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How Parents Can Recognize and Instill College-Readiness in Their Teenagers

Home » Blog » How Parents Can Recognize and Instill College-Readiness in Their Teenagers

Planning for college becomes increasingly more involved with each passing year of a student’s high school career. Preparing for and taking the SAT/ACT, applying for scholarships, researching colleges, and filling out applications are just a few of the many tasks that students take on when pursuing education after high school. Many parents help their sons and daughters throughout this process, and while ironing out these practical details is an important aspect of ensuring their teenagers have what they need in order to be accepted into colleges, parents should also address whether their students have what they need in order to successfully attend college. 

While the qualifications needed to be accepted into schools overlap with many elements that are associated with being ready to succeed in college, parents can better help evaluate their students’ academic preparedness by looking at these points of interest individually. On paper, a student may look college-ready, but in reality, he/she may need to work on a few areas before being able to handle the many moving parts of the college experience. 

If you’re a parent who wants to make sure your son or daughter is ready to thrive once in college, here are a few signs of college-readiness as well as some tips on how to help prepare for the college experience during these important high school years:

SAT/ACT Scores

The SAT and ACT are both designed to measure college-readiness by establishing benchmarks that serve as indicators of a student’s likelihood to both succeed and remain in college. ACT and CollegeBoard (the organization that provides the SAT) conduct thorough studies that establish these benchmarks, and the research shows that students who score at or above these points of reference are more likely to do well their first year of college as well as stay enrolled during their second year. This is why many colleges use students’ SAT/ACT scores to help determine which applicants they accept. You can find more information on these benchmark scores as well as how the studies are conducted for the SAT here and the ACT here

However, it’s not just college admissions agents who can use these scores as predictive indicators of success. Parents and college consultants can also compare students’ scores to the benchmarks to help evaluate if they are ready for college. If scores are significantly falling beneath the baseline, parents can help get their students up to speed by enrolling them in academic tutoring or test prep courses. The earlier students establish an SAT/ACT baseline score, the more likely they are to improve that score and be college-ready when the time to apply rolls around. 

Academic Performance and Track Record

A student’s academic track record is another major reference point that college admissions agents will look at to decide whether or not to accept an applicant, but parents can also use this information to determine whether or not their sons and daughters are college-ready. Academic performance encapsulates many areas that determine someone’s ability to succeed in college, and parents are often able to see their students’ performances in a far more nuanced way than admissions agents can. 

For example, if your student has an imperfect GPA,  but his/her grades have improved dramatically over the last year, this can indicate a growing maturity level and improved foundational knowledge that will lead to doing well in college courses. On the other hand, if your teenager’s GPA is impressive, but a large part of that achievement is due to you reminding your student of deadlines or working side-by-side together on assignments, it’s helpful to assess whether or not the same success would be achieved independently. By looking at all of the moving parts that contribute to the current state of academic affairs, you can take steps to ensure that your adolescent is ready to tackle college, such as by finding an academic tutor or assisting in the development of crucial self-management skills (more on that below). 

Ability to Self-Manage

Attending college requires students to exercise a strong ability to stay organized and juggle multiple responsibilities. The coursework is often heavier than in high school, deadlines tend to be stricter, and the material can be more involved. These changes alone can be a difficult adjustment for students who just graduated high school, but for those who are also living out of the family home for the first time, college marks the first experience of managing their own schedules. This can be a liberating experience, but the lack of supervision and structure can be hard for some students, especially if they are also balancing work on top of school. 

If you want to get a sense of whether or not your teenager is able to self-manage, it helps to look at how your high-schooler handles current responsibilities. Are assignments turned in on time, or does your student often turn in late work for partial credit? Does your teenager get priorities out of the way before engaging in recreational activities? 

