Is Struggling in College Normal?

Nothing can be more saddening to parents than seeing their kids go off to college. But it can be extremely daunting, too, for teens who need to leave their loved ones behind and face the many challenges of pursuing an undergraduate degree on their own.

Without the support system they have been relying on from day 1 in a world that’s so much bigger and more challenging than high school, they could easily suffer from strain and pressure.

It’s quite common for students to struggle in college. This is especially true during their transition from high school to the postsecondary environment. According to a report by the Mayo Clinic Health System, up to 44% of college students have anxiety and depression due to different things, from finances to social concerns.

Got a teener who is about to head to college or already there and could be having a difficult time?

Knowing the reason for his or her struggle is the key to fully understanding the root cause of the hardship and, more importantly, the necessary steps to take to put the problem under control before much worse concerns come into being, such as bad grades that can follow your child around or dropping out that can put his or her dream of having a bachelor’s degree to a halt.

struggling in college

Why Do Students Struggle in College?

There are many different reasons why college students struggle in school, most of which can put their studies in peril. Some of them include academic and social challenges. It’s also not uncommon for many to face mental health issues, such as anxiety and depression. College costs can also be a source of stress for students.

Different students have different strengths. Similarly, they had different weaknesses.

It’s therefore important to note that the things that can cause college attendees to struggle can differ from one student to the next. Knowing the triggers, of course, is essential to finding the right solution.

Wrong college or major

Sometimes, the struggle can stem from choosing the wrong institution or academic program. It could be that the student finds the campus culture or curriculum to be the wrong kind for him or her.


Around 70% of freshmen students experience severe homesickness.

But the good news is that things tend to get better for them semester after semester — on average, homesickness can last anywhere from 3 weeks to 1 year and 4 months.

Still, some may suffer from homesickness so substantial that they may no longer be able to wait for it to go away.

Poor time management

College is an entirely different world from high school, and strategies that proved to be effective back then may no longer work as well this time around.

As such, undergraduate students who are too slow to make the necessary adjustment as far as time management goes may find themselves struggling with carrying out all their tasks.

Work-school balance

Up to 40% of undergraduates have part-time jobs. And if they are unable to maintain balance between the two, it’s very much possible for them to suffer in attaining success in either work or school or, in some instances, even both.

Social and romantic relationships

Whether students are in the company of the wrong people or have no friends or whether they are in an abusive relationship or one that has just ended, it’s very much for them to struggle with various other aspects of pursuing a bachelor’s degree.

This is most especially true if their coping mechanisms are not up to par.

Cost of attendance

And then there’s the exorbitant cost of earning an undergraduate degree that can cause many students, in particular those from low-income backgrounds to struggle, which brings us to this pressing question…

failure in college

Why Do Low-Income Students Struggle in College?

Low-income students struggle in that they wonder how long their families will be able to pay for college. Many of them also have to deal with concerns such as food and housing, particularly if living off campus. It’s also not uncommon for poor college students to have problems with obtaining school supplies and other necessities.

Numerous problems are faced by college students, many of which can endanger their studies. Some undergraduates have concerns that stem from a lack of finances or the fact that they’re from low-income backgrounds.

The average cost of attendance at a college, as of this writing, can range from $25,707 to $54,501 per year.

On the other hand, the average grant aid students at public institutions receive amounts to $8,690. Many students in the country have no choice but to count on need-based financial aid to be able to afford college.

According to a study conducted by the National Student Financial Wellness at Ohio State University, as much as 72% of all college students suffer from financial stress, which is rooted in the fear of not being able to meet tuition costs and monthly expenses. Meanwhile, up to 50% also worry about paying for food, housing and utilities.

Due to the fact that the cost of attendance can cause low-income college students to struggle with staying in school, up to 38% of them decide to drop out as a result of finances.

What Do You Do When Your College Student is Failing?

Parents of college students who are showing signs of struggling with or failing school should encourage their kids to open up about the problem. It’s also important to urge them to seek assistance, whether from loved ones or their college advisors. In many instances, prioritizing their young ones’ mental health is critical.

At 4-year institutions, up to 56% of attendees drop out after 6 years in school.

Among those, students aged between 24 to 29 years old are the ones who are most likely to quit college.

Failing college, the bottom line, is commonplace.

But because different students fail college for different reasons, it’s a must for parents to determine the cause so that they may be able to offer the right solutions or recommendations to their struggling children.

Otherwise, the problem may keep coming back, whether students decide to remain in school or take a break and return to it after some time.

Below, you will come across some ways to deal with a college student in distress. Don’t forget to throw in a lot of empathy and understanding to avoid an already stressed and troubled teen from suffering further.

Show support and concern

During a low point in a college student’s life, the thing he or she needs the most is the understanding of a parent.

As such, make sure that you encourage your teener to open up about the concern and guarantee you will lend an ear. No matter the issue, judging him or her should not be a part of your reaction no matter how disappointed or saddened you get.

Obtain the help of an advisor or professor

Problems with grades and others related to academics are, of course, best tackled with the help of an academic advisor or the professor of the concerned class.

It’s important to point out to one’s child that the sooner that he or she seeks support from the right person on campus, the earlier the necessary steps to take can be taken.

Consider one’s options

Some college students may feel that switching colleges or majors is necessary to improve their academic performance.

Others may feel that it’s a good idea for them to take a gap year to be able to figure out what they really want in life. No matter the case, parents should consider the plans of their students and not simply impose what they believe is the best for them.

Check out resources for parents and kids

Because struggling in college is quite common among kids and can affect their parents, too, there are plenty of resources online where both parties can get much-needed help and support. Knowing the cause of the problem is essential so that the right website may be visited and the appropriate actions may be planned and carried out, too.

Just Before You Speak With Your Struggling College Student

College can prove to be stressful for many degree-seeking students, which can affect their physical health, mental well-being and academic performance.

Different things can cause the struggle or failure of your teener. Regardless, providing him or her an avenue to talk about the matter and giving enough understanding and support is crucial.

Encouraging constant communication with your child no matter how many miles away the two of you are can help nip problems in the bud, thus keeping much bigger problems that are much harder to deal with from coming into being.

Related Questions

What year is the most stressful in college?

Freshman year is generally considered a stressful part of college as many undergraduate students struggle with transitioning to their new learning academic environment, which can prove to be more challenging than high school. Junior year can be just as stressful, too, due to challenging coursework and financial strain.

Can living at home make college less stressful?

Attending a college that makes it possible for students to remain living at home can eliminate common causes of stress such as homesickness and financial strain. However, it can also keep college students from obtaining valuable skills from living away from home, such as independence and time and money management.

Read Next: How to Get Straight A’s

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent those of the College Reality Check.

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