Senior year is a stressful and tricky year for high school students. They face the final stages of the college application process, then the w-a-i-t-i-n-g that seems interminable, and there’s the final decision to be made. All the while, students are told to keep their grades up so colleges won’t change their mind and so students will be ready for the academic work of college.
But if your senior wants to be successful in college, there’s more work to be done than meets the eye – and many students and their parents may not realize all that they should be doing. Academic preparation is essential, but it’s only the tip of the iceberg.
Many students come to college well prepared academically yet they struggle through the first year, not because the coursework is too hard, but because they suddenly need to cope with all of life. They may have taken for granted all that is involved in managing their day-to-day life; never considered, or never mastered those skills.
How do parents fit in?
Many high schools don’t address the life skills that student need to succeed. Parents can help students use the senior year to learn to manage their lives well – leaving them energy and time to focus on their academic work. It’s a gradual process, of course. Don’t present your student with a list at the beginning of senior year – remember that he’s probably already feeling overwhelmed. But slip some of these skills in as the year goes along – and then take time at the end of the year to remind your student how prepared he now is to manage not only his schoolwork, but himself.
What should my student work on?
Every family is different and every student is different (even within the same family.) Your student may already have mastered many of these skills. If so, congratulations! Your job just got easier. And some students will be better at some things than others. But use senior year to work on some of these skills with your student.
- Make sure your student has a good alarm clock (or two), knows how to use it, and is responsible for getting himself up and out of the house in the morning. Many first year college students struggle to get themselves to early morning classes, and many readily admit that their parents were responsible for prodding them out of bed during high school. (And don’t even think about functioning as your student’s alarm clock in college via phone!) If your student suffers the consequence of detention in high school a few times for being late, or misses the bus and needs to get himself to school, he’ll learn how to get up on his own.
- Make sure your student is comfortable doing his own laundry – sorting colors, selecting temperature, using appropriate amount of detergent. Many students already do this, but if your student doesn’t do his own laundry, this is the time to start. (And you might need to remind him that changing the sheets on the bed should happen occasionally, too. Seriously!)
- Have a conversation with your student about how to set up a budget. Will his spending money come from you or from his savings or earnings? He’ll need to be flexible during the first year as he learns what his true expenses are, but he should understand the principles of money in-money out. Be sure he understands how to track his spending. Have a conversation about responsible use of credit cards and the principle of compounding interest. Senior year is a great time to practice spending tracking and budgeting.
- Does your student know how to make, and keep track of, his own appointments? Have your student make and be responsible for his own doctor appointments, dentist appointments, or any other meetings that he needs to schedule. As parents, we often do these things because we are the family calendar keeper. But your student will need to know how to make a call and schedule an appointment (with a health center, counselor, professor) so practicing that skills now will make it easier later. Then, of course, he needs to be responsible for putting these appointments and other commitments in his own calendar and remembering to keep them.
- Teach your student how to send an appropriate, professional e-mail. Students text. For many, it’s their favorite way of communicating. Some students may not be clear about switching from “textspeak” to more formal email communication – the preference for many professors and college administrators. Make sure your student knows how to begin with a proper greeting (Hint: “Hey” isn’t it.), to use complete sentences, to sign the e-mail, and how to proofread before hitting send. Remind him that he will receive a college e-mail account and should check it frequently and use it for communicating with his professors.
- Good time management is one of the keys to college success. Many students have learned to use planners in high school for keeping track of assignments, tests, and deadlines. Whether your student uses a paper planner of some kind or chooses to keep track on a phone app, make sure that he has a plan for keeping track of his responsibilities – and more importantly, all of his free time. College students spend much less time in class, but are responsible for much more out-of-class work. Your student needs to be comfortable planning his use of this “free” time.
- Help your student think about how he will find balance in his life. Of course, this is a life skill with which many of us struggle. How do you try to find balance between work, social life, health and maybe even some sleep. As your student goes through senior year, this may be an ideal time to talk about how difficult it is to keep this balance – especially when more of your time is under your own control. Your student will need to balance his classes, his schoolwork (outside of class time), perhaps an on or off campus job, college activities and events, and social life (with built in friends in the dorm 24 hours a day.) Help him use senior year to begin to think about when to say yes and when to say no.
- Communicating with professors is key for many students for success in college – and in career building. Yet many students are uncomfortable, in this heavily electronic world, with face-to-face communication with professors or authority figures. Help your student find opportunities during senior year to meet with his teachers and to get comfortable with formal interviews and conversations. Talk to your student about being prepared for a meeting, about having a clear purpose, about starting and ending conversations, and remind him that professors may find meetings awkward as well. One way to help your senior practice this skill is to suggest a few informational interviews. Encourage him to contact some people in a career or field in which he is interested and ask for a short interview to learn about their job and the academic path that led them to that career. Perhaps he can contact an alumnus from his chosen college (or one about which he is still deciding) to talk about their experience at the school. Getting comfortable with this skill now – perhaps while you can still coach him – will give him confidence at college.
- Make sure your student is comfortable asking for help. College success for most students is not a solo endeavor. But many students are reluctant to ask for help in college because they see it as a failure. Whether they need to approach a professor, a fellow student, a tutor or support center on campus, a counselor, or a residence assistant, asking for help can mean the difference between stress and failure or success. Encourage your student to seek help and advice during senior year. Remind him that he will need to identify resources available at school and to seek help early and often. He can think about ways he can provide help to others during his senior year so he will be reminded that it feels good to give help as well.
College success doesn’t depend on one thing. It relies on a host of things. Yes, your student needs to be prepared academically, but he also needs to be able to manage his life so that he can focus on academics and keep a healthy balance between school, work, activities, and social interests. Help your student use the senior year of high school to polish his life skills and he will be ready to succeed in college.