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 students 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 they’re 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 they now are to manage not only their schoolwork, but their life.
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 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 to school on their own, they’ll learn how to get up.
- Make sure your student is comfortable doing their own laundry — sorting colors, selecting temperature, using appropriate amount of detergent. Many students already do this, but if your student doesn’t do their own laundry, this is the time to start. (And you might need to remind them 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 their spending money come from you or from savings or earnings? Your student will need to be flexible during the first year as they learn what their true expenses are, but they should understand the principle of money in-money out. Be sure your student understands how to track 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, their own appointments? Have your student make and be responsible for their own doctor appointments, dentist appointments, or any other meetings that they need 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 skill now will make it easier later. Then, of course, your student needs to be responsible for putting these appointments and other commitments in their 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 them that they will receive a college e-mail account and should check it frequently and use it for communicating with 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 they have a plan for keeping track of responsibilities — and more importantly, of 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 how to use this ”free” time.
- Help your student think about how they will find balance in their 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 classes, 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 them 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 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 them 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 them to contact some people in a career or field in which they are interested and ask for a short interview to learn about their job and the academic path that led them to that career. Perhaps your student can contact an alumnus from their chosen college (or one about which they are still deciding) to talk about their experience at the school. Getting comfortable with this skill now — perhaps while you can still coach them — will give your student 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 them that they will need to identify resources available at school and to seek help early and often. Your student can think about ways to provide help to others during senior year so they 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 they also need to be able to manage their life so that they 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 life skills and they will be ready to succeed in college.
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!