I am a college professor, and sometimes I learn of a student's career goals. I think some should drop out despite having good grades. If they do not learn much (because they are advanced or because they do better on their own), or if a degree will not help them with their specific career goals, I think that they should drop out. College is not cheap, and I can tell some students do not enjoy going to class or doing homework. I am afraid if I suggest a student leaves the school without a degree, I will be fired. When should a teacher recommend a student leave the university without a degree?

I am in the U.S.

  • 6
    Are you speaking from the position of an academic advisor? I think that's a different situation from someone that primarily interacts with students in the classroom.
    – Bagley
    Commented Jun 10, 2020 at 15:54
  • 1
    Related: academia.stackexchange.com/questions/117042/… Commented Jun 11, 2020 at 2:24
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    I removed the answers in comments because they bypass the voting mechanism. If you have an answer, please post it as such. Commented Jun 11, 2020 at 16:30
  • 4
    What on Earth do you propose they do instead? Ever tried getting an entry level job without a college degree? Commented Jun 13, 2020 at 1:16
  • @GlenPierce: Presumably they would say "Since you want to become X, you should not study Y but Z, here are references." Also, I have many friends who dropped out of university because they got a job (or got a job even though they dropped out)..
    – user111388
    Commented Jun 13, 2020 at 9:00

19 Answers 19


The career goals of an undergraduate change on a regular basis. How many of us are doing exactly what we thought we would do at that point in time?

If the student is doing well, grade-wise, and is on track to graduate, in most scenarios it is much better for them to finish an undergraduate degree. It opens up more doors both initially as well as for some time afterwards. If the work is too easy, suggest harder classes.

If a professor were to suggest to one of my children that they drop out of college even though they are doing well, I would have an in person visit with them to discuss their complete abuse of power. My daughter had a professor suggest she was not suited for her major - that was inappropriate enough (and totally wrong as time has told). For better or worse, your attitude towards those students is condescending at best.

  • 46
    Out of curiosity: where in the world are you? In the places I know it would be completely socially uncaccaptable as a parent to speak with a professor about their children (and not legal for a prof to give the parents information on theor chidlren).
    – user111388
    Commented Jun 10, 2020 at 19:00
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    @user111388 - I'm in the US. I am well aware of FERPA - it sure doesn't prevent me from talking to them, and their chair, and the dean, if not president (which I have done). I would not hesitate to let a professor know directly of my displeasure and strong opinions about their ability to deal with young adults should they tell my son/daughter in good standing to drop out.
    – Jon Custer
    Commented Jun 10, 2020 at 19:12
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    @JonCuster While I understand the general sentiment, the idea that a parent would take an active role in the relationship between their adult child and the university sounds completely out of bounds to me. Would you also do the same if their employer did something inappropriate to them? Commented Jun 11, 2020 at 6:29
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    I feel like the complaints about this post are missing the point; a parent talking to a professor is inappropriate, but a professor actually encouraging a student who is doing well to drop out is so much worse that it overshadows that. +1
    – Jeff
    Commented Jun 11, 2020 at 16:57
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    This seems far from ideal. If you can only ever advise in one direction it is no advice at all. Like if a surgeon asks "Should I recommend a patient forgo surgery when I don't think it will help them" and gets told "never recommend against surgery!". Worse if they have to worry that honest advice over what they think is best for the patient will see the patients dad screaming at the hospital president. Not every student is going to be in a suitable course or major to best achieve their goals. This seems like bowing to the worst kind of helicopter parents to the detriment of students.
    – Murphy
    Commented Jun 12, 2020 at 10:23

Based on what you reveal about yourself by asking this question, I recommend that you give up your career as a college professor

Actually I don’t really mean that. I take it back. I only wrote it to give you a taste of what it might feel like for a student to hear such an outlandish recommendation from their professor. If you think that was a foolish and presumptuous thing for me to say and that there’s no way I could possibly know better than you what course you should direct your life in, take a look in the mirror and ask yourself why what you are proposing is any different.

In short, the answer is “never”.

