of those that did, the majority were people who had never been away from home before.

I think it is important to try it for a least a semester. Bard (or college) may not be for him right now, but he needs to learn to get away from home regardless of the college. He can always transfer or do a gap period. If he does not do it now, it will be even harder the next time he tries.
posted by AugustWest at 7:12 PM on August 21, 2017

The son of some dear friends of mine died by suicide a couple of weeks into his first year of college. He was a super popular, bright, and creative young man. Though he had struggled with depression some in high school, he was being treated for it, and was one of the last people you would ever expect for this to happen to. His parents were aware he was having a difficult time adjusting and encouraged him to stick it out. They did not realize the extent of the crisis, obviously, until it was too late.

If your son is aware that he is not ready to cope with this transition, please honor that, and allow him to come home. An ideal outcome is one where you have a healthy and emotionally stable child. If the extreme crying is especially out of character, that could indicate that there is something deeper/more serious going on than simple homesickness.
posted by TheCavorter at 7:26 PM on August 21, 2017 [1 favorite]

I'd suggest you think less about what is the right answer, objectively, and more about your relationship with him and how to help him continue to grow into an adult who makes decisions for himself. Does he need you to let him come home to feel loved and supported? Can you let him know that the offer is truly on the table for him to decide himself?

My two cents: the first semester was hard, exciting but hard. But I had a fair bit of hope pushing me through it. If he doesn't have that... some people do have, like, devastatingly hard first semesters. There is this combination of circumstance and a lot of personal effort (including really awkward trial and error) that helps you start to find some people you click with. If he's not up for putting in that energy, maybe it'll still work out, or maybe not. (I keep thinking about waterskiing and what happens if you're not ready to pull yourself out of the water when the boat starts to pull you.) (More realistically, he'll just be depressed and disaffected and make friends with other depressed outsiders, which really isn't a terrible outcome.) It's too soon for him to tell, IMO, but again, I'd let him know that it truly is an option, while asking him questions that get him thinking a bit: does he think others are homesick? Is there anyone like an RA who could tell him about their own first year? Does he think things will change when classes start? Does he want to come home right now or give it a certain amount of time? I think if he learns life skills about how to cope with challenging transitions (to ask for advice from others who recently went through it themselves, for instance), while knowing that he has your unconditional support, that would be best.
posted by salvia at 8:21 PM on August 21, 2017

Reading this brought me back to my first days at Simon's Rock, and I recall also being out of sorts as I tried to adjust. It's a unique place for sure. Your son cannot be the only incoming first year student with cold feet. It's also complicated by the students' young ages. One of my classmates was 14; I'd just turned 16. Give the Counseling Services office a call and see if you can chat with someone about the situation, and see about your son getting an appointment for this week - just as a check in to have someone on campus to talk with, even if it's for just one meeting.

Are the upperclass students back on campus yet? Maybe there's one that can be asked to connect with your son (someone also in an area of studies he's interested in?), at least to share a table at mealtime for a day or so. And does his R.A. seem like someone he could approach? They're trained to help out with that kind of stuff.

If your son is anything like I was, once classes start it'll be a much more exciting place. MeMail me if you want any more ideas.
posted by mayta at 9:18 PM on August 21, 2017 [3 favorites]

The fact that it's Simon's Rock does make things a little different, structurally if nothing else-- good catch by the people noting that.

That being said, maybe you can agree with him to do this year and then plan to take time off if he still feels this way? College (traditional four-year) was fine for me, but mostly because I took two years off between freshman and sophomore years. I had semi-planned to do that. A teacher at my high school told me to give it a whirl for a year and then take a year off, knowing I had a place to go back to. It ended up being two because I decided to transfer. But it made a huge difference.
posted by BibiRose at 10:17 PM on August 21, 2017

How long has he been there? Is it his first experience away from home? It can be a little scary sometimes but after a few months you get used to it.
posted by jenjen23 at 3:30 AM on August 22, 2017

Poor thing... I am chipping into this thread to add to the chorus that the first week or so of uni is really tough. I was an international student, far away from home and family and everything I knew, so it was scary and lonely. I missed my family so much and would just call home from the dorm payphone and cry down the phone. My first few days of university, during our international students orientation, I just remember feeling miserable and constantly crying.

