By Melissa Burns
Life happens, whether you’re in school or not. You may be dealing with a chronic illness, the death of a loved one, or another personal issue; in any case, managing your classwork will become exceedingly difficult. Not only will you need to miss classes to attend to your personal responsibilities, you may be too distracted or emotionally distraught to properly focus on your work.
So what can you do to find the support you need to get through this crisis?
Strategies for Support in College
These strategies should help you get through your crisis without abandoning your education altogether:
- Seek lighter or alternate coursework. Your first step is to work with your professors directly to seek a lighter or alternate workload. To be successful here, you need to be as open, proactive, and flexible as possible. Openness will help your professor understand your personal needs and circumstances (and will show them you aren’t just making excuses to ditch work). Being proactive will give you more time to work with (nobody will be excused from the final hours before the final is scheduled to commence). And flexibility will help you and your professor find a solution that works for both of you. Set a formal meeting with each of your professors, and come prepared with some suggestions for how you can complete the class, given your current situation.
- Work with a medical or treatment center to gain more study time. If you’re managing a chronic illness, recovering from addiction, or are involved in some other crisis that involves frequent visits to a medical center, work with your staff to find extra time to study. For example, you could bring some of your coursework to keep you occupied when between sessions, or specifically schedule your appointments so you can still attend most classes. Many medical centers also offer options for emotional and spiritual support, such as Rush University Cancer Center’s robust range of resources for patients seeking help. Don’t be afraid to take advantage of them.
- Find a support group within the school. Don’t discount the potential support groups and counseling services you can find at your own university. Most big schools will have their own psychological services department, and depending on your school, you’ll likely have access to a support group for the very type of crisis you’re going through. US News rates the University of Maryland, the University of Georgia, and the University of Missouri as the three universities with the best counseling programs in the country. However, engaging with your peers (and preferably, with a trained professional) will be effective no matter where you do it.
- Join study groups, clubs, and organizations. Socializing with other people has a number of health benefits, which can help you no matter what you’re recovering from. You’ll start to feel “normal” again, and the new people you meet may be able to lead you to new and different resources that can help you on your journey. Plus, studying in a group could be more advantageous for you; you’ll have someone to keep the group on task, and you’re less likely to be distracted with your current situation.
- Find time for yourself. Finally, despite the many benefits that working with other peers and professionals can offer you, you’ll need to find some time for yourself as well. Finding the time to emotionally confront your problem will give you the opportunity to healthily work through it, rather than just burying it and ignoring it while you finish your schoolwork. Finding time to do things that make you happy—including following your passions and engaging with your close friends and family—will also prevent you from becoming too stressed, and enable you to perform better in your classes. The only difficult part is finding time in your busy schedule for everything.
On Dropping Out
If you’ve tried all the above strategies and you still find yourself unable to dedicate the proper time and resources to your schoolwork, you may consider dropping out. It’s certainly a viable option, and there are countless stories of students who stopped attending college and ended up becoming wealthy and/or successful.
Unfortunately, there’s no clear, one-size-fits-all gauge for when you should drop out of college. You’re the only one equipped to make that decision. You likely already know that the return rate for dropouts is very low, you know what you’re paying, you know what kind of grades you’re currently getting, and you know how likely you are to recover in time to see those grades improve. Dropping out isn’t the best option, but if you’ve truly exhausted your resources otherwise, it’s worth considering as a temporary reprieve to better handle your personal situation.
Melissa Burns graduated from the faculty of Journalism of Iowa State University. Nowadays she is an entrepreneur and independent journalist. Follow her @melissaaburns or contact at firstname.lastname@example.org