Preparing for College

To wrap up this month’s discussions regarding college, I want to reach out to all the parents with kids at home quickly approaching this age. Chances are they will be leaving home and be living on their own for the first time.  There is so much pressure these days to prepare academically for college- developing good study skills, taking pre-college courses, picking the “right” classes. However, there is more to preparing for college life than picking the “right” school and learning how to write outlines and study effectively. We spoke with a few community members, professors, college students, alumni, and parents to come up the areas to focus on.

  • Preparing Your Teen for College- #unitecloud.orgHousehold & Everyday Skills–  One overlooked area in prepping for life outside the home are simple, everyday skills. A number of high school students are holding part-time jobs and are swamped with homework making it easy for parents to automatically continue to do most of the day to day work without giving thought to the fact that your teen needs to know how to do these things: think laundry, cooking, how to jump a car & change a tire, reading food labels, make and cancel appointments, etc.  Need some help? Thriving Family has some great printable checklists and they are FREE! Just click HERE.
  • Financial Skills– Financial skills are something that can start young in life with learning to save & make purchases wisely, but by the teen years it’s time to kick it up a notch. Take your teen grocery shopping and discuss learning to identify the “better buy” and shop within a budget. Preparing Your Teen for College- #unitecloud.orgMake sure you take your teen to the bank and help them open a checking & savings account. Figure out what works best for them to manage it; nowadays most banks have apps for your smart phone that will allow you to transfer money and check balances. Perhaps a paper register isn’t something that they will keep up, but managing their money using a computer based program will- ask questions, find out, experiment. Make sure your teen understands how overdraft fees work or help him/her to set up the account to decline purchases if they have insufficient funds. Take time to discuss credit and credit cards- what builds good credit and what happens if they aren’t paying off their card in full. Decide what bills they will be responsible for after they move out (car insurance, cell phone, etc.) and help them to create a budget.
  • Stress Independence–  As I stated earlier, it can be really hard not to want to help your teen out in order to allow them to focus on studies and succeed, however, they are going to have to take on all of these responsibilities themselves and what better time to do that than when they have a fall net. Moving away from home is stressful enough, but trying to juggle new responsibilities can be overwhelming; make sure this is something your teen has a handle on before they leave home. One of the students we spoke with had this advice:

I was held accountable for my own actions throughout high school, especially homework. My parents really emphasized the importance of homework to me. I think it was helpful that they didn’t nag me about homework, but it was always expected that I get it done. It’s important not only to start having more autonomy and responsibility with school, but with other things as well. In high school I started going to doctor’s appointments by myself and I was responsible for getting myself to and from sports practices. Having these little things that I did on my own made my transition to college easier, because I was already used to being responsible for myself.  -Christy, Student

In addition, kids need to learn about responsibility and consequences. Once they set out on their own there is no longer anyone there making sure they go to class or show up for work. For some kids this type of independence can be alluring or overwhelming. It’s important for them to realize early on that there are real life consequences for their behavior- if you don’t work, you don’t have food; if you don’t do your laundry, you wear dirty clothes; if you don’t do your homework, you don’t get a second chance. As one college professor pointed out:

One of the biggest changes in our culture is the now-pervasive practice of awarding prizes and assigning accolades for “showing up.” This philosophy doesn’t prepare students to succeed in an environment of competition–whether that’s at university or in the job market. […]  How this plays out in college is that there are many more students who openly articulate their expectations for grades of A or B for coming to class every day, for “showing up,” because they’ve become accustomed to it.  We frequently hear “But I came to class every day…” Showing up is a very small component of success. It only matters when you add successful completion of the assignments, of working diligently, and of gathering the skills required for the course (or the job) itself. […] SURE, you can choose to sleep in and miss the assignment, but you have to accept the consequences of  your decision.  You have to be okay with receiving a zero for that assignment. You have to accept the professor is not obligated to create a make up assignment for you, or even extend the deadline.  Any professor or boss should present all the information a person requires in order to make choices: what makes an “A” grade, a “B” grade; what is an acceptable “documented excuse” for missing a test, or a deadline. Once the student has all the information, it’s really about personal accountability. It’s true in all of life, really. 