If the answers to these questions seem to suggest that your student could use a boost in the ability to self-manage, there are plenty of ways that you can help him/her improve these skills during the high school years, such as by:

  • Encouraging your son or daughter to write down the tasks that need to be completed. Whether your student uses a planner, a basic notebook, or a digital app/calendar, there are many different methods for keeping track of tasks. Crossing items off of a to-do list has been shown to increase dopamine, one of the feel-good chemicals that enhances motivation and productivity. Digital time management apps can help with keeping track of both immediate and future deadlines, and users can often select convenient reminders to periodically let them know of upcoming tasks days before they’re due. 
  • Helping your teen properly prioritize tasks. Knowing what things need to be done is an important part of succeeding in college, but students will fare better if they can also emphasize efficiency when tackling their to-do lists. Prioritizing tasks based on both deadlines and level of importance will help your teen ensure that the most critical and time-sensitive items get crossed off first.
  • Encouraging balance and realism when making a schedule. Making a schedule of when to complete each task goes a long way in reducing a student’s stress-level, but a schedule is much more effective if it is also realistic. Your teen may want to be overly ambitious and read all of the assigned content in one day, but it’s better to allow enough time to emphasize quality work over the amount completed. Trying to take on too much at once can lead a student to feel disappointed if the goal isn’t reached, and it can also lead to getting behind on other work to catch up on the prior day’s list. Instead, a schedule is most beneficial if it’s manageable and allows room for leisure time as well. Burnout is real among college students, so creating a healthy workload/life balance is essential to your student’s well-being. 

Ability to Self-Advocate in Challenging Situations

Managing personal and professional situations in college can lead to many stressful experiences, so it’s important that college students develop healthy coping skills to resolve challenging circumstances. Self-advocacy is a big part of being successful in life in general, but it’s an especially important aspect of surviving the changes that come along with being a new college student. To assess students’ ability to self-advocate, parents should consider how their teenagers deal with stress or obstacles. Do they avoid the issue or tend to feel helpless when facing unfavorable circumstances? Do they speak up and ask for help when necessary? 

New college students will be much more likely to succeed if they know what to do when important needs aren’t being met. Being able to identify and locate resources (such as academic advising, counseling, etc.), asking a professor for help or calmly challenging a grade, and managing emotional reactions are all a big part of being able to make quality decisions that will lead to satisfactory outcomes throughout an academic career.

In order to help their students build self-advocacy skills, parents can:

  • Ask their teenagers what solutions are available. When parents see that their students are frustrated, they often want to swoop in and offer them an appropriate solution, but it’s important for teens to be able to do this independently. By asking their adolescents open-ended questions regarding available options, parents can help them develop the skills needed to problem-solve and find appropriate resources.
  • Encouraging self-assessment. Everyone has strengths and weaknesses, and being able to assess where improvements are needed is a key part of being able to succeed in school. Parents can help their students adequately self-assess by making it known that weaknesses are not equivalent to failure as well as emphasizing that asking for help when necessary is a sign of maturity and strength. 
  • Asking what their adolescents think. The more that teenagers are able to calmly express their thoughts, the more confident they will be when a situation demands assertiveness in the future.

Personal Insight on Future College Plans

It’s also important for parents to consider how their teenagers feel about going off to college. Are their adolescents invested in the process of researching schools, applying for scholarships and looking into the application process? Are the parents themselves handling the majority of those responsibilities? Do their high-schoolers feel ready to fly the nest if living at home while attending college is not an option? Engaging in these discussions can help parents and their teens decide together whether college is the best option, or if taking a gap year to gain some life experience would set the students up for a better chance at succeeding down the line. 

Closing Thoughts

At the end of the day, parents don’t just want their sons and daughters to go to college; they want them to succeed in pursuing their ambitions. Some marks of college-readiness are objective, such as SAT/ACT scores, while indicators like maturity aren’t as easily quantifiable. By taking the time to evaluate the full spectrum of what college-readiness looks like, parents can work with their high-schoolers to ensure that when the time to attend college rolls around, their students will be capable of thriving as they look ahead towards their academic futures. 

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