Soft Skills, Strong Success: Fifteen Skills for College Readiness

You assume that by the time that your student graduates from high school he is ready to head to college and succeed.  For both students and their parents, a great deal of time, energy, anxiety, and often money is spent on the admissions process and getting in to just the right college. Less focus has been given to whether students are ready to succeed in college once they get there.

According to David Conley, founder and CEO of the Educational Policy Improvement Center (EPIC) ”High schools are designed to get students to graduate . . . They are not necessarily designed to enable students to succeed in college . . . The time has come to think past admission to academic success.” Certainly, high schools need to do their part, but can parents help?  What can parents do to help their students be ready for college?  How do parents know whether their student is ready for college?

College readiness consists of many things, but goes well beyond high school courses taken and grades received.  Students need to be academically ready for college, and high schools are working harder to understand what that means and to meet the demands required.  In our last post, we discussed academic readiness for college.

But college readiness also includes some of the ”softer skills” that may be harder for schools to teach.  According to David Conley, college readiness is, ”the degree to which previous educational and personal experiences have equipped [students] for the expectations and demands they will encounter in college.”  This is where parents can step in. Parents can help take the lead for helping students in the area of personal experiences that help to prepare them for college.  Beginning early to work with your student to master some of the following skills will help him balance his academic readiness and his ”habits of mind.”

College Readiness Skills

Talk to your student about the following skills and how he feels about his abilities.  Help him identify two or three areas in which he might focus and improve.  Better yet, start early with your child in helping develop these skills within the family context.

  • Self advocacy — Help your student learn how to identify his needs and be able to explain them to others.  Help him learn how to ask for help when he needs it.
  • Responsibility — College students are held accountable for their actions in academic, personal and social contexts.  Help your student learn how to take responsibility for himself and his actions.
  • Self managementTime management is perhaps one of the most important keys to success in college.  However, self management includes all aspects of taking control of your life including monitoring your own health, eating habits, self care, laundry, finances, etc.  Managing your own life on your own is an important step toward self reliance and success.
  • Communication — Your student will need to sharpen both her ability to listen and to express herself.  She will need to learn to communicate effectively with other students, roommates, and faculty members.  Help her learn important communication skills and to value the importance of communication in her life.
  • Teamwork and collaboration — Working effectively with others is increasingly important in today’s world.  Your student will be expected to complete many projects as part of a group or team.  Learning to work effectively with others, and to emerge as a leader in groups will be important.
  • Critical thinking and problem solving — Your student will be asked to work well beyond the restatement of facts or classroom material.  The ability to think critically and analytically, both in the classroom and in other aspects of her life, will be important.
  • Study skills — College students work more independently than many high school students and often cover much more material.  The ability to organize work, read carefully, prepare for tests and plan and write papers is key.
  • Comfort with technology — Technology is not only continuing to be a growing presence in all of our lives, but is increasingly becoming a standard tool in many college classes.  Your student will need skills and comfort beyond surfing the internet and texting.  Help her do what she can to become comfortable with online research, e-mail communication, and various software programs.  These are all tools that she will need to succeed in college.
  • Tolerate ambiguity — Not everything taught or learned in college is black and white, or crystal clear.  Students who are better able to understand and work in a ”gray” area will be less uncomfortable and will be able to understand subtleties better.
  • Comfort with diversity — One of the exciting and beneficial things about going to college is the opportunity to be exposed to many different types of people and many different ways of living, thinking and being.  Students who have some intercultural competence or who are open to new people will benefit most from the college experience.
  • Innovation and creative thinking — Being willing and able to ”think outside the box” will help your student be able to apply new approaches to all that he does.  College professors often demand that students go beyond facts or even simply understanding, and use the ideas that they learn in new ways.
  • Ability to work independently — Your student will be required to do larger blocks of work on her own and to keep track of her work and responsibilities.  Students who are used to working on their own and keeping track of their own work will be better armed for a college learning lifestyle.
  • Ability to follow directions — In addition to being an innovator and creative thinker, students need to be able to follow both simple and more complex directions.  Instructions about how to do an assignment may be very specific, deadlines will matter, and your student will need to be able to ”play by the rules”.
  • Have personal goals — Some studies have suggested that students who have strong personal goals, even if those goals change over time, are better able to be engaged and stay on track.
  • Be engaged — Students who participate actively in their own education, who expect to work hard and stay involved, will not only learn more and do better in their classes, but will also have a more satisfying experience overall.

There is no magic secret to college readiness or college success, but students who have been given a strong academic background and who work to hone their softer skills will be ready to learn from and experience all that college has to offer.  Parents can help guide their students toward these important areas of focus.

Related Posts:

Ten Things You Can Do To Increase Your High School Student’s Academic College Readiness

Partnering with Your Student’s High School for College Success

 Does Your Student Know How to Advocate for What She Needs?

Using Senior Year to Prepare Your Student for College Success

If your student is in high school, check out our e- 60 Practical Tips for Using the High School Years to Prepare for College Success. This guide is not about getting in to college. It is about how to work now to help your student succeed once they get to college. Open the door and get the conversations started!

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7 thoughts on “Soft Skills, Strong Success: Fifteen Skills for College Readiness”

  1. hello,I’m a college student from China.could i reproduce this useful article (Soft Skills, Strong Success: Fifteen Skills for College Readiness) ?

    • Wendy – You are most welcome to reproduce this article with appropriate attribution. Please cite College Parent Central and include a link to the website, if possible. Glad you found it useful.

  2. You’re right, Bridgett – and not just for students with disabilities, although it may be more obvious for them. So many students today have difficulty recognizing what they need and knowing how to go about advocating for it.

  3. This is a great list. The issue of self-advocacy is hugely important, especially for students with disabilities. They often go through public school with their parent as their advocate, and rightly so. When they enter college, it is essential that they learn how to become their own self advocate. Actually, research shows that this is the main factor in success for students with disabilities.


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