But I adjusted - as people do, I think, at that age and surrounded by so many new exciting people and experiences. Once classes started and I got into a routine, I felt much better. 6 months into the university experience I was happier than I think I had ever been in my life, and I still keep in touch, almost 20 years later, with my friends from that time. I really think that once his classes have started and he has a routine, he will settle and feel much better. The first few days when you feel rudderless are really, really hard.
posted by Ziggy500 at 3:40 AM on August 22, 2017 [2 favorites]

I know a young man who came home crying three days after arriving at college (before classes started); he was so frightened he never tried again. Five years later he still doesn't have any college experience and lives with his parents. I think this is one of these things where you really have to prove it to yourself. Tell him he can transfer for his sophomore year if he wants, but he must stay the academic year.

(I work at a University and see this every year. First year is tough. The second year is much, much better. Call 413-528-7693 and tell them your situation and ask what kind of campus resources are available to support first year students. They should be able to provide him with some additional support - a counselor, a mentor, an upperclassman to be his guide, etc.)
posted by epanalepsis at 5:29 AM on August 22, 2017 [1 favorite]

You've gotten so much good advice, I'll just add mine and hope it's not a duplication.

1/ seconding epanalepsis, the college has a structure (upper-class mentors, faculty advisors ...) who are there to be his friend, literally. Call that phone number and find out what's gone wrong and I feel sure they'll swing into action.

2/ I don't know where you are in Vermont, but I don't think it would be amiss to make an early visit to Great Barrington and check out the situation, and specifically get him together with the counseling/mentoring/upper-class pal systems. But not only that, you're a normal guy and you know how to do normal things -- model some normal behavior for a guy dropped into a new place. Sit in the dining hall, you and him, say "OK, here we are, we're eating good food, we don't know anybody sitting right here, but that's not the end of the world, right? The Berkshires are Paradise and tomorrow is that hike [or whatever], and starting Monday you're going to start some great classes. And it's OK if you still don't know anybody even tomorrow because pretty soon you will. Oh wait, somebody's sitting down next to us ... hi, are you first-year? How are you liking Simon's Rock?...."
posted by JimN2TAW at 7:09 AM on August 22, 2017

I hated college at first. I didn't want to leave home and as a shy person it was so scary. It took me a year and a half to really get over the homesickness but it became bearable once I made friends early on during freshman year. Midway through sophomore year something clicked, and I had such a good time. It would have been so stupid, in hindsight, to have given up and gone home.
posted by christiehawk at 8:11 AM on August 22, 2017 [1 favorite]

Regardless of whether he chooses to stay or go, I would recommend contacting their admissions office and/or registrar as soon as possible to ask about the options for delaying enrollment. Many colleges will allow you to delay enrollment by a semester or a year, but deadlines vary--sometimes you have to decide before classes start, sometimes by a certain number of days into the semester, and sometimes it varies by reason (e.g., medical, death in the family, other).

Also, as someone who started college at 17 with major depression that was not well-managed: Please, please take him seriously. Yes, it's normal to have a hard time adjusting to college. It's also nearly impossible to determine from a distance whether a kid is having a hard time adjusting or truly in danger. I stayed in school, but I'm only alive because my roommate was an old friend who knew me well enough to know that something was very wrong. I ended up with the wrong degree--the easiest major, basically--because it was all I could manage, and I only really started having a good college experience two years later when the depression was under control.

Even if this is just ordinary homesickness and he could adjust and thrive, I don't think he'll ever fault you for respecting his wishes and helping him come home when he was in pain, especially if you also do everything you can to help him go back to school when he is ready. If it's possible for him to thrive in college now, it's possible for him to do so in a year when he feels more ready, and to do it knowing that his parents have his back, no matter what.
posted by xylothek at 8:36 AM on August 22, 2017 [2 favorites]

I went. I was lonely and depressed the first semester, crying to my mother on the phone multiple times a week.

Around Thanksgiving, I started talking about transferring to a school closer to home.
Luckily, I didn't. I went to weekly therapy instead.

College was rough in some ways, but leaving would have been a catastrophic mistake. I really did pick the right school for myself, but I'm an anxious late bloomer, and it took me a full year to really settle into things.

Change is scary.

Get your kiddo hooked up with the counseling center, post haste, but I would not recommend leaving or transferring until at least a year of continuous desire while also exploring mental health care.