  • 24
    @workerjoe the analogy I’m drawing is between my lack of ability to tell whether OP is more suited to be a professor than something else and OP’s lack of ability to tell whether a student is more suited to a life with a college degree (taking into account the cost in time and money of finishing that degree) than without one. What you’re saying about some students lacking direction may be true, but does nothing to support the view that such a student might benefit from dropping out, or that even if some of them might, OP could be trusted to distinguish those who would and those who wouldn’t.
    – Dan Romik
    Commented Jun 10, 2020 at 23:11
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    It's a poor analogy. You don't know the OP or his context. The OP does know the student and the context. The question is not about whether the advice is right (presumably OP has good reason to believe so), it's about whether it is professionally appropriate to give it or withhold it.
    – workerjoe
    Commented Jun 10, 2020 at 23:37
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    @Allure understood. Actually I think you should upvote my answer rather than downvote it, and I have several college degrees... ;-)
    – Dan Romik
    Commented Jun 11, 2020 at 0:58
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    @Allure thanks. I’m flattered that you think my math degrees mean I’m so smart that I can accurately predict that a math student with good grades would be best served by dropping out of college and would have a better life as a result than if they stayed in school. It seems a strange belief to have, but it’s flattering.
    – Dan Romik
    Commented Jun 11, 2020 at 6:50
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    A perfect analogy. If a professor had noticed one of the multiple times I was struggling with material and told me to drop out, I can't imagine how damaging that could have been.
    – Jeff
    Commented Jun 11, 2020 at 17:00

When should a teacher recommend a student leave the university without a degree?

Basically, NEVER.

This is a US perspective: In the capacity of undergraduate advisors, saying something like this could potentially get you fired, if you are not nontenure-track instructor. At very least, it should get you in some kind of trouble in many schools. It has happened in my university --- an instructor was fired recently for repeatedly telling students to drop out.

In classroom settings, this kind of comment is just not appropriate.

On a personal level, even if you consider a student a personal friend, this kind of suggestion is still unwelcome --- it is just none of your business.

Also, generally, professor just don't have enough information to make this make this kind of evaluation in the first place. How could you possibly know?

In my second year in graduate school, a very nice professor kindly told me that I will never pass my qualifying exams; I will never be able to do research; I will waste my precious years and never get a Ph.D.. She told me that as a personal advice simply because she thought I would better off in industry. She turned out to be completely wrong.

There is one exception though. A chemistry professor in my college recently told a student to just drop out and start a business instead. That advice was indeed justified, because the professor is the student's mother.

  • 13
    Even simpler: it is not the advisor's business to raise such an issue. If the student asks, the academic can provide some insight but never explicit advise on "what to do". It is the student's responsibility and decision.
    – user117109
    Commented Jun 10, 2020 at 17:01
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    Why your anecdotes are unconvincing: xkcd.com/1827 Commented Jun 11, 2020 at 0:33
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    @AnonymousPhysicist, Good point, but completely irrelevant here. The point is not through sufficient anyone can survive graduate program. But point is professors cannot predict the future performance of their students with any kind of meaningful accuracy. Two orthogonal points.
    – user39093
    Commented Jun 11, 2020 at 3:14
  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – cag51
    Commented Jun 12, 2020 at 2:46

I will argue for something like: "rarely, privately, in extraordinary circumstances, and likely only by tenured faculty".

I'm at an open-admissions community college, and for such colleges in the U.S., the average graduation rate stands perennially at around 20%. So it is a hard fact that most students are not prepared for college work and won't succeed. Also, many are confused and have poor executive functioning skills to determine what is best for their future. Official advising by the college is spotty and mostly focused by administration on "retention" (i.e., continued income stream) to the exclusion of other factors. I'm arguing that in certain cases the (tenured?) faculty are the only ones in a position to understand the student's long-term arc, the actual requirements of the academic major, and to give honest advice.

Others have provided anecdotes of success-after-incorrect-drop-advisement. Here's my counter-anecdote:

Within the last year, a colleague was mentoring/tutoring a math major who was having inordinate difficulty in the basic coursework: failed calculus multiple times, linear algebra multiple times, etc. (this itself is not rare). The student was keenly unhappy and unsuccessful but kept bashing their head against it. Finally my colleague opened up a big-picture discussion:

  • Faculty: "What do you want to use your math degree for?"
  • Student: "I really want to be a welder, and I was told I had to be good at math for that."
  • Faculty: "You don't need a math degree to be a welder. You can just go to trade school for that."
  • Student: "Really?"
  • Faculty: "Yes, really."

