You are a student but you are not studying

Have you ever been tempted to hide from your parents that you failed an exam?
Have you ever told your housemates about study groups you never attended?
Do you conceal from the outside world that you are not studying?
And this for years and years.

For various reasons, you quit your studies but you may feel shame, fear or insecurity about it.

Don’t hesitate any longer and try to break free from this vicious circle with the help of a dean, student psychologist or me.

About me

For many years I worked as a teacher, trainer, supervisor and study coach with students of the Teacher Training Programme 2nd degree at Hogeschool Rotterdam.

I have done this in various contexts, for example, teaching person development related to professional practice, internship coach, peercoach trainer, supervisor and coach of long-term students.

Teaching and guiding students to become professionals and, in the case of the long-term students, reaching the finish line, has always been my passion. After my recent retirement, it still is.
I love being able to contribute to it.

I am currently working on creating awareness of the existence of the pretend students in Delft.

In cooperation with the five major student associations in Delft, I have started to bring the concept of ‘pretend student’ to their attention. Also I talk to national parties about this.

Anyone who is in any way affected by this, I recommend contacting me.


When you have been pretending to study for a (long) time (also known as pretend student), the step of coming out is often very difficult.
It sometimes seems ‘easier’ not to say anything to the outside world. Confessing does not seem like an option. You continue in your old ‘safe’ pattern without breaking out of the vicious circle.
The shame of coming out is too great.

With my counseling experience and motivation for the subject, I want to try to break this pattern with you.

Some questions may help you in the meantime:
– What do you think is the reason for pretending to study?
– What choice(s) preceded this?
– Since when have you been pretending to the outside world?
– What expectations do you have towards me?

During the first session, we will discuss the above-mentioned questions, we will make a customized plan to expose it and we will discuss the possible further progress of your study.

You can expect full dedication, respect, discretion and expertise from me in this.
I hope you will tell your story openly and honestly.

Some guidelines for the immediate environment

I can well imagine that you are shocked to discover that your child or someone else close to you has not been studying for some time and that you did not know about it.
Below are some suggestions that may serve as support.

* If possible, try to listen to the story quietly

* If possible, try to listen to the story quietly.

* Ask questions, but in moderation.

* For the person involved, coming forward with the truth is a huge step, keep this in mind. It may be that he/she/it sees no other way out, this is a desperate situation.

* Try to offer safety, in whatever form.

* Do not jump straight into solutions, they will come later.

* Take the time to realize everything in its full extent and to be sad, scared, angry and disappointed, for example.

* Keep the parental role! Do not become a study coach/supervisor.

* Try to give the person involved something to hold on to by providing the information on this website at a time when he/she/it is ready for it.

Never pretend again

Written by: Mieke Bosch
Published in: Magazine for alumni student association Virgiel in Delft

During the time I worked as a study counsellor in higher education, I was confronted several times with students who registered for their studies year after year but achieved no study results at all, even though they told the outside world that everything was going well. These are students who pretend to study: either by pretending to study when they do not, or who study but lie about exam results and study progress. They are also called “pretend students,” or “ghost students.

They manage to keep this hidden from everyone and lie about it to their parents, friends and loved ones. This can go on for years on end, with the result that their heads get so full of remembering what they have told whom, that they get totally bogged down in it. After all, there is no way back. In some cases, there is even suicide.

For them, telling and going public with it is impossible. Afraid that everything will fall apart, that no one will accept them anymore, that no one will trust them. They experience enormous feelings of shame and guilt and feel insecurity and fear. The great impact of this pretend studying in the lives of these young people results in mostly physical complaints and often depression and social and family problems. They often experience total isolation.

“I deprived myself of the opportunity to have good social contact with people during the period when I was lonely. If I had just been open it would have all been a lot simpler.”

How many of these students it concerns is not yet sufficiently known; no research has been done (yet). But during lectures at student associations and universities, the subject evokes recognition. Many people know someone who this has happened to.

So research is lacking for now, but through the conversations I have had so far with a number of pretend students, I can share some experiences here. First of all, the ways in which students end up on this hopeless path are very diverse. Aspects such as pressure and high parental expectations play an important role. In addition, the influence of social media asserts itself, especially the message that life should be challenging and great and ambition is the key to success.

“It can be pretty lonely. Half the day you don’t see anyone because you’re supposedly studying and the other half of the day you talk to people but lie to them.”

Important is how you present yourself to those around you, what impression they have of you. Keeping up with society is a precondition for a successful life and a large circle of friends. Doubt is not an option, and failure is certainly not; it is the outside that matters. People rarely ask how you are really doing.

That outside pressure doesn’t have to be a problem, but what if you can’t keep up? If you can’t meet the expectations or pressure of those around you? Or if a sibling is doing better than you? Or, more subconsciously, you feel like you have to earn your parents’ unconditional love? We see these feelings above average in pretend students. We also often see that pretend students are unsure about the achievability of things from a younger age, that they avoid problems, in other words exhibit conflict-avoiding behavior. It indicates an early learned doubt about one’s own ability. This doubt can have many causes: there can be high expectations or a lack of self-confidence, little motivation for a choice of study or profession, or perfectionism. Perfectionism can also have a paralyzing effect, resulting in postponement and not finishing things for fear that they will never be good enough (paralyzing perfectionism). To cope with these negative feelings, it is therefore not surprising that in a number of cases alcohol, drugs, gambling and gaming also play a role.