If the reasons are really traumatic (being abused by peers or teachers, self-harming), then don't take my advice. But anything less than that, and give this huge life change the transitional acculturation period it needs, and make him stick it out for a full year.
posted by sazerac at 9:28 AM on August 22, 2017

You might want to look into off-campus counseling resources, too. My experience w/college counseling was that the staff were utterly overwhelmed and couldn't see any one person very long. If he had a regular therapist offsite that'd be much less an issue.
posted by Miko at 10:23 AM on August 22, 2017 [1 favorite]

This thread has a few lines of thought that I find pernicious: "toughen up" ("yes, it's awful, but I went through it and it is good for you") and fear-mongering ("oh noes, if he listens to his heart now, he might be stuck at home forever as a perpetual 18 year old!"). As an adult, those voices in my head make it SO HARD to make decisions. At all these turning points, I ask people's advice, and they advise "well, it depends on what you want and what you feel," and I'm like, "I have no idea -- I never learned how to make decisions that way. I feel I want to do X, but don't I have to toughen up and do Y? Won't X be a slippery slope to Horrible Catastrophe?" Please be compassionate to your son who is calling you crying.
posted by salvia at 11:42 AM on August 22, 2017 [2 favorites]

You don't say much about your son's background, but is this the first time that he has made a big decision on his own, or his first big adventure? I'm not sure if this is a college-thing or a growing-up-thing. If it's the second, I have two possibly-tangential thoughts:
1) There's a disorienting momentum shift between focusing all your energy on pursuing an opportunity and then shifting course to actually doing the whatever. On some of my adventures, I've had a few days of panicky "Oh wow, I got what I asked for, it's huge and scary and too late to back out now" feelings. For me, the only way out is through, and those have been some of my most horizon-widening experiences.
2) When I'm panicking/feeling trapped/wanting out, I need help talking through options, not somebody validating the ones I've come up with or trying to fix things for me. Is he just repeatedly wearing down the track in his brain of "I'm unhappy/scared/out-of-place and need to go home" without exploring the side tracks of "what could I do differently?", "what would going home look like", "what do I need to do before I'll *know* I made the right choice to quit?"?
posted by Metasyntactic at 3:50 PM on August 22, 2017 [1 favorite]

Whose idea was it that he should go to Bard? I think a lot of the advice/shared experiences here assumes that this was something he truly wanted.
posted by Metasyntactic at 3:55 PM on August 22, 2017 [2 favorites]

Following Metasyntactic's comment, mine is predicated on the assumption that your son wanted to go to Simon's Rock and is dealing with some kind of buyer's remorse.

Around 2011-2012, after a very successful summer in San Francisco, I knew I had to go back. I had found my people there and knew that it was a much more accepting environment than Brisbane, where I had just lost a career path and friendships due to a lot of shenanigans (some my fault, but a lot to do with racism). I decided to go for grad school because that was the easiest way to get a long ish term visa. By the time I finally made it to SF, I was so dangerously suicidal that my psychiatrist had tried new meds on me just so I could stay afloat. I knew I needed to leave.

Now I'm not a very homesick person. I had been living away from home for most of the last 8 years at this point and was very happy about that.

I got to SF... And for the first week or two, I was MISERABLE.

I had fallen ill and my school was too small to have its own clinic, so finding healthcare was difficult. Trying to figure out public transport made me miss Brisbane's Translink. I had to figure out all these logistics while dealing with both culture shock and illness (and again, I've been here before) and was regretting every damn moment of it. My suicidality was a little less but it wasn't truly gone.

Eventually things calmed down. I stopped coughing my lungs out, found a therapist, found friends in my school. I reconnected with the people I met over the summer and met new ones. I remembered why I wanted to go there so bad and found those reasons mostly intact. It wasn't all sunshine and daises (mostly due to an abusive relationship) but SF was still the haven I hoped it was. Moving was the best thing I could have done for myself. I'm not there anymore due to visa reasons (I graduated) and I miss it terribly.

If part of his problem is that he's not sure why he's not immediately happy despite getting what he wants, tell him it's normal. It doesn't mean he fucked up. Maybe it takes some adjustment, maybe it is actually different in reality, maybe he's changed or the school changed. But he's not alone by any means.
posted by divabat at 7:59 PM on August 22, 2017

I started college on my 17th birthday and was miserable and felt like I didn't fit in for the first few weeks, considering quitting -- but by Christmas break I was roaring to go back. (I married my college boyfriend and 10+ years later we own a house across the street from my college best friend, so yeah, I'm glad I stayed :)).

This sounds like totally normal transition blues to me and I would have him stick it out for another few weeks at least, preferably the whole semester, and then consider leaving if he is still not feeling it at the end of the semester -- with a prediction that by then he'll most likely be happy to stay!
posted by anotherthink at 9:34 AM on August 23, 2017

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