Now, the next day the student came back very emotional and said they were dropping out of college to go be a welder like they always wanted, and was incredibly sorry for wasting my colleague's time, etc. But in my view my colleague might have been responsible right there for the single biggest positive impact in someone's life that maybe anyone in my institution ever made. They saved the student years of coursework and lost time, possible continued tuition payments, relief of a huge emotional burden, and gave them permission to follow the path that they had always hoped for (but were somehow derailed by bad advice along the way).

I wouldn't recommend that my colleague tell anyone else on staff about this episode (for reasons explained in other answers). But I celebrated that as a huge win for the student, and I don't see that anyone else in the institution was going help them in this way. I also wouldn't advise that non-tenured faculty take this risk, which makes me feel bad about our system for that.

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    That’s a really good answer - upvoted (though it’s sad to hear about the poor outcomes at your college). But did your colleague really “recommend that the student drop out”? It sounds like the colleague merely gave the student information that the student didn’t have and helped the student reach a decision that was right for them. It’s worth stressing a fact that seems lost on many people here, which is that this debate isn’t about whether there are students who would benefit from dropping out - as your anecdote shows, such students certainly exist. ...
    – Dan Romik
    Commented Jun 11, 2020 at 7:09
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    ... Rather, the question is about whether it’s appropriate for a professor to assume that they know what’s best for the student with such a high level of accuracy that they can recommend a particular course of action in a matter involving a drastic, life-altering decision. Those are two separate questions, and your counter-anecdote only addresses the first one, but not the second.
    – Dan Romik
    Commented Jun 11, 2020 at 7:12
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    I think the summary of your anecdote is "discuss their career goals with them, ask questions and correct any misconceptions they may have using facts". The student wasn't told to drop out in that discussion, but rather decided that themselves.
    – NotThatGuy
    Commented Jun 11, 2020 at 9:10
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    @AnonymousPhysicist: Respectfully disagree; that does not match the situation on the ground. E.g., state officials report that 3/4 of incoming students cannot pass a 9th-grade level reading, writing, and/or math test (nytimes.com/2011/03/04/nyregion/04remedial.html). Some years ago our senior colleges here made the same claim as you, then a few years later gave up and washed their hands of these students. Commented Jun 11, 2020 at 14:47
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    Upvoted. That's precisely how it should be done. A discussion about options. Not an advice to drop out. The decision very clearly was taken here by the student. Commented Jun 12, 2020 at 0:18

I know of somebody with a good trajectory which had a bad period, and their supervisor suggested them to leave academia and to proceed outside of academia, without having insight in their past or track record. When I hear about such unpedagogical and tactless, ill-informed academics, I wonder whether the advice should not have gone the other way around.

Good people have been derailed, sometimes temporarily, sometimes permanently, by such advice. It's none of a professor's business to decide a student's career.

What the professor can do is to explain what the student needs to do to achieve certain goals, so that the student can take an informed decision as to how to develop their future.

  • 1
    It's true that a professor should not decide a student's career, but the question is about advising, not deciding for someone. Commented Jun 11, 2020 at 0:31
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    Good people have also become stuck in debt traps by advice to stay in college.
    – Allure
    Commented Jun 11, 2020 at 1:03
  • I understood OP that the student wasn't bad or stuck but rather frustrated because they have wrong expectations about what the university provides and what they need for their future career.
    – ljrk
    Commented Jun 11, 2020 at 9:11
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    @AnonymousPhysicist Advice by a prof is very weighty. You can easily demoralise people in that position and I have seen this done. I believe in self-responsibility, and that the student needs to understand the consequences of their decisions, and this is what the prof should provide. They should not suggest which of these routes to take, sorry. A parent may have this additional authority, but not a prof. Show the map and let the student decide. Commented Jun 11, 2020 at 12:14
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    @AnonymousPhysicist An advice by an authority has a lot of influence to override the individual's decision-making, except for very self-confident (or rebellious; that's not the same thing) individuals; I am not saying it's outright bullying, but, as supervisor, I have had to undo quite some damage in self-confidence generated in talented, but self-conscious students by previous teachers. It's unbelievable how supremely insensitive people can be. I stick to my response. Individuals have to be made aware that the ultimate decision is theirs to take. Parents may have a stake in it, not the prof. Commented Jun 11, 2020 at 15:21

