“Look to your left. Now look to your right. Odds are, one of you is not going to graduate.”
Many of us who’ve attended college in the past decade or so might remember hearing these famous last words from a professor or advisor. The message was clear: our job is to give you an opportunity; yours is to take advantage of it. I can teach you, but I can’t make you learn it.
89 percent of high school teachers believe that their students are “well” or “very well” prepared for freshman-level college work. By contrast, only 26 percent of college faculty members think students are ready. Meanwhile, recent retention data indicates over 40% of students who start as freshmen will not be at the same college the following fall. Clearly, many high school students aren’t actually ready for college.
As Cleveland State University President Ronald Berkman said: “We have a responsibility to educate students as they are, not as we wish they would be.” When you’re working with a student whom you suspect might not be ready for college, ask these four questions to parents to help them make their own assessment.
Does your student want to go to college?
The first (if rather obvious) question to ask is if they actually want to attend college. Many students have never been asked this question – college is always assumed, another milestone to check off the Life List. If they say yes, ask them why. If they say no, at least now you know the reason behind their unwillingness to perform college research or fill out forms.
Can your student handle risk?
Being able to cope with risky situations and demonstrate self-control isn’t just a sign of adulthood, it’s a sign of college-readiness. Students with the maturity to thrive in college are able to assess risk objectively, asking “what are the consequences of this action?” instead of “what are the chances I get caught?”.
An inability to demonstrate self-control can lead to larger, more problematic issues: when exposed to drugs or alcohol, is your student able to assess the risk, measure the consequences, and say no?
Does your student know how to ask for help?
One of the signs of real adult experience is knowing how, when, and who to ask for help. Teens who are ready for college have shown that rather that going to their parents with every setback, they know how to seek out a teacher, tutor, peer, or psychologist. And on the flipside, college-ready teens also know that it’s okay to ask for help if they’re stuck instead of repeatedly beating their heads against a brick wall.
Has your student had to repeat classes?
One F in Calculus is one thing (I failed twice) – it just means this student probably shouldn’t be major in math. But if your student isn’t able to pass multiple core classes (English, lower Math, other introductory courses), you should question if that student is actually ready for the academic rigours of college.
Of course, college can turn an average student into a successful one, but if a student repeatedly failing core classes, it’s time to consider if it’s due to a lack of effort, poor time management, or a real academic deficiency.
Essential college skills
Knowing the answers to these four questions, what are the soft skills needed from a college student in 2017?
Self management: Time management is one of the most important keys to success in college life, but so is self-management. This includes all aspects of taking control of your life – cooking recipes, how to make a doctor’s appointment, how to make a budget and stick to it, how to clean out the lint trap in the dryer, and so on.
Study skills: College students work much more independently than many high school students and often cover far more material. Make sure your student can organize work, read critically and carefully, prepare for tests, and take notes independently.
Tolerate ambiguity: Not everything that happens on a college campus is black and white or crystal clear. Students who are able to understand and work within shades of gray will be much less uncomfortable and capable of understanding subtleties.
Have personal goals: Beyond “graduate on time”, what goals does your student have for college or beyond? Some studies have suggested that students with strong personal goals – even if those goals shift over time – are better able to stay engaged and do work.
Critical thinking: Your student will be asked to work well beyond the restatement of facts. Regurgitating classroom material will not work in college. The ability to think critically and analytically – and to extrapolate insights – will be important.
What are the skills you think every college student should have? Let us know in the comments below.