“You cover up a lecture you didn’t go to and then an exam you didn’t pass. That escalates. I completely neglected my studies for six months and then started doing other things as a pastime. Taking long bike rides, walking a bit and wandering around town.”

In my speaking sessions for student associations, I advocate that people dare to ask each other the sincere question of how someone is doing. Who ever asks a follow-up question to the eternal answer that everything is okay? Who provides a safe environment for the (fellow) student, an environment in which students dare to come out in front of the fact that something is really not working out, and that they get stuck, for whatever reason.

Finally, how do these students get out of this? The way out of the misery is not a matter of an hour of talk and done-is-bad. After all, mostly learned and ingrained behaviors underlie this tragedy. But how important it is for these students to get their lives (and studies) back on track! One piece of advice to students might be to contact a student advisor/supervisor/dean or me as I specialize in this topic. Another idea is to confide in someone close.

Below are some suggestions you can use if you suspect someone close to you is a pretend student and you start a conversation with them:

  • try to listen to the story calmly
  • ask questions, but in moderation
  • coming forward with the truth is a huge step for the person involved, keep this in mind. It may be that he/she sees no other way out, this is a precarious situation
  • try to offer safety, in one form or another
  • do not immediately shoot in solutions, they come later
  • take the time to realize everything in its full extent and to be, for example, sad, scared, angry and disappointed
  • try to give the person involved something to hold on to by providing the information on this website when he/she is ready for it.

I hope by writing this article that the reader has gained more insight into this topic.

Personal stories

I come from a migrant family where hard work was the norm. My father, a strict, hard-working man, was the mainstay of our family. My mother, gentle and illiterate, raised us with love and devotion. As the middle of eight children, along with my twin sister, I felt the pressure to make my parents proud. In elementary school, I nurtured a dream. I wanted to be a pilot.
My future seemed bright and full of promise. Everything revolved around being a pilot. My presentation on airplanes earned me a 10, a reward for my determination and passion. But fate had other plans. A visit to the ENT-doctor revealed the harsh reality: my poor hearing and the need to wear glasses would make my dream of flying difficult, if not impossible.

After elementary school, I entered a rather elite high school. I was a misfit at first and often felt left out, a stranger in a world of privilege and opportunity. Although I made friends, I remained lonely in my struggle to belong.

During my high school years, I was determined to pursue my plan-B dream of studying at the Agricultural University in Wageningen. Once enrolled, my father insisted that I continue to live at home and travel back and forth to Wageningen. A decision that broke my heart. Out of stubbornness, I then decided to choose a study, close to home, that I had never heard of at the time. I chose this study based on my excellence in mathematics.

Where my friends found their way into the world of studying, I was left behind, caught up in my own insecurities and doubts. I started lying to my parents, friends and everyone around me about the progress of my studies. I found distraction in club life, where I became socially active and found a sense of accomplishment.

A fire in my home became a turning point, a wake-up call that forced me to face the truth. I could no longer fool myself. With courage and determination, I changed course. I quit my studies where there was no progress anyway and started working. Most crazy jobs I took. I never dared tell my family and friends about the fact that my studies had been on-hold for years. When asked about the how and what, I resolutely brushed it off with a short, meaningless answer: ‘it wasn’t going well’ or ‘I wasn’t happy and I didn’t feel like dragging my feet’.

After a somewhat tumultuous beginning of my turnaround I found my happiness and stability in being together with my better half and at her encouragement I started doing what gave me satisfaction at that moment: I started teaching in secondary education and at the same time I studied part-time to get my certificate.

I now have my second-grade certification and am currently working on a first-grade degree. I teach at a very nice school in a wonderful environment. I consider myself lucky to have a family with two children in the city where I was born and raised.

It started out of laziness; the first few years of my studies went quite easily for me, which made me feel that I could slow down. I did this by missing lectures more often and “skipping” a study group, for example because of a group assignment I didn’t feel like doing at the time. The non-attendance then caused me to skip the following sessions as well, because after all, work continued with the already formed groups on a particular assignment. This went from bad to worse (missing more groups, therefore failing exams, therefore not meeting certain requirements for participating in other courses). This continued to the point that although I was still enrolled, I very rarely attended college (I still attended college sporadically and then usually left the session during the break).

My surroundings did realize that I was not a very motivated student, but because I also worked several days a week in a job that was also related to my field of study and regularly stayed with my then girlfriend in another city, my days and social life were still well filled. The days I was “free” (that is, the days I should have been studying) I filled with sleeping in and exercising. Although this was “pleasant” pastime, it obviously did not feel that way at the time; I was aware that what I was doing was not right and I felt guilty about it, so I never really enjoyed the free time.

Looking back, I especially regret the wasted time (and money) and the fact that I lied to the people around me about my (lack of) studying. Especially also because my surroundings never pushed me to (continue to) study; if I had indicated that I wanted to quit, I am sure they would have simply accepted this. The reason I have not done this is mainly the expectation I had: that I should be able to do this.

By now I know that the structure as offered at university (with a lot of self-study, a lot of working in groups, a wide range of subjects, much of it very theoretical) just doesn’t suit me very well, and that’s fine.

I don’t know if anything or anyone could have helped me turn things around for the better during this period, but I would have liked to have come to the realization earlier (with or without someone’s help) that quitting is sometimes the best option.

Are you struggling and can’t figure it out?
Get in touch!

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