If they do not learn much (because they are advanced or because they do better on their own),

Do not recommend dropping out for this reason. If your students are not learning much, this indicates the university needs to change to teach them better. It does not indicate the students need to leave.

if a degree will not help them with their specific career goals

Preparation for a particular career is not the main purpose of higher education. There are many other benefits to being educated besides having a career. If the student is enrolled in a program that only provides preparation for one career, it would be reasonable to suggest a more versatile program that would suit the student better.

When should a teacher recommend a student leave the university without a degree?

  • The student is in danger from being at the university.
  • Under the university's rules, it is impossible for the student to complete the degree.
  • The student can obtain better educational opportunities elsewhere. Personally I think the students' interest is more important than the university's finances.
  • The university will cease to award the degree before the student completes it.
  • The student has an ethical duty to be elsewhere, such as if they can provide emergency services during an emergency.

None of these things happen often.

  • 3
    I think the third bullet points is crucial. OP voices that the student is actually not necessarily bad but simply frustrated about what's provided by the university and has a career goal which has different prerequisites. If this is the root of their frustration, then they should remedy that, eg. by dropping out of the current studies and seek a different opportunity that's more aligned with their goal.
    – ljrk
    Commented Jun 11, 2020 at 9:14
  • 2
    These are valid reasons to drop out, but the professor is the wrong person to offer such advice. Even if the student explicitly asked their professor for advice, the correct thing to do is to refer the student to their academic advisor. E.g., if a degree is being shut down before a student will be able to complete it, the right thing to do is to discuss this with their academic advisor. Possibly the relevant department head would also need to be involved.
    – Brian
    Commented Jun 11, 2020 at 16:07
  • @Brian Depending on the institution and country, this might in fact be the prof in question or any prof. But this isn't clear from OPs wording.
    – ljrk
    Commented Jun 11, 2020 at 18:39
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    "Preparation for a particular career is not the main purpose of higher education. " This is the best answer to OP's question. Commented Jun 13, 2020 at 15:56

This question hits me personally. My answer is: never!

I have been advised by a student adviser at a Dutch university to stop trying to obtain a master's degree. This hurt me, but luckily I was stubborn enough to ignore it. A few years later, I graduated from computer science with a solid 7.8 GPA. More importantly, I think doing and finishing the study has been the best decision of my live.


This is a tough one.

College/University is a time when we expect the students to be mature adults, with solid executive function and decisionmaking ability. With that in mind, and given the power imbalance, we need to be super careful in offering unsolicited advice, especially of the "tough love" variety. How would you feel if your Dean/Department Chair told you, unsolicited, that they think your teaching job is not the right one for you and they suggest you leave academia?

At the same time, not all those students are those mature adults, or see the truths that should be staring them in the face. And we ought to and want to help them, and sometimes moving on sooner rather than later is clearly the best solution.

I think you can offer this type of advice only when asked for it, i.e. on the basis of the student wanting your advice as a mentor, not just from the privilege of your positional authority. If you feel up to it (time is limited, and we need to prioritize how we spend it...), show the student you care, ask them questions how they're enjoying and what they're getting out of the experience, how the degree will fit in with their long term aspirations, etc. If this leads to them genuinely asking for your advice, then you can give your tough love advice, but not before.

Finally, College culture varies tremendously as to the level of semi-structured mentoring provided to students to help bridge the "maturity gap" of suddenly being treated like adults. If some time of official mentorship/regular counselling does exist in your institution, and works well, you could reach out to the mentor for a conversation. However, I would carefully phrase it as you expressing your concern about what you heard (and may not be interpreting properly and have full context), and therefore asking what the mentor knows -- and wants to share -- about the student. This is as opposed to you sharing your conclusory opinion about the student, which would be as bad or worse than pushing your opinion on the student from a position of authority.