It’s not an understatement that college prepares one for life. Competition, values, ethics, responsibility play out in every class, on every test, and it’s about the bigger picture, the amalgam of one’s courses, grades, and experiences.  -SCSU Professor

[bctt tweet=”It’s not an understatement that college prepares one for life. #prepyourteen”]

  • Preparing Your Teen for College- #unitecloud.orgEncourage Planning–  I don’t think it’s uncommon for a large number of kids to start college with no real plan regarding their major. There is a commonly held idea that your first two years of electives are a placeholder for you until you decide. Is that really how we should be thinking about college? I get it, it’s hard to choose! I’m 30-something and STILL don’t know what I want to be when I grow up. And maybe that’s part of the issue. We force kids to look at this as a choice that they will make that will determine what they do for the REST OF YOUR LIFE. Intimidating much? According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average worker currently holds ten different jobs before age forty, and this number is projected to grow. Forrester Research predicts that today’s youngest workers (that’s your teen) will hold twelve to fifteen jobs in their lifetime. Some of these may be complete changes in career. So what can you do to help your teen figure out what degree to pursue? Encourage their passions and help them explore options to use them. Help them arrange opportunities to shadow or speak with someone in the profession.

What will get someone hired is what they offer that the rest of the pool does not–whether that’s attitude, implacable principles, collegiality, or outright excellence in a particular field. […]  So I’d encourage parents to stop subscribing to the idea that our kids have to be on every team, every squad, for a “well-rounded” background. Let the child self-select experiences that increase their self-esteem as well as their skills. There’s nothing as soul-crushing as having a shelf full of “participation” trophies and nothing to show for one’s individual special qualities. […] Let’s say that Jack ran track for four years in high school, diligently and doggedly went to practice. Never lettered.  However, he’s amazing at breaking things down and re-building them. Capitalize on what your kids are good at, and help them strive for their very best. Aren’t those the skills that will set him apart?   -SCSU Professor

On top of it all, it will not only save your teen frustration and pressure to just pick a major, but it will save him/her money. There are so many choices, but they are not free. Not that finances should stop anyone from leaving a path that they have found is just not a good fit. Having a plan will also allow your teen to choose electives that interest him/her and enhance their growth rather than scrambling to take any old thing or what looks “easy”.

  • Social Skills–  This may seem like a silly point, but making sure your teen knows how to handle making friends and difficult situations can really help to make/break their experience.

My parents encouraged me to get out and meet new people, join clubs […] I would have to say that branching out and meeting new people is very good! I was and still am shy and I wish I would’ve made more friends when I first started college. The best places to meet people is at orientation; the majority of the new freshman are just as nervous as you are.  – Marissa, student

Preparing Your Teen for College- #unitecloud.orgGrowing up in a small town, it wasn’t until I got to college that I ran into some really sticky situations I wasn’t sure I knew how to handle: hard drugs, binge drinking, promiscuous sex and same-sex experimentation, etc. Having a good head on one’s shoulders isn’t always enough. “Just Say No” sounds easy, but out in the real world it can be hard to say no when you are wanting so badly to fit in. You may get a few dozen eye rolls, but I encourage you to sit down and role play some situations with your teen and REAL ways that they can be handled.  If you’re asked to go to a house party at a frat, how do you decline? Maybe humor is an easy way to diffuse the situation “I’m allergic to dumb frat boys. Thanks, but no thanks!” Maybe it’s simply in the truth, “Nah. Alcoholism runs in my family so I’m trying to avoid it all together. Growing up around that was a real downer and I don’t know if I’m strong enough not to head down the same path.” Some kids will put the pressure on and letting your teen know that declining a joint with a “Nah, I have an 8am class” is an okay out and if it isn’t good enough then they are probably hanging out with kids they don’t really want to be friends with anyway. Not just because they are making bad choices, but because they don’t care enough about THEM to respect their’s.

The best thing my parents did to help me get ready was having them tell me their experiences in college. No, my experience isn’t going to be the same, but it nice to hear their advice and see how they would handle certain situations.  – Marissa, student

Do you have other advice for parents & teens?          

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*This article is a guest post, written by a local member of our community.