Collegiate Buyer's Remorse

Today’s guest post is by educational psychologist and consultant Jane McClure. We are thrilled to have her expertise here on the site and happy to announce that she will be contributing monthly. Look for future posts on the challenges faced by students with Asperger’s syndrome as they consider college, communications techniques for students and parents and a series on the transition from high school to college. Join her here to learn about how to handle a student’s second thoughts on starting college – what McClure calls “Collegiate Buyer’s Remorse.”

It happens almost every year, usually during the months of October and November: calls from two or three students who fear they have chosen the wrong college.  Sometimes, they are calling just to see if I agree with them.  Other times, they are convinced that they have made a bad decision and want to know when they should apply to transfer. 

I’ve noticed that this happens most often to students who have had a difficult time making that final decision.  Perhaps they didn’t do as much research as they should have before applying, so they were faced with lots of confusion during the month of April.  Maybe they applied to too many colleges and ended up with many choices.  Or maybe these are students that got into their top two- or three-choice colleges and it just WAS a very difficult decision.  Once the choice was made, they felt a sense of relief.  They could open one metaphorical door (whew!) - but they had to close one or two other doors, doors that in their imagination led to highly attractive consequences.  What to do?

First of all, going away to college is always an adjustment and it takes time to settle in and “find your people.”  I ask students a series of questions:  What leads them to think they are in the wrong college?  Have they joined clubs, sports teams, or other organizations where they have discovered other students who share their interests?  Often the answers revolve around the same theme.  They haven’t met anyone yet that they feel really close to.  They feel lonely and isolated and they miss the closeness they had with their friends at home.  Perhaps they haven’t joined any extracurricular activities yet; they are waiting for someone or something to come to them.  It is unlikely that this will happen.  Students need to step out, find out what is available on campus, and jump into activities that look inviting to them.  They can start out with familiar activities they pursued in high school, or venture out and try something new.  But sitting in their dorm rooms or spending all of their time studying is NOT a good way to adapt to college life.

When students compare their new relationships with the friendships they had in high school, I ask them how long it took for those friendships to develop.  In many cases, they knew these friends from middle school, or at least midway through high school.  It takes more than 6 or 8 weeks to develop that kind of closeness with new friends.  Once they understand this, they can reset their expectations and be more patient.  Relationships will evolve as the school year progresses.

I encourage students to wait until spring break before they start going through the application process again.  For one thing, if students do decide to transfer, they must go through the adjustment period all over again.  By spring, most students have adapted to their new environments, and realize that they have made a right choice after all.


Jane McClure is a Licensed Educational Psychologist (LEP 1605) and educational consultant whose work has focused on college counseling and psychoeducational evaluations.  McClure was a partner at San Francisco’s McClure, Mallory, Baron & Ross for more than 20 years. Previously named Educational Psychologist of the Year by the California Association of Licensed Educational Psychologists, McClure recently received the WACAC Service Award from the Western Association of College Admission Counseling. For the College Board, she has presented workshops for guidance counselors related to counseling college-bound students who have learning disabilities and/or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and worked as a consultant on issues related to services for students with disabilities.



Couldn't agree more. I first noticed this when my daughter and I were Christmas shopping and bumped into her slightly older friends who were just back from their first months at college. They all wanted to transfer, every last one of them, no matter which college they attended and how much they had wanted to go there. When we next saw them in June, not one could have been dynamited out of the same college - they all LOVED their colleges. The next year, with my daughter, same story. Settling in takes time.

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