All of this is aspirational, with the goal of helping the student. I won't pretend academics don't sometimes get frustrated and say things suboptimally, or gossip in frustration with colleagues, "look at X, they shouldn't even be here!" We can debate how much that is out of line, but it's about making ourselves feel better, not helping the victim, so that's different from this question.


I want to give a different perspective than the US one, for completeness sake.

For the record, I'm based in Germany. Here the university, even Bachelors, is quite an academic study (although this is changing, but nobody really has a clear vision forward) and depending on the field a Bachelors, and more so a Masters, doesn't give any benefit when you're not going to be an academic (be it in your later job or because you enjoy the general education).

Frequently, in Computer Science, we have the case of people dreaming to be programmers or system administrators, something the Bachelor doesn't really prepare you for. Unfortunately, most do not make this realization after >4 years of frustration about the theoretical focus. However, there are institutions that provide you with the skills to become a programmer. Due to a rather wrong and twisted picture of what CS is, people don't even consider these.

If (not professor, but I regularly teach my own course at uni) I notice things like these, I try to clear up misunderstandings about it: "You won't learn these skills here, though" or "Yes, you need to learn higher maths in CS to go into academic computer sciences". I usually advice them to take 1,2 semesters to test waters and then decide while also showing them alternatives and emphasizing that going into a non-academic field is not less good, but equally valued.

So rather than blatantly saying "drop out" I do:

  • clear any misunderstandings about wrong expectations
  • focus on expectations and plans they have voiced
  • let them take a bit of time, maybe they change their viewpoint
  • make clear that dropping out isn't bad, you just pursue a different path. It's more comparable to switching majors.

I've also seen students who, after that talk, took those courses that they've failed again. But now with higher interest, as they recognized their value for CS while before they evaluated them w.r.t. programming. They then noticed that the course they dismissed as boring and useless is actually fun and adjusted their goal to become an academic.

But many don't want to become academics. We currently have a public chat for the whole department including everyone who's here, ie. students, secretaries, TAs, PhDs, profs, etc. with quite enlightening conversations. One was basically students saying that they wish university had been more clear about its goals upfront, as almost noone knows what CS is when starting the studies.

Note: As I view it (and have experienced it to be) profs and students are in this together, ideally knowing each other quite well. The profs aren't just there to hold lectures and then vanish into their offices. In this environment it's rather frequent that the prof is not only seen as a lecturer and examiner but advisor and mentor.

  • 1
    As someone who did a CS degree in the UK, I strongly disagree that it is not a good path to being a programmer. Sure, you can become a programmer by just doing a course in Python etc. but having the theoretical knowledge to underpin it is very helpful in becoming a good programmer rather than just learning a bunch of syntax and churning out code without any understanding of what is happening behind the scenes. It also helps to develop interests in a variety of different topics and if you find all that boring, you're probably not going to be a great programmer anyway.
    – JBentley
    Commented Jun 11, 2020 at 13:45
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    @JBentley: The programs larkey talks about are different than "just doing a course in Python etc." I know many great programers who do say that certain CS courses were theoretical, useless and boring.
    – user111388
    Commented Jun 11, 2020 at 16:39
  • @JBentley There are different programmes that have different foci, some more "practical" some more academic. It's not a bad path to become a programmer but it's not the only one and many students prefer a different one. You can also learn much about background without a university degree, here in Germany we have eg. FHs (tradeschool) that do give you background but tone down on things like 'lambda calculus' or 'primitive-recursive functions'.
    – ljrk
    Commented Jun 11, 2020 at 18:35

I think it depends on the student's level.

Graduate level? sure, be brutally honest and do tell students that they won't make the cut if they don't get serious about their work. They are wasting precious years of their youth otherwise. Especially since there are many things that you can do beside graduate studies that lead to a satisfying career, if your goal is not to be an academic.

Undergrad, I'd say let them figure it out. I was probably that student, especially the first 2 years of my undergrad. Then some things changed and I got my act together and graduated. I agree that many people would be better off without a college degree, especially in countries where you have to go into debt for it, but that's not your role as a professor to make that call.

