The step from high school to college may actually be better termed a large leap. Students need to make important changes in their expectations, approaches, habits, attitudes and responsibilities. For students who are moving away and living at school the challenges are even greater. Although most students understand that there will be significant changes in their social world and in their independence and responsibilities, many students — and their parents — underestimate the significance of the academic differences between high school and college.
Although they may be ready for college in many ways, a portion of students may not be ready for college level academic work. Most colleges recognize that some students need to improve academic skills or fill in gaps in order to enhance their chances for academic success. These students needing extra readiness skills may be placed in ”developmental courses”. Although these courses may have different titles or designations at different institutions, their purpose is the same: to help the student gain proficiency in basic skills in order to help him succeed.
College parents may be initially disappointed to learn that their college student has been placed in a developmental course. However, they need to remember that these courses were designed to improve their student’s academic skills necessary for college level work. They will also help the student discover strategies necessary for success. They are definitely not a waste of time, but will help build solid foundational skills. Parents need to respect the college’s expertise in determining the proper placement for their student.
Students may be placed in developmental courses based on SAT/ACT scores, high school GPA, or some independent assessment administered by the college. Depending on the student’s background and skills, developmental courses may be required in several areas, or only in one subject. School policies regarding credit for developmental courses vary. Students may receive full credit toward graduation, or the courses may not count toward graduation credit. In some schools these courses may not apply toward graduation, but will apply toward full-time student status — important for housing, financial aid, athletic eligibility or qualifying for health insurance. It is possible that a student who is assigned to several developmental classes may need extra time to finish a degree — possibly an extra semester or extra summer classes — but it is important for students, and their parents, to see the bigger picture rather than focus on an absolute four year graduation plan.
The goal of developmental classes is to help the students work up to college level classes as soon as possible. Classes are often smaller, with more individual teacher attention. They provide students with the opportunity to have a strong beginning to their college career, to begin with a strong GPA and increased self-esteem. Students who successfully complete developmental classes are not only more ready for college level work, they may leave these classes with a better image of themselves as college students.
Parents can help students understand that being assigned to a developmental class during the first year of college is not a failure. It is a step in the direction of academic success and the student’s self-image as a prepared, and successful, college student.