Your high school student has their sights set on college. You and your student are focused on finding just the right school, getting accepted, and figuring out how to make it all financially possible. But are you assuming that your student is prepared to succeed in college once they get there? Getting into college only opens the door. How will your student do once they get to college?
College readiness is a complex characteristic and is not easily defined. Simplistically, it refers to being prepared to succeed in college. More intricately, however, readiness includes not only academic mastery of key content and academic behaviors, but also key cognitive strategies and skills. There are some important things that you and your student can do to increase academic readiness for college level work. In our next article, we’ll look at some of the “softer” skills that will help your student be prepared.
One of the mistakes that many students, and their parents, make is to assume that graduation from high school equates to being ready to do college level work. Some sources have suggested that as many as one third of entering college students require remedial or developmental classes before undertaking college material. The National Curriculum Survey conducted by ACT in 2009 asked both high school and college instructors the question, “How well prepared are high school students for college level work?” Of those high school teachers responding, 91% estimated that high school students are well prepared, while only 26% of college instructors thought that high school students are well prepared. Clearly a gap exists and it hasn’t changed much in the ten years since this survey was done.
Helping your student get ready
So if high school graduation alone may not prepare your student for success, what can you, as a parent, do to help increase your student’s readiness? Certainly, high schools need to do their part, but you can also help. Consider some of the following suggestions:
- Help your student understand that college level work will be different from high school work. Your student will be required to study more independently, may be asked to think more deeply and move beyond facts, and will likely be expected to take more charge of their own academic career, work more independently and at a faster pace. Your student can begin in high school to practice this upper level thinking and approach.
- Help your student understand the importance of showing up every day. As simple as it sounds, attendance is key. Your student will not only gain more from their high school classes, but they will be practicing a habit that can make a big difference in college when attendance may be less monitored, but matters in covering and understanding material.
- Monitor your student’s progress. Make sure that your student is meeting expectations and requirements all through their high school career.
- Advocate for resources that your student may need – or better yet, help your student learn how to advocate for their needs. Make sure that they have what they need to succeed.
- Help your student form some realistic expectations about college level work, effort required, and their abilities. Some students struggle in college with dashed dreams because their expectations are unrealistic. There is a fine line for parents between encouraging students to “aim for the stars” and helping them to be honest about their abilities.
- Understand the courses in the high school curriculum and what tests your student will need to take. Ask what each high school class will do for your student. Keep in mind not only tests such as the SAT or ACT for college admission, but also placement tests that may be required by colleges. Help your student understand how their high school classwork may affect their future placement.
- Encourage your student to become an active participant in their own learning. If they remain a passive receiver of information, your student will be at a loss when they get to college and must steer their own course. Help your student understand the bigger picture and the connections between courses. Like a large jigsaw puzzle with many pieces, help them see how all of the pieces of their education come together.
- Encourage your student to find a mentor – someone other than their high school guidance counselor. Their guidance counselor is an important source of information and help, but another teacher or other individual who can take a special interest in your student’s progress and success will be invaluable.
- Ask your student’s teachers for the learning outcomes in each class. What will they be expected to be able to know or do at the end of the year? How will the teacher, the student, and you know whether they have accomplished these goals? How will they be evaluated?
- Ask the high school for information about the benchmarks, objectives and outcomes of each year of high school. Begin to think beyond each individual class and more about the developmental progress of your student through their high school career. Where should they be each year? What should they be accomplishing? How do all of the pieces fit together?
Preparing your student for success in college is a shared responsibility. It requires effort on the part of high schools, colleges, students and parents. Asking your student’s high school to be clear about how they are preparing students is a good start. Increased communication between colleges and high schools may be necessary. Helping students take charge of their education, demand the best of themselves and their schools, may be one of the most effective ways of helping students get the most from their high school education.
In our next article, we will consider some of the less tangible non-academic qualities that will help your student prepare to succeed in college. These “soft skills”, together with strong academic rigor will place your student in a position to make the most of their college career.