  • 3
    "they won't make the cut if they don't get serious about their work" generally means "they need to get serious about their work". I would not interpret that as "they need to drop out", as the question asks about. In fact, the question specifically mentions the student getting good grades, so that part doesn't seem all that relevant here.
    – NotThatGuy
    Commented Jun 11, 2020 at 9:05

Cynically, professors never recommend students drop out of college (and departments fire anyone who does), because the student's tuition fees pays their salary.

Less cynically: I think the key thing to avoid when making this kind of recommendation is the impression that you know what the student wants better than they do. In turn, this means you should only offer the recommendation when they ask for it & when they are already unsure. Ideally you also offer the recommendation for reasons other than academic ability.

Some examples.

  1. Student is having financial difficulties. As you write, college is not cheap. If they're going into massive debt to pay for it, suggesting they keep at it could easily wind up destroying their lives. In this scenario, instead of outright suggesting they drop out, I'd suggest making sure they understand their finances. If they keep borrowing to pay for college, can they realistically pay for it? Work through the math with them, make sure they understand it, look at scholarships or bursaries if available, and (importantly) if they decide they can pay for it then they're right, and you should not suggest they drop out.

  2. Student's parent dies and the other parent requires someone to take care of them or someone needs to take over the family business. If they ask, you could work through the alternatives with them, but "I guess there's no option except to drop out" should be fine. There was an answer to a similar question a few years ago suggesting the student quit, and it's at 94 upvotes as of time of writing.

  • 1
    [Cynical Option] My advice would not have changed if I were at a German university which do not depend on fees. The rest of the response I mostly agree, except for actually saying something like "I guess there's no option except to drop out". I really think such an action advice is inappropriate. I do not see the "drop out" suggestion linked, rather a suggestion to realign the academic career. That's not "drop out" or "quitting" advice, thus the answer here is misleading. Otherwise (and without the cynics comment that makes assumptions about the profs motivation) I would have upvoted. Commented Jun 12, 2020 at 0:39
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    As a practical matter, for the good of OP's own career this is the correct answer. They seem to dramatically underestimate the degree to which their employer will value paying customers over staff (assuming OP is not tenured). OP literally wants to put himself in the position of a waiter standing outside a restaurant yelling to customers, "You should leave, the food here sucks!"
    – tbrookside
    Commented Jun 12, 2020 at 20:13

You should never make such a recommendation. In many cases, your schools probation policies and separation policies will kick in. That's what they're designed to do, and there's little reason for you to get in the way. Decades of experience went into those policies, and they're often pretty accurate with respect to a student's ability to attain enough credits to graduate.

You should perhaps guide students in such a situation to counselors who are trained to guide students.

In my academic advising role in engineering, sometimes I encounter students who have a lot of trouble getting better than a C- in engineering classes. The approach I take with them depends very much on the vibe I get from the student. If I sense that the student is OK with this situation, and is willing to work very hard to pass courses, I'd let the student continue, but try to guide the student to some more practical courses or experiences that might help the student more aware of why they're valuable and to help them find their niche for employment (high grades aren't the only valuable things to an employer -- in fact, a student without the best academics who has the wherewithal to stick it out can be a wonderful employee!).

If it's pretty clear that the student is absolutely miserable and anxious, and dreads going to classes every day, I might start suggesting that they might be happier in another major, and start working with professional advisors in the school of engineering. In fact, if they can't get over a certain GPA in a particular subset of our courses, they can't be considered for admission to the degree program, which forces them to find another major. This largely accomplishes the same thing, but my experiences come from the bad old days when we granted "conditional" admits that dragged the process out. The last thing I want for a student is a miserable college experience.

We also ask our students to submit career plans. This provides another discussion opportunity, if the student's goals are not in line with their portfolio. In this case, I have a frank discussion, and encourage the student to speak with one of our preprofessional advisors (if a student with a 2.5 intends on going to med school, for example), or a career counselor.

In very rare cases, some situations pop up in which a student is in a situation incompatible with successful completion of a degree, such as a mental health crisis that needs to be resolved before they can successfully resume course work, or they seem like they might be a danger to themselves. In this case, once again, I'm not qualified to make any judgments, but we have mechanisms to get the student to resources that are.

