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6 Ways to Help Your Adult Child Thrive in College

Being a positive influence in your college student's success.

Key points

  • College dropout rates indicate that up to 32.9% of undergraduates do not complete their degree program.
  • Mental health and learning difficulties can challenge your adult child's ability to succeed in college.
  • Being a voice of reason and encouraging self-advocacy can help your child thrive in college and in life.

I started my career many years ago with an internship at the University of Pennsylvania Counseling Center. During that time and throughout my over 30 years as a child, teen, and family psychologist, I have seen many young adults do well and as well as see others struggle through college and those who dropped out.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), the overall six-year graduation rate for first-time, full-time undergraduate students who began their pursuit of a bachelor's degree in the fall of 2015 was 62.6%. This means that around 37.4% of students did not graduate within six years.

Here are some other grim statistics:

  • College dropout rates indicate that up to 32.9% of undergraduates do not complete their degree program.
  • First-time undergraduate freshmen have a 12-month dropout rate of 24.1%.
  • Among first-time bachelor’s degree seekers, 25.7% ultimately drop out; among all undergraduate students, up to 40% drop out.
  • 39 million Americans were college dropouts in July 2020; 944,200 of them re-enrolled that fall.
  • College dropouts make an average of 32.6% less income than bachelor’s degree holders.
  • College dropouts are 19.6% more likely to be unemployed than any degree holder.

Below are some of the main reasons why young adults struggle to find success in college.

Reasons Why Adult Children Struggle in College

Mental health issues: As I wrote in my book, The Anxiety, Depression, & Anger Toolbox for Teens, children who are dealing with personal issues such as mental health difficulties may struggle to balance their academic responsibilities with their personal lives.

Lack of preparation: Many students struggle at four-year colleges and realize they did not adequately prepare for the rigors of college-level coursework during their high school years.

Learning differences: Children with learning differences, such as dyslexia, ADHD, or autism, may find it challenging to keep up with the pace and demands of college coursework.

Poor time management: College requires a high level of self-discipline and time management skills. Children who struggle with these skills may find it challenging to juggle their coursework, social life, and other responsibilities.

Lack of motivation: Children who are not motivated to pursue their studies may find it challenging to stay focused and committed to their coursework, which can lead to poor academic performance.

Struggle to ask for help: This one is last but not least by any means. It's essential to identify the underlying cause of a child's struggle in college and address it appropriately.

Being able to advocate for oneself in a college setting, especially if there are learning-related or mental health challenges, or both is of crucial importance. This may involve seeking additional academic support, counseling, or other interventions to help the child succeed in college.

Actions You Can Take to Help Your Child Succeed in College

As a loving parent, here are several ways you can help your child succeed in college:

1. Validate that college is meant to be challenging: Many college students underestimate the challenges of classes and time management. Encourage your child to create a study schedule, set aside dedicated time for studying, and find a quiet and distraction-free environment to study. Remind them of past classes and projects where they were successful.

2. Support their academic goals: Be aware of your child's academic goals and support them by providing resources, such as tutoring or academic support programs. Encourage your child to seek help when needed and connect them with the appropriate resources.

3. Discuss healthy habits: Encourage your child to maintain a healthy lifestyle by getting enough sleep, eating well, and exercising regularly. A healthy body and mind can help your child perform better academically.

4. Encourage time management skills: Help your child manage their time effectively by encouraging them to prioritize tasks and avoid procrastination. Teach them to break down large assignments into smaller tasks and set deadlines for each.

5. Encourage involvement in extracurricular activities: Encourage your child to get involved in extracurricular activities that align with their interests and passions. Being involved in activities outside of the classroom can help your child develop confidence, build friendships, and enhance their overall college experience.

6. Provide emotional support: College can be a stressful time for students, and it's important to provide emotional support to your child. Be a good listener, offer encouragement, and provide a safe and supportive space for your child to talk about their concerns and anxieties.

Final Thoughts

It is important that you gently share versus impose the above suggestions. Be a comforting voice of reason when you speak to your child versus a voice of judgment. Validate that we all struggle at times and that how we cope in the face of setbacks, disappointments, and challenges are the best lessons that can be learned not only in college but throughout the rest of our lives.

© Jeffrey Bernstein, Ph.D. (All rights reserved).


Bernstein, J. (2020). The Anxiety, Depression, & Anger Toolbox for Teens, PESI Publishing Eu Claire, WI.

Hanson, Melanie. “College Dropout Rates”, June 17, 2022,

Deidre McPhillips (2023) Mental health struggles are driving more college students to consider dropping out, survey finds, CNN,…

Willingham, D. (2023). There Are Better Ways to Study That Will Last A Lifetime, New York Times, New York. NY.

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