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Why Do College Students Experience Failure to Launch?

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failure to launch in college students

AP Courses, SAT Scores, GPA, and personal statements aren’t necessarily a predictor of whether young adults with experience success in a college environment. Despite academic achievements, many young adults are emotionally unprepared to navigate independence when they enter college. This can lead to a growing phenomenon, known as failure to launch, that occurs when young adults struggle to meet their goals despite the steps that they have started to take towards meeting them. 

Common Causes of Failure to Launch for College Students

While failure to launch is often used to describe the transition immediately after high school, it can occur after any major transition in one’s life. Sometimes, failure to launch is subjective based on personal expectations and can be a gradual realization that one is not where they thought they would be. For these college students, it may be harder for them to identify red flags or to feel comfortable reaching out to others for help.

Signs of failure to launch in college students may include:

  • Not knowing what to do with unstructured time
  • Lack of meaningful relationships
  • Poor self-care habits, including changes in sleep schedule or appetite
  • Limited motivation and purpose in life
  • Problems finding and maintaining employment

Shouldn’t Going to College Reduce One’s Changes of Failure to Launch?

Hypothetically, one of the goals of attending college is to develop the education and social skills necessary to succeed in one’s career. However, many people get sidetracked by the stress of an academic environment and unhealthy habits associated with a college student lifestyle. Many students sit in introductory-level classes in large lecture halls wondering how the macro-concepts being introduced are relevant to their everyday lives and will help them specialize in the field in the future. Even more students are realizing that their major is not a direct path to a career and that they will need further education and continuous training in order to be qualified for their dream job. This can be discouraging for many students who entered college wide-eyed and passionate, who believed that college would be their ticket to challenging personal narratives of failure and inadequacy. 

When young adults are intentional about their purpose in a college environment, have a clear picture of how their short-term goals will prepare them for their long-term goals, and have a healthy relationship with “perceived failure,” they are more likely to thrive. If they maintain unrealistic expectations and are overly self-critical, they are more likely to lose sight of the bigger picture and struggle with motivation on a day-to-day basis. 

For some students, college is an opportunity to launch into independence, begin working, and paying bills. For others, college is just a transitional period, where their parents stay on speed dial and their high school friends remain their social circle. Both perspectives are equally valid, but it is important to develop a work-life balance early on to help prepare young adults for independence once they are no longer in a college environment.

How Can I Prepare for Independence as a College Student?

  • Time Management. Keeping track of responsibilities and social events can help young adults prioritize what they need to do in order to balance both. Planning a week-at-a-glance can help students maintain structure and discipline when it comes to completing assignments and integrate extracurricular activities and time with friends to further explore passions. College students tend to live in the moment and make spontaneous plans, but sometimes this means sacrificing one or the other.
  • Explore Extracurricular Activities. Many college graduates will tell you that most of what they learned happened outside the classroom–whether it was volunteer opportunities, internships, part-time jobs, the hobbies they picked up, or the people they met. Exploring interests outside of the classroom can help students figure out what it is they are passionate about and how they can apply that to their career goals. 
  • Prioritize Self-Care. One of the major reasons that college students drop out or experience failure to launch is that they push themselves to the point of burnout. Often they do not recognize they are reaching this point until they crash. Integrating self-care into their daily routine serves as a “background” coping mechanism that promotes wellbeing and prevents sudden crashes.
  • Utilize the Resources Around You. Young adults have more resources and support available to them than they may realize, particularly on college campuses. Community resources may include mental health support groups, therapists, academic advisers, career counselors, sports coaches or personal trainers, and businesses that actively hire young people. Step-down programs for young adults help connect residents with resources in the community to help them take steps towards their personal, academic, and career goals.


Contact Journey Home East at 855-290-9684 to learn more about our failure to launch program. We can help your family today!