In ALL of your conversations with students, I recommend a "let's find a way that you can be successful" approach, but they are adults, and make their own choices. Find resources at your school that you can reach out to to get the students the services they need.

  • 1
    It's sounds like your school has a very nice set of procedures; not all do. E.g.: I'm curious what you'd suggest if a declared science major failed first-semester calculus or programming two or three or four times in a row, and no such sequence of failures at a given school would ever trigger a probation/separation event? Commented Jun 12, 2020 at 0:53

When I was about 10 yo, a medical doctor told my father that I would never be an engineer because I was colorblind. He said that in front of me. Fuck you, doctor - from me, an engineer.

A psychologist at school (when I was maybe 15) told me that I should look at art studies (or something like that) because I would never be good in math and science. Fuck you, psychologist - also from me, a PhD in physics.

Please do not be that one about whom someone, someday, will think "fuck you" - because they may really take to their heart your recommendation and regret afterwards.

By that, I am not saying that your recommendation is necessarily wrong. It should just be kept to yourself because you may not know why they are seeking the degree in the first place.

Should they come to you for advice, you can of course show all the possible situations you anticipate, including the ones where they could be better elsewhere. It is fair to show them the whole palette of your thoughts at their request.

Finally, you mention that

if a degree will not help them with their specific career goals, I think that they should drop out

Are you sure it will not?

  • On what planet does color blindness stop you from being an engineer? I would also recommend people not to assume too much out of other branches of learning. I once did a questionnaire at my university and turns out that most people did not in fact know what other departments actually do. Though most of them rated their own knowledge quite high. I should probably redo that and publish a paper...
    – joojaa
    Commented Jun 13, 2020 at 7:07

The person asking the original question may be asking masking a situation in which the student is doing poorly and he isn't going to make it. In other words, he may not be able to graduate and just step in bigger, major financial date. If this is the case, you have several options.

Options #1, are you willing to put some time in to help this student? If he's doing poorly, it's more than just that he can't do the work. Everyone has the capability to do the work. They just usually don't have the work ethic. Or, something else is going on in their lives. It can takes years to develop the necessary work ethic and the kid doesn't have that much time. You would need to baby him by treating him like a high school student and forcing him to attend his classes. He will pass his classes and graduate but it will take some time on your part.

Option #2, you don't have the time to help the student. You can explain it to his academic advisor that he needs someone to make him accountable and he will be able to do the work. You see a lot of students turn out this way. They don't too well in college because it's all about self-initiative. But, when they start working, they are fine because if they don't get into work by 9 pm, they are going to get reamed. If the student can't create an atmosphere of accountability in college, then he will fail but it really isn't your responsibility.

These next options are if the student is doing really well and you think he can do better by starting work earlier. I have no experience with these types of jobs. All the jobs I know all require a degree. Especially corporate jobs in which these are hundreds of applicants for one job, the minimum requirement is a college degree and so your resume is simple thrown in the trash even before someone gets to see it. Maybe others can chime in but I wouldn't just rule out a degree so easily. And, I say this even though I'm one of the people who truly believe that college degrees are a waste of money. Most student do not learn anything that they are going to apply in their work.

  • 1
    You have to assume that the person asking the question means what they say. Otherwise there's no point asking it in the first place, is there? Commented Jun 11, 2020 at 17:58
  • You are assuming that what you are saying is true, so that is why there will be no point. But, what if they are asking the question in a round about way so they won't feel bad for the student. Or, possibly more likely, the student won't find the teacher asking the question about him on StackExchange! So, the point is the professor really wants to know all the different possible perspectives! Or, maybe they want us to read between the lines. Commented Jun 11, 2020 at 18:47
  • 1
    @john If you want to start second guessing everything, then there are million more scenarios that you could dream up and try to answer. That is just insane. Commented Jun 12, 2020 at 0:51
  • I don't mean this in a condescending way so please don't take it like that. You really think that considering the possibility that the above author might have been fudging the facts a little bit in order to stay anonymous is a big leap in logic? You ever watch the movie, Interstellar? Remember when the robot says "Absolute honesty isn't always the most diplomatic nor the safest form of communication with emotional beings." Also, you said there could be a million other scenarios. What other scenarios can there be? Commented Jun 12, 2020 at 16:17

Never, because it's a bad idea to do something that might get you fired. Today's college degree courses at today's prices are inappropriate for most students, and students often have little understanding of what a degree course is really about before starting it. You can't fix these problems by giving advice to individual students.

However, even though degree courses are inappropriate for many careers, employers increasingly require applicants to have a college degree before their application is considered. The system is broken in many ways. Rather than risk your job by giving advice which will provoke hostility in many people (see above responses), do what little you can to improve the system by discussing education issues with colleagues and perhaps publishing articles outlining possible improvements.

  • 3
    Hmmm. Never, because its a bad idea to do something that might destroy someone's life.
    – Buffy
    Commented Jun 11, 2020 at 15:21
  • Wow your answer provided zero consideration for the student. It is all about me, my job. Commented Jun 12, 2020 at 0:50

Do nothing unless you are really really altruistic person and certain you are right.

The other answers are harsh, and this is only a minor sample of problems you will see in real life if you decide to advise somebody to drop out.

Even if we assume you can precisely determine students future goals/career your problem is that facts do not matter.

University is selling a product, if you get in a way you are a problem.

Parents/kids have this romantic notion of getting a college degree (what is 40k in student loans when you are following your dreams), if you point out that logically education they are getting is not worth $40k you will be the problem.

So all this depends on your personal morality/certainty you are right, if I were you I would offer my opinion only if asked explicitly, while making sure this is discussed in a private setting.

Life is not a Hollywood movie, do not expect doing the right will be rewarded or acknowledged.

  • Being certain that you are right and being right are two very different things. This is the core issue here. A truly altruistic person would hopefully be humble enough to recognize that about their own fallibility.
    – Dan Romik
    Commented Jun 12, 2020 at 22:28

What any advisor is ethically bound to do, is to discuss the paths that are most favorable to the also ethical goals of the student. If for example, the best path for a particular student based on their goals was to take a position offered to them somewhere that prevents their continuing school, you don't say "I think you should drop out." Instead, you say, "it looks like that position might be your best path. It really seems to fit what you want to get out of life. You should consider taking it."

In other words, avoid telling a student what to not do. Instead discuss the best options for what they might do, potentially including options that might result in the student dropping out.

  • Disagreeing and downvoting is appropriate when you believe an answer is bad, but it is helpful to leave a note why. What is incorrect or inappropriate about this? I can't imagine a case where it is inappropriate to try to act in the best interests of a student. Commented Jun 13, 2020 at 17:34

For students who have borrowed money to study, correlation suggests that completing the degree is better for their finances.

The probability of defaulting on student loans is inversely related to the amount of money borrowed. Students who enrol briefly and drop out are not able to repay their loans. Students who persist longer and borrow more money are more able to repay their loans. While correlation is not necessarily causation, it does suggest that completing a degree is better for personal finance.

Of course money is not the only reason to get a degree.

  • 5
    Can you cite your sources? And which country(s) are those statistics about?
    – user111388
    Commented Jun 11, 2020 at 16:50

There are two reasons a professor might make such a radical recommendation:

  • underperformance, for circumstances the university cannot take responsibility
  • misintention: the student enrolled with a misunderstanding or poor rationale, the latter which should have been caught by the university.

Everything else is the responsibility of the university.

  • How might the university catch this? In universities I know, you go to the administrative desk, show that you passed high school and then you are enrolled.
    – user111388
    Commented Jun 11, 2020 at 16:49
  • @user111388: then fix your university. That approach assumes that a university education is right for them, but a trade school could be equally right.
    – Marxos
    Commented Jun 11, 2020 at 19:37
  • Yozr statement sounds like something was wrong with those universities. The idea is that everybody should be able to study whatever they want (as long as they have the high school completed), which is a great idea and something I fully endorse. Of course, there are drawbacks, eg that the uni cañnot catch those things.
    – user111388
    Commented Jun 11, 2020 at 20:51
  • @user111388: Being able to study whatever you want is something libraries are for. Just because people want to learn doesn't mean a university education is the right path. It's a big investment on everyone's part. The wrong rationale leads to disappointment and liabilities.
    – Marxos
    Commented Jun 12, 2020 at 0:34

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