As college parents, or potential college parents, we want our students to have a successful college career. We hope that our student’s transition to college will go smoothly, that he will excel academically, make friends, be happy socially, and ultimately graduate to find a fulfilling career. During the senior year of high school we may already be visualizing that next commencement ceremony. Having the dream and the vision for our student is important – it may be what keeps us going through all of those tuition payments. But is there anything that you can do, while your student is still in high school, and beyond the admissions process, to help move him toward the success that you hope for?
There is a lot of material available to students about preparing for college. There are countless books, websites, programs, lectures, and consulting services offered to help students as they move toward college. Many of these services help students decide what high school classes to take, how to prepare for the SAT or ACT, how to select colleges and conduct college visits, how to finance an education and acquire loans. There are lists and lists available of what to bring to college and how to furnish the ultimate dorm room. However, there are some less tangible, less obvious ways in which parents can help their students be prepared for all that college entails.
No student will be perfectly prepared for everything she encounters in college, and no amount of preparation will guarantee success. But there are some things that parents can do, and important conversations that parents and students can have, while students are still in high school, that will help make things go more smoothly when your student leaves home. Help your student prepare for successful college life by considering some of the following during that last year of high school.
- Buy your student a good alarm clock and make her responsible for getting herself up and moving in the morning. If you are still waking your student up – perhaps multiple times – to help her get out of the door on time, help her learn to deal with this herself. This is a great time to begin to practice the skill and responsibility of getting moving and of judging necessary time in the morning. It may seem like a small thing, but one of the major issues that many students face in college is class attendance – and many students miss classes because they sleep through them.
- Help your student begin to develop good time management skills. Many high school students lead very busy lives, but their time is often very structured and scheduled. Students spend the day in school, participate in extracurricular activities either in or out of school, work at jobs, volunteer in the community. Your student may not have had to plan a great deal of free time. Help your student think about using a planner and blocking out his time. Help him look at his entire week and think about how to break projects into manageable units. He may already do this automatically, but consciously thinking about a plan for time management will help him be prepared for dealing with the many more hours he will need to organize in college. Good time management may be one of the most important skills necessary for college success.
- Make sure your student knows how to back up all of his computer data. College students potentially write hundreds of papers and assignments. Much of their academic lives may be documented on their computers. Backing up computer data and saving all college papers is an essential skill.
- Teach your student the important daily life skills she may need. If she is not already doing it, teach her to do her own laundry. Make sure she knows how to cook a few simple meals – even if she plans to use a college meal plan.
- Let your student be responsible for making necessary appointments and phone calls. Let her schedule her next doctor or dentist appointment. Learning to be responsible for thinking ahead and schedule appointments will be an important and useful skill as she needs to advocate for herself in college. Being confident in that ability heading off to college will help.
- Talk to your student about money. Involve him in college financing thinking and planning. Talk about whether or not he should have a credit card, and how to use one responsibly. Talk about debit cards. Make sure he knows how to use on-line banking and to balance his checking account. Many students find daily money management stressful, and many students acquire huge credit card bills. Help your student be financially savvy before he heads off.
- Talk to your student realistically and honestly about drinking and drugs. This may not be an easy conversation. Be realistic. “Don’t drink” probably won’t help, and “Do what you want” probably won’t help either. Talk about “safe” drinking, the dangers of binge drinking, drinking and driving. Your student will probably face many difficult decisions at college. Help him at least be prepared and armed with some information and prior thought.
- Encourage your student to stay challenged academically during senior year. Aside from whatever she does for college admissions, encourage her to continue to challenge herself so that she continues to prepare herself for the academic rigors of college. Students who slack off senior year may find it more difficult to readjust during freshman year of college. Encourage her to think about her high school classes in terms of what she is learning, and her learning style and techniques, rather than simply as a means to college admissions.
- Ask your student why he wants to go to college. Help him explore his goals. Having clear goals (not necessarily specific career goals yet) will help him have a clear purpose and not just attend college as a “next step.”
- Help your student begin to think about action plans that will help her achieve her goals. Goals are helpful, but it is important to know what steps (however small they may be) will move toward the goal. As your student faces the many decisions she will need to make at college – about time management, course selection, extracurriculars, friendships, social choices and free time – it will help to have clear steps toward the ultimate goal.
Your college student will face many transition issues in his first semester and year at college. Some will go smoothly, and others may be rocky. You can help your student be better prepared for college life with some careful planning and conversations during the final year of high school. Then you will have more confidence in his ability to adjust, and you will have more confidence in stepping back from your caretaking to your coaching role.