When Your Child Feels “Meh” About College

College is a rite of passage — the opportunity to meet people from different backgrounds; carve out a path for personal growth; learn new skills; pursue a career; find independence; and gain valuable, real-world experiences. But not everyone sees it that way. For some students, college may seem like an unnecessary life choice that has no benefit or gain to them. Or their attitude toward college changes as their educational journey continues.

Student looking board and leaning against their hand as their other arm rests against their unopened notebooks.This begs the question: What makes post secondary education an attractive option for some, but the complete opposite for others? The answer may be apathy.

Apathy is defined as the feeling of not feeling. Psychology Today breaks it down a bit more: “Whenever you feel that something vital is missing from your life, yet lack the drive to pursue it, you’re afflicted with this curiously ‘emotionless’ emotion.” Apathetic students have no feeling or another about attending college; more so, they are likely to feel disconnected and unmotivated about the college experience altogether.

Conversations about students and apathy lead back to mental health. According to College Parent Central, “Students who are apathetic about their college experiences, who are disconnected and disengaged, are at greatest risk for low morale, for leaving school and/or for suffering depression.”

For high school students, the journey to determine their college plans brings a level of stress that perhaps they have never experienced before. From maintaining a good GPA and studying for and taking the ACT or SAT, to campus visits, applications, essays, interviews and discussions about financial aid, the college decision-making process is long and difficult. And even after a school is determined and the fall semester begins, students are met with a new way of life and new challenges — keeping up with academic demands, making new friends, getting used to a brand-new experience all the while managing independence. This may cause some to feel lonely, or have anxiety or depression.

With all of these stressors, it’s easy to see why pursuing a college degree may not be the top priority for a high school student. Furthermore, National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) provides these stats on mental health and young people:

  • 1 in 5 youth and young people  experiences a mental health condition
  • 75% of all lifetime mental health conditions begin by age 24
  • 30% of college students reported feeling so down at some point in the previous year that they found it difficult to function

Determining if Your Student is Apathetic

If you think your child is apathetic toward college, College Parent Central suggests asking yourself some of the following questions:

• Does my student learn and do only what is required and no more?
• Is my student so busy working or socializing that they save little of their energy for school?
• Has my student chosen their major for the “return on investment” rather than to fulfill a passion?
• Is my student generally unmotivated about school?
• Is my student disconnected or disengaged from the college experience — not really caring about much?
• Does my student avoid communicating with faculty members and advisors through appointments, e-mails or phone conversations?
• Does my student avoid studying?
• Does my student have a significant number of absences from classes?
• Does my student ever misuse alcohol or drugs? Are they involved in binge drinking?
• Is my student involved in activities on campus?
• Does my student show a lack of concern for most social issues happening in the world today?
• Does my student show an inability to handle their own affairs?

If you answered yes to some of the questions above, you may want to discuss with your child their views on college or their plans for the future.

It's Time for an Important Conversation

How do you cope with a child who is apathetic about college? Sit down with them for a one-on-one conversation and offer your help. Ask them to share their goals and talk to them about their mental health. Assure them that they can trust you, and create a space where they feel open and willing to chat.

Sad daughter getting confronted by her mother.Within these conversations, College Parent Central wants you to encourage your child to explore their interests and find others who may share those interests. If they are having trouble making friends, share with them opportunities to volunteer, join a club, engage in activities on campus or find a part-time job they know they will enjoy. Remind them that there are many resources available at school, including health and counseling centers. Talk to them about self-care, whether that may be exercise, therapy or taking mental health days.

If they truly do not feel a connection to college, then it simply might not be the best time for them to go to college. Alternative options like taking a gap semester or gap year could give them the time they need to make a more informed decision about their future.

College Parent Central also shares that you should reinforce to your child that they themselves can do something about their apathy. Help them explore their needs and their expectations on what college would be like. If they have specific interests or goals they’d like to accomplish, show them how college can be a way to reach those goals. 

When your child is ready and able to combat their apathy, they’ll work on getting more involved. You may see them engaging in new activities and making friends. They’ll begin to feel more in control and fully immerse themselves in and enjoy the college experience.

Avoid lecturing, blaming or invalidating them. That will only send the message that you aren’t a safe person they can talk to about their real issues. Remember, they may have deep concerns about college, motivation and their future. The more open and accepting you are the easier it will be to have conversations that matter and guide them along the way. 

Scholarship Search Help

According to the Missouri Department of Higher Education & Workforce Development, apathy toward attending college is one reason scholarship applications are decreasing. This means more scholarships are currently available for students. Here at Happier U, we provide a variety of resources to help you and your child find a scholarship that is right for them.

Be sure to visit our Search for Scholarships page for guidance, including scholarship search engines, tips and other helpful links. My Scholarship Central is another resource that is available to find scholarship providers by region in Missouri, learn more about their scholarship